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Columbia River Dissenters Series
Tape 1, Side 1
21 May 1999
KM = Kant Martin
CH = Clark Hansen
OHS Inv. #2714
Kent Martin is a gill-net fisherman from Skamokawa, Washington. Martin was born in 1944 and began fishing when he was 14 years old. Martin attended Central Washington State College in Ellensburg, Washington, and double-majored in philosophy and anthropology. Martin continued his education at Memorial University of Newfoundland and obtained his Masters degree in Marine Anthropology. Martin has watched his fishing business decline as salmon runs have diminished. He attributes the loss of salmon runs to the degradation of habitat due to irrigation practices, pollution and the construction of hydroelectric dams.
CH: This is an interview with Kent Martin at his home on the Columbia River in Washington. The interviewer for the Oregon Historical Society is Clark Hansen. The date is May 21st, 1999. This is tape 1, side 1. I thought we might begin first by your giving me some background on your family and how your family ended up settling in this part of the river, this part of the region, and your early contacts with the Columbia River.
KM: Most of my family emigrated from Norway and Sweden in the 1870s. In fact, Irene has probably done more to dig into what was there through, not only family archives - Sheís organized most of the family papers, stuff that was [there], and there has been a wealth of material on it. I donít think they threw a lot away, and sheís organized an incredible amount of stuff, and expanded on essentially what I knew in the oral tradition of the family. Most of my, like I say, relatives came in the 1870s with the Scandinavian emigration due to some, I think, more as much as anything, failures in some of the fisheries in Scandinavia that pushed those people out and then the promise of the new land, and most of them essentially came into this area - two of them . . .
CH: Did they come over land, by the way?
CH: They came by boat?
CH: Around the Cape? Of South America?
KM: It would have been, yes. Two of them, I know, entered the country illegally, and changed their name. The name that I carry was originally Eric Martinis Tollefson, and when he came to this - or Turefson, depending upon which document youíre looking at, and he shortened his name to Eric Martin when he settled in this country, and then he married a Norwegian woman some years later in Astoria who had been a domestic there. I am not sure whether there was any contact before that, if he knew her in the old country or not. They came in and homesteaded and settled here in the valley. The other one, and these are my fatherís people now. The other one was a man by the name of John Alfred Strom. The story that my grandmother always told me that Sweden had conscription at that time, one of the ways that you could get out of serving in the Swedish army was to go to sea, and heíd gone to sea for quite a few years, and anyway, ultimately jumped ship in Westport, Oregon, which was just across here - There was a sawmill near there. And then came to Skamokawa more or less and kind of hid out until the heat died down. And he was from a place called Kalmar, Sweden. I think Eric Martin was from I think Bergen, wasnít it, Irene?
KM: Yes, Norway. But anyway, he (Johnstrom) then went back and married a woman by the name of Kristine or Kirsten Berg who brought her sister out with her. They couldnít bear to part, and her name was Sophie, and she married a man - I get the impression from the way that my grandmother talked that it was a kind of almost an arranged thing. She married a man by the name of Nels Anderson, who had an adjoining homestead here, and so the two of them lived right in adjacent farms and they essentially followed patterns that were very familiar to them in the old world, a little bit of lumbering and logging, subsistence farming and then a lot of the cash income was created with the fishery, and they followed the fishery that they started in the 1870s. The cannery, the fishery wasnít very old here at that time and they went to work. Eric Martin fished for Pillar Rock Packing Company and Irene has found references in the memoirs of John Harrington about Eric Martin. And then the other one was John Alfred Strom. And, by the way, his name was originally as far as we know Reedstrom, and he shortened it to Strom, again to keep from getting caught as far as we know. And anyway, he fished for the Warrens. It would have been out of Cathlamet. He fished around here, around Skamokawa, but of course they had launches that came down and picked up the fish. íRelatively certain that he fished a cannery boat, that sort of thing. But anyway, both of them had been in the merchant navy, and both of them had been involved in the fishery in the old country, Iím sure, and they essentially came here and followed a common background, and their son was my direct ancestor. They had several children. On my fatherís side was a man by the name of Emil Martin and he was involved in fishing, pulled boat for a number of individuals, which would have been probably in the 1890s. I never knew him. He died in 1929. But my father said that he could mend and hang and all that sort of thing, so he was obviously more than a casual fisherman. And then, in 1899, him and another man whom I think was a school childhood chum here by the name of Oliver Lyggresen, and the name was spelled, I believe L y g g r e s e n. I think it might even have been two sís in it. Iím not sure. Signed on to a whaler out of San Francisco and spent two years in the Arctic on the