Bringing Back the Salmon

Thursday, February 1, 2001

February 2001

A Former Fisherman Tackles Restoration and Bureaucracy

Fred March raises salmon on his property in southwest Washington and sends them down the North River to the sea. Runs of more than 12,000 salmon have returned to the river that was totally devoid of salmon before his project. During the past 10 years, he has worked with the Washington Department of Fisheries, but just as often he has fought with the agency. March believes that projects like his with pristine spawning channels and rich habitat can restore a healthy population of salmon to Washington’s waters. March tells the story in his own words.

I started out fishing when I was 16 years old and now I am 62. I started in the Skaggit River and now every fishery has been completely destroyed all the way down the coast. The fishery department and the federal government have managed our salmon right out of existence.

When I first moved here I built this little spring-fed pond in front of the house. And a few little fry moved in here from the river and there were a few salmon still spawning in the river.

Then the timber company started logging on their tree farm up behind me and I knew the end was coming for the fish in the North River. It filled up my little pond with mud and gravel, annihilated the creek and everything was completely destroyed.

I walked the streams and I saw no fish, no salmon, no nothing. I mean this river was so dead the fisheries department stopped surveying it. But, they were dumping a million unfed fry in the river here so I talked them into giving me 10,000 king salmon and that was the beginning.

It has been over 10 years that I have been working on this. I have built a system that is completely isolated from the logging. I have been able to tap into springs and by using flood gates, I keep my water quality perfect all the time. I am now up to 2,000 feet of spawning channel and habitat channel and 5 acres of ponds. It is a highly concentrated natural environment. I’ve had over 1.6 million fry in here and I have never lost anything.

I refine my operation here all the time to make it more efficient. I’ve got a device that I invented so that I can build a salmon rift just like the salmon can by using certain sizes of gravel. I can plant the eggs just as good or better than the salmon. I know reds (salmon nests). I have dug them. I’ve examined them. I’ve done core samples on them. You name it and I have done it.

I have a habit of talking too much when it comes to salmon. I know where every fish is and what kind of condition he is in. This is part of me. This place is part of me or rather I am part of it.

I have planted all this vegetation around the ponds. It is highly diversified so there are just hundreds of different kinds of vegetation because that makes more habitat for the bugs that the fish live on. The more diverse your habitat the more little creatures there are.

You need shallow areas with lots of vegetation in them for the newly emerged fry to get into. The reason my last spawning channel was so successful was because I built a beaded channel, which has the habitat connected to it. It is perfect habitat and it is filled to the brim with salmon right now. As the fry develops he goes into different habitats. From shallow water to deeper water, then to a big pond or even deeper water where more food is available.

It took six years for me to build a run of Coho. Three years for them to come back and 6 years to be a big run of fish, maybe as many as 20,000 fish. And the next year I had about 12,000. And then, they cut my eggs off and so I had two good cycles and then it flopped.

The fisheries department goes around in these big circles. They started the Salmon 2000 program and were giving everyone in the state all the eggs they wanted. It was working out pretty well. Then they started the wild salmon policy and they took them all away. Now they are going back around the other direction and giving them back to us. So there are big gaps in the runs of fish. I have done everything possible here to keep the runs going. I don’t give up. I have been fighting with the fisheries department ever since they cut my eggs off. But, right now I have 300,000 eggs set aside for me.

I’ve spent over $30,000 out of my own pocket and I’ve gotten some money from fisheries. I got $22,000 for one channel, one was built by volunteers, another was built by the displaced fishers program. There are a lot of people attempting projects and getting funding, but I have yet to see one that is a long-term success story.

People lose interest. Everything comes before salmon. Salmon is the last thing on everyone’s list. They’d rather have a new car, a new house, new this, new that, and they don’t like those mosquitoes. Humans are just not compatible with salmon, period.

But there is no possible way that you are going to separate humans from the salmon’s environment. You can’t do it in Washington state. And there is no way that anyone would want to. I don’t want to interfere with anyone’s logging or development or whatever they are doing and this project is a perfect example of how not to interfere with anybody. It is concentrated salmon habitat that can support a whole river. I can support the whole system with my 93 acres. I can put out enough salmon here so that people can watch them, catch them, whatever. And have plenty left over.

This is the most efficient possible way to have salmon recovery in Washington state. Everybody that I have dealt with that has a brain agrees that this project could be a model for projects all over the state of Washington.