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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

May 5, 2012 at 9:21 AM

Tony Floor looks at the influence Congressman Norm Dicks made on salmon management

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Tony Floor, longtime salmon angler and director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association offers his monthly fishing report.

Here is Floor’s Tackle Box:

He’s known as the third Senator from Washington and he has served in Congress for nearly 36 years. On March 3rd, headlines announced, all over the state that Congressman Norm Dicks is not running for re-election.

Wait a minute. Isn’t this a fishing column? That’s my point. Yes, it is a fishing column and through this writing, I would like to give credit where credit is due, to a man who has lead the way to pioneer salmon management into a new era.

Earning a nickname such as Mr. Salmon, and having more people with you than against you is a considerable feat. Whether you come at this issue as a conservationist, a commercial fisher, environmentalist, tribal or sport, rarely, do each of these groups drink the same cool-aid and often fight each other at levels comparable to the Hatfields and McCoys.

Most politicians run from the issue as salmon do not vote, people do. Then came Norm Dicks. Willing to lead. Educating himself on every salmon issue known to science or fish management. He talks the talk and walks the walk. And, he brings the juice known in more plain speaking circles as power which makes things happen here at home, and in D.C.

It was only a few years ago, at an event in Washington D.C. hosted by the American Sportfishing Association, where Congressman Dicks received a national award, presented by CEO Mike Nussman.

“From his beginnings as a first term member of the House Appropriations Committee, Norm Dicks has never forgotten the role that fishery resources and recreational fishing plays in the state, and in the fabric of communities and people’s lives. Throughout his time as a legislator, Rep. Dicks has been a great advocate for the angling and boating communities. He has transformed his passion for fishing into achievements for fishery resources.”

For me, that speech says it all.

Throughout his political career, Norm has engaged in salmon issues at home and in D.C. It is his passion and his roots, as one of us, who understands the importance of salmon and our heritage as salmon anglers. As a boy, he fished with his brother and father, and he often recalls summer fishing trips to Neah Bay, fishing for king salmon off Waddah Island. And he speaks of his grandmother, who holds records for catching the biggest king salmon of the season, in back to back years at Painter’s Lodge, in British Columbia. Those records stand today.

To many Washingtonians, Norm Dicks is known as a champion of the removal project of the two dams on the Elwha River, and for Washington’s three major national parks, Puget Sound clean up funding, and hatchery reform. Norm also has vast expertise on defense issues and helped shepherd the recent $35 billion aerial re-fueling tanker contract worth perhaps $100 billion to Boeing in the long run.

But let me clarify and attempt to weigh the importance between Boeing and salmon. I was fishing in the Florida Keys with Congressman Dicks the day after the monumental announcement. Governor Gregoire called him directly and in so many words, congratulated Norm for his leadership and persistence to ensure Boeing was in a position to win the aerial tanker contract. Before she could finish her sentence, Norm shouted, “Hey, I’m getting a bite and I’ll call you back!” Click. He just hung up on the Governor. You have got to be kidding me! Hang up on the Governor over a 14-inch yellow-tail snapper! Unbelieveable! Moral of the story: no one gets between Norm and his fishing, ever.

As one of Norm’s advisor’s on salmon issues, my memory reflects back to 2003, when Norm successfully submitted a provision in the annual Interior Department spending bill, requiring that it receive federal funding to begin mass marking (removal of the adipose fin) on all chinook, coho and steelhead. It passed and remains federal law today.

Why is this important? You must turn back the pages of time to 1998 when the federal government announced the listing and protection of four Puget Sound wild chinook salmon stocks under the Endangered Species Act. The result: fishing seasons were slashed due to a fundamental fact…..we could not distinguish the difference between a hatchery and wild salmon. Summertime fishing closure signs were posted from Sekiu to Olympia. A few years later, when little or no progress was being made between state and Tribal fish mangers to proceed with a solution, Norm took a chair at the table and legislated the solution through Congress.

Some 10 years later, after the ESA listing announcement, regions along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands and throughout Puget Sound began putting up new signs: Salmon fishing is open for the retention of fin-clipped hatchery produced salmon. Today, selective fishing has expanded from the Columbia River, the ocean and to all inside waters, thanks to the leadership of Congressman Norm Dicks. If you think, for a moment, that sport salmon fishing and politics do not mix, you’re living in a cave.

I and many others will miss the leadership, passion and seniority of a Congressman who has served Washington longer than any other in our state’s history. The next time you take a drive through downtown Tacoma, and observe it’s 21st century facelift, ask yourself the question, “Gee, I wonder how that happened?”

Or take a look at the Bremerton waterfront and downtown, and ask yourself the same question. Norm Dicks earned the juice to get things done and when the people of the 6th Congressional District voted to send him to Congress through 18 elections, they knew exactly what they were doing. He has proven to be tireless and committed to make things happen.

It was just a few weeks ago, while salmon fishing at Coyote Bank, in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca when I continued to think about Norm Dicks’ legacy, and all he has done for Washington’s salmon resource. I was fishing with a couple of longtime fishing friends and the view from the middle of the Strait was breathtaking.

The snow covered Olympics to the south (the northern portion of Norm’s district), Neah Bay to the west, Victoria to the north, and the San Juan Islands and Mt. Baker due east. Beautiful, but not as beautiful as the 10-16 pound chinook salmon we caught over that weekend.

Fin-clipped, hatchery produced and made available by Norm. It is a legacy that will live and go on, to sons and daughters and those who follow. Mass marking and selective fishing, brought to you by a politician who did what he said he was going to do…..deliver.

Thanks Norm, for all you have done for Washington. You will be missed, but your successes to make our state a better place to live, both economically and environmentally, will not be forgotten.

By the way, if you are wondering what Norm plans to do next, I have breaking news. It will be called Norm’s and Tony’s Fishing Guide Service. Oh Lord, somebody help me.

Norm and I will see you on the water.

Tony Floor is the Director of Fishing Affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) and a former 30-year veteran of state Fish and Wildlife. NMTA advocates for and promotes recreational boating and fishing in the region.

Click on Tony Floor’s Tackle Box to subscribe.

(Photo by Mark Yuasa)

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