Balaena, a whaler in 1899 or 1901, something like that, and spent two years in the Arctic whaling and then came back and, I donít know if he fished exactly when he came back or not, but he fairly soon after that married my grandmother, who was John Alfred Stromís daughter and they bought a farm here in one of the valleys and subsistence farmed, and then he went to school and learned to be a butter maker. He kind of gave up the fishery. He was a butter maker for the Skamokawa Farmersí Cooperative Creamery here for a number of years, and had a dairy farm. And then, of course, one of their children was my father, Kenneth Martin, and he fished a little bit. He farmed, dairy farmed some, and fished one season on the river since Iíve been fishing there for a brief period and then fished a couple of seasons in Alaska, Purse Seined a couple of seasons there and then worked in the woods also up there, and then pretty much worked in the woods. That was the bulk of his working life. He was familiar with dairy farming and fishing, but ultimately elected to log most of his life. íHad his own contract logging business, started out working for Weyerhaeuser and Crown Zellerbach. Weyerhaeuser back of Long View, Crown Zellerbach back at Skamokawa, Cathlamet here, and then, ultimately, after the second world war got a GI loan for an opportunity to buy a war surplus tractor, Caterpillar Tractor, and had it armored for logging and one thing and another and went into business with his brother and logged for many, many years. And then I - It was just one of the things that you took to. Some people took to different things, and I took to fishing. I was vitally interested in from the time I was a boy, and I started pulling boat for guys when I was about, you know, deck-handing, in other words, when I was about 14, I guess, and by the time I was 17 . . .
CH: You were born in what year?
KM: 1944. By the time I was 17, I had my own rig, and that was a matter, essentially the fish buyer was the one that pretty much had the say as to who he took on for fishermen, and of course he was always looking for young guys that were interested and he had seen me pulling boat with various guys and saw that I was interested in it and it was through his auspices that they set up an account. At that time the one that I started fishing for was Point Adams Packing Company, and they were in Hammond. Theyíre still there, but it was owned by the Rogers family at that time, and they are not owned by that family any more. And he got me - I rented a cannery boat and they backed me for gear and I bought out a manís, a semi-retired guyís drift right out here and got an old rat of a net with it, and I salvaged what I could out of it and then ordered a bunch of web and did a bunch of work on it that winter and, of course, the cannery backed me for the web and everything and I started fishing. It would have been in the spring, the first of May of 1961, and I had turned 17, I think the 25th of April. I started the first of May, so I was just 17, a junior in high school.
CH: How did your family feel about that. Were they supportive of that?
KM: I think there was mixed feelings. My mother was worried about, you know, the danger of drowning and that sort of thing. It helped that there were a couple of other young guys my age that were starting in running rigs, one of them in particular who was a cousin of mine, his father fished Alaska a good part of the summer, and that was a direct response to the collapse of a lot of these spring and summer Columbia River runs and so a lot of these guys started looking out for something that would fit into the fishing cycle and so most of them got involved in Cook Inlet, Bristol Bay or some of those salmon fisheries up there, so the rig was sitting idle, and as soon as sons got old enough to start fishing, well that was a way to - and I think first Dad had real reservations about it. He, you know, he put up the original money which was $650 to buy the drift right and this old rag of a net. The cannery supplied the boat and the gear. And I think he was later pleased in the sense that I think there was a part of him that would have liked me to have had me go into the logging, but there was - or do something else, and they more or less brow-beat me into going to college. I went on to college and I remember in the fall in particular, fishing at nights and doing my homework in the boat and that sort of thing.
CH: Where was this?
KM: Lower Columbia College in Longview at first, and then I later transferred over to Central Washington State, which is a teachers college in Ellensburg. But anyway, they had - yes, I think, mixed feelings, but at the same time, I think my father was rather proud of the fact that my education cost him virtually nothing, except the food that he fed me. In fact, he felt, I think guilty enough about it that he insisted on paying my income taxes one year. So I mean - yes, in those years, you know, if you were fishing, we never had any problem with spending money as a kid. I made pretty fair money, you know, and even though the fishery wasnít all that hot, I made more than enough money to have an old jalopy of a car to run around in. I never had to go to Dad to bum money for hamburgers and milkshakes or anything like that. And in fact, I didnít even have a driving license I suppose until I was probably eighteen or something like that, because you had the boat. Take the boat to Cathlamet. Take the boat to Astoria, wherever you wanted to go. I mean, I had transportation. And I put myself through college with it. I fished in the summer and went to school in the winter.
