My testimony to the Commission 2 weekends ago...

Good Morning, Commissioners

My name is Francis Estalilla, an eye surgeon from Aberdeen, newly re-appointed member to the Grays Harbor Advisory, member of the Coastal Conservation Association, and concerned sportsman.

A little over four years ago I addressed this body in person to bring your attention to ongoing harvest abuses in Grays Harbor, particularly Chehalis River Fall Chinook. You took genuine interest in the matter and even initiated a “green sheet” to further investigate the allegations. I return today to give you a “report card” of sorts… something to consider as we embark on another NOF proceeding in the next 2 months.

Four years ago I told you that Chehalis fall Chinook had only exceeded the minimum escapement goal twice in the previous 11 years. Since then, we’ve only made it ONCE more. I’d wager that when the 2012 escapement figures are released next month, the record will stand at 3 for 15. In other words, managers are missing the mark 4 out of 5 times! In my profession, I can’t imagine the repercussions if I were to blind 4 out of every 5 eyes that I took to the operating room.

Why does this happen? Well sometimes it’s just bad luck. Some years, the total run size falls short of the escapement goal. Can’t blame the managers for fish that simply aren’t there. Hey… fish happens!

But what about most other years…. when more than enough fish show up to seed the gravel? Once those kings cross the bar at Westport, the only controllable factor keeping them from reaching their spawning grounds is the fishery.

As you are well aware, that fishery is crafted by making a preseason forecast of how many paper fish to expect, subtracting the fish necessary for escapement, and then allocating who gets to kill the remaining “surplus” paper fish. This is the annual ritual we all know as the NOF process.

On paper it all seems to work out, but in the real world, we’re simply kill too many kings. The reality is that the harvest models CLEARLY understate the true fishing power of the fleet… commercial, sport, and tribal. Moreover, understating the fishing power of one user group has an allocative domino effect as it makes even more paper fish available to be exploited by the next. As managers seek to expend every last paper fish, they’re simply fishing the stock too hard… so hard that we’ve made it past the escapement benchmark only 3 times in the past 15 seasons. Sadly the only reason we made it those 3 years is that the run-size happened to come in much stronger expected. Divine grace or blind luck? Take your pick. I would NOT want to rely on chance alone to save my bacon in the operating room.

Another insidious mechanism that promotes the systematic overexploitation of Chehalis fish is the application of faulty assumptions about the co-mingling of Humptulips- and Chehalis-origin kings in the Grays Harbor estuary. The model grossly overstates the proportion of Humptulips stock to effectively dilute and mask the true magnitude of exploitation on Chehalis stock, particularly in the recreational marine area and commercial Area 2A/2D. This allows seemingly benign fishing seasons to occur on paper pre-season…. to the direct detriment of escapement post-season.

I’m prepared to address any questions you may have with very detailed examples. Thank you for your time.
"Let every angler who loves to fish think what it would mean to him to find the fish were gone." (Zane Grey)

"If you don't kill them, they will spawn." (Carcassman)

The Keen Eye MD
Long Live the Kings!