1964 – Indian Alone Isn’t to Blame for Fish Depletion

Editor,
The Times: MARLON BRANDO’S recent intervention in Indians affairs at least drew attention to one of the state’s fishery problems. Steelhead and the five species of salmon in the North Pacific may eventually reach the point of no return if past and present pressures on their individual runs continue. And it won’t be the Indian who hastened the end of one of nature’s richest resources. In Alaska all runs of all species have generally declined since heavy commercial exploitation began in the early 1920’s. Some runs have been eliminated by over-fishing, and most have been diminished to where there is nothing left beyond minimum escarpment needs. The days of the "silver horde" are gone, and the abandoned, boarded-up canneries are evidence of a past era. The state fisheries have also declined, not so much because of commercial over exploitation but because of the tremendous commutation for each and every fish that swims in state waters. The commercial trollers, gillnetters and seiners who have long made their livelihood by commercial fishing are faced with an ever-growing army of sports fishermen who may take a heavier toll of salmon than do the commercial fishermen. They not only take thousands and thousands of salmon each year, but they dip deeply into the stocks of immature king salmon, thus eliminating many of the spawning potential. Often one hears of a catch of a salmon trout (no such fish) or blackmouth. These are actually young, immature feeding king salmon which, if allowed to escape, could drop or fertilize as many as 3,000 or 4,000 eggs upon maturity. There are many more worsening fishery problems in Washington and Alaska, and in view of it all doesn’t it seem a little ridiculous to jail a few poor Indians for taking fish for food purposes? Certainly, if there aren’t enough steelhead for needy Indians there aren’t enough for the man with the fancy rod and expensive gear.

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