CH: How many years did you end up putting into college, then?
KM: Well, you know, Vietnam interfered with all of that, so I guess it was in 1966 - Yes, the spring of 1966 I went in the Navy in June. It was either that or I was going to get drafted because I had not (quote) ďMade normal progress toward a degree.Ē I changed my major a couple of years, and I was a quarter or two behind and they decided there was a bunch of draft-dodgers hanging out at college, and so I came home. I quit college that winter quarter, came home and fished that spring, the cannery boat and went in the service in June for four years, and I didnít get to finish college, so it wasnít until I got out in 1970 then that I went ahead and I finished the last two quarters at Central Washington State. I went to Alaska that summer with a cousin of mine. Fished there and then - I caught the eye of a professor. I had double-majored in philosophy and anthropology and with a particular interest, I think, in cognitive anthropology which is how societies organize their world view of reality, and I had a couple of papers that I had written I had caught the eye of a professor thatís still at Central Washington State, and he said, ďYou really need to think about what you could do with anthropology and the fishery.Ē And so, he got in touch with a guy by the name of Raoul Andersen, whoís still at Memorial University of Newfoundland (or New-Found-Land, which is the way Americans pronounce Newfoundland), which is one of the few colleges at that time, and still, that has a marine anthropology program that studies fishermen. I mean, most anthropologists get off on studying primitives which are getting increasingly hard to find in this growing world, and it was a choice of Norway had one and then Cardiff in England had one, and Waseda in Japan had one and Newfoundland. And I was, you know, as much interested in fishing as anything, and so, I applied for a fellowship to go to Memorial, where a couple of these papers had been sent back, and I got it. So I had the GI Bill, and I had a fellowship at Memorial, and then I, you know, sneaked off at times and fished when I could, at the peak of the seasons here. Ran a guyís rig when I, at least one year that I know, in fact, I even did that when I was in the service. I used to get a leave to come home for the fall fisheries, and that kept me in more money than I needed, even when I was in the navy. And so, I went through the masterís program there, and acquired a masterís degree and a wife, and some very wonderful memories of Newfoundland. Iíve been back a number of times, the most recent one was November. And what I discovered I guess is that fishing people think very much alike, and I went half a continent away with people of vastly different background, Irish Roman Catholic, as opposed to being Scandinavian and Protestant and really didnít even know any Catholics, except from a distance, and moved into a village where I was the only Protestant within sixty miles, and studied fishermen, and I found that they thought, organized their reality and their ideas very similar to what we did and a lot of the nuts and bolts of being, that a fishing community was a fishing community, and they had to deal with a lot of the same kinds of things in terms of, you know, economic unpredictability, and you know, usurious fish buyers and all of that sort of thing just like we did. It was very, very real, and I wrote - anyway the masters degree, and I brought Irene here, and I fished for a year, and then I applied to a couple, three different schools. I applied to the University of British Columbia, another which escapes me - oh, University of Washington, and Rutgers. It was a couple of people at Rutgers who were graduate students of Memorial and who had gone on and gotten Ph.D.s at Columbia and other places like this, and so there was a couple of people there that I had contacts through Memorial, one of which is still there, Bonnie McKay. And anyway, I - Rutgers was the only one that offered me any money, so I thought, ďWell, why not?Ē so I went back to Rutgers, and was in the Ph.D. program for a year there through the Department of Human Ecology which had a kind of amalgam of economists and ecologists and anthropologists and that sort of thing, and at that time one of the darlings there was a man by the name of Andrew Vayda who was more or less responsible for that very seminal work called Pigs for the Ancestors (Pigs for the Ancestors was written by one Roy Rappaport - I believe Vayda was his senior advisor on Rappaportís Doctoral Committee) that was done on primitives in New Guinea and it made the whole connection between human subsistence and human ecology and religious rites and that sort of thing, and I had a couple of classes from him and a number of others - But what I found is that a lot of the big name people were more interested in publishing and keeping up their name than they were, really, in imparting knowledge and encouragement to - And I could have gone back, but I was so burned out and turned off by the whole east coast mentality, that I just called them and said, ďNo, Iím not coming.Ē And Irene, meanwhile, had gone to the University of British Columbia and gotten her masters degree in Library Science and if weíd have both gone to UBC, if they had offered me money, who knows? I may well have stayed in academia. I donít know, but I guess, coming out of Rutgers, I did a kind of archaeology of my own consciousness for, you know, my motives in being an academic and I really looked at the kinds of people that academia produced and the kinds of lifestyles that those people lived, and Iíve had to re-evaluate my ideas about academics, and find out that sometimes they can be bought and sold like a cheap whore. And that came as a real shock - and it became much more obvious here, where I saw people who had Ph.D.s in fisheries biology, fisheries economics flagrantly selling themselves to Bonneville, PNUCC, which is the Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee, the Army Corps, and saying things that just flatly werenít true. I mean, that Blue Ribbon Panel that the National Marine Fisheries formed to deal with the Columbia River problem which included people that I was on a first name basis with. The word, among the more loyal biologists, fisheries biologists, the word that has been coined for it is ďbiostitute.Ē Professional fisheries managers who sell themselves to whoever is the highest bidder, and I mean, believe me, the agricultural industry, the timber industry, the tug and barge people, the hydro people, the irrigators, cattle ranchers, theyíve bought these people with very good salaries. And that first report there, with the Blue Ribbon Panel that came out with, they literally bought off on the whole idea of barging, despite that much of the biological community knew that barging was not working.
CH: The barging of the fish?
KM: Yes, barging of fish around hydroelectric projects, and, of course, that was touted because it was cheaper and because it left the whole system in place to continue generating power and, you know, moving products up and down the Columbia River and providing irrigation water and so that was the best of all possible worlds, and they werenít about to let that slip through their fingers, so they literally bought scientists and academics to say, ďYes, this is the way to go,Ē and to see how, to the level that they sunk to, they literally boiled the demise of the commercial fisheries, because they recommended in that Blue Ribbon study to phase out the commercial fisheries, and the only reasons that they could come up with were ďto simplify allocation.Ē They could not say that the commercial gill-net fishery was the primary cause or was that - No, they said, ďTo simplify allocation, what we really need to do is to get out of it.Ē And they boiled it down into less than one paragraph, and they spent like five pages on the development of what they recommended and called the ďSOCĒ or the Salmon Oversight Committee, and it was essentially a big PR thing for themselves to establish this committee of senior fisheries-type officials, and it was punctuated with sentences like, ďPrestigious professional experience, executive salaries,Ē and they recommended essentially that this be established and, of course, they were sitting at ground zero which placed people that would feed into this kind of thing. It was a kind of a - I was just absolutely appalled.
CH: What year was this, during what period?
KM: Right immediately after the listing NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) came out with the listing and they realized they had to do something so they put together this Blue Ribbon Panel to see what could be done, and essentially they bought off on the power companyís agenda. In another example, you know, I believe it was Senator Hatfield organized the Salmon Summit, and the Salmon Summit, of course, had all the laundered stuff for the press and, ďNo, no, weíre not going to do away with the fishery and weíre not going to go to cameo show and tell runs. Weíre going to try to restore this thing and turn it around.Ē And as soon as that was over with they organized what was called ďthe Shadow SummitĒ in which the Indians, the commercial fishing industry, and the environmentalists were locked out and the industrial users met and decided what was really going to happen. The navigation people, the irrigators, the power people, all the polluters, all the industrial concerns, the timber concerns sat down and decided which direction that they, and aluminum . . .
CH: And when would this have been?
KM: [pause] I donít want to say, you know, 1986. I think it was a little later than that, because Iím not sure.
CH: It was after the Salmon Summit?
KM: Yes. Immediately after. Called the Shadow Summit. It was later than that but -
CH: It was a closed door meeting because of the . . .
KM: Absolutely. Everybody who was an advocate for salmon was locked out. You know. I remember, I used to be pretty fair friends with Bill Bakke who was the, is viewed as some sort of salmon guru here in the northwest, and, I mean, I think heís had some very good points in the idea of, you know, hanging on to wild fish and genetic material from wild runs and trying to maintain some of that. I think heís really gone off the deep end. And I remember he called me one night and said, ďWell, weíre going to write a listing for Snake River species.Ē And I said, ďBill, if you do that, whatís going to happen is weíre going to be exterminated here in the lower Columbia, and nothing else is going to happen, for the most part.Ē And he said, ďWell, wouldnít you like to have your grandchildren see wild salmon?Ē And I said, ďIf the tree falls in the forest and thereís nobody there to hear it, is the tree falling?Ē I said, ďIím not going to be here and neither is anybody here in the lower river going to even remember what it was like, because youíre not going to change that.Ē Essentially, weíre going to be offered up as some kind of a sacrificial lamb to make everybody feel good, you know, so that people can get in their god damn Volvos and drive out to a creek and watch a half a dozen salmon spawn in their creek and feel warm and fuzzy and come away and, ďYes, Virginia, there really are wild salmon in the world.Ē Itís all a big PR stunt. And I guess the acme of that is that Salmon Festival that the town of Wenatchee has every year. They have some kind of a big paper mache salmon they put out, and I donít know if they have their local virgin prance around it or whatever, but itís essentially a mercantile thing to get a bunch of merchants in for yet another festival. I mean, and these are the major people that played a major the - Itís the apple orchard industry. - These are people that played a major hand in exterminating salmon and now they have a salmon festival. They donít have any live salmon to speak of left so they have to make a one up out of some paper mache or something and play like theyíve had a salmon festival. Itís the most obscene kind of - What would I call it? - Well, itís a kind of totemism reduced to its most horrible form, because for the most part the real totem doesnít exist any more. Itís like one of those god damned wooden poles that you buy, or one of those wooden sticks that you buy in a curiosity shop.
CH: The orchardists being part of the reason for the salmonís demise because of all the irrigation?
KM: Irrigation, development of watersheds, yes, theyíve been a big part of it. These are people east of the mountains, have joyfully traded off the heritage that was the Columbia River for wheat, apples, sugar beets, all of this sort of thing. They consider it a miracle. Salmon was just an obstacle that had to be gotten over. Am I getting too far off the subject now?
CH: No, not at all.
KM: And you know, it amazes me - I saw a while back ago in one of these sportsmenís papers. I like to read these dirty little rags that the sportsmen put out because theyíre full of misinformation and they - You get into some fascinating cognitive insights of the kinds of people that are really pulling the strings. - and they were talking about a - Theyíve named one of the reservoirs, and I canít remember if itís the one behind the Grand Coulee or one of them up there, the Rufus Woods Reservoir, and they have a memorial fishing tournament up there every year. If there is one individual in the entire basin who is responsible for the destruction of the Columbia Basin, itís Rufus Woods, and the sportsmen name a fishery after him? They ought to be sending delegations to go up there and shit on his grave.
CH: Arenít they referring to the Grand Coulee?
KM: I think it is.
CH: Because that was Rufus Woods that was the primary advocate to the Grand Coulee.
KM: It wasnít just the Grand Coulee, it was the taming of the whole Columbia.
CH: The irrigation projects and everything that was going on.
KM: Yes, and the sportsmen canít see this. When that dawned on me, and it made me realize the reason -
[End of tape 1, side 1]
Tape 1, Side 2
21 May 1999
CH: So maybe we could take a step back and look at what the history on this river, you were starting to tell . . .
KM: Salmon canning started here in Wahkiakum County. It moved to Astoria in the 1890s and up into the early parts of this century as a kind of a consolidation thing, but the first canned salmon was at Eagle Cliff in Wahkiakum County. There were canneries at Altoona and Pillar Rock, Cathlamet, Eagle Cliff, Eureka, I mean all of these little bergs, because Skamokawa never had one. It was primarily a logging community, but there were a number of fishermen. There were always fifteen or so fishing families that lived here, fished out of here. But when I was a boy here growing up much of that was still in place. I mean, there had been overfishing in the last century and there have been a lot of destruction of habitat, and so that runs were on the downhill slide and then there was a period when hatcheries really kicked in that things kind of rebounded for a while. And so a lot of the infrastructure, a lot of the - I mean Altoona was still operative. They werenít canning. I think they quit canning in the fifties. I donít remember when they were canning there, but I wasnít around it, but they had canned up until about 1951. Pillar Rock finished in about 1945, and a number of these were largely consolidations to other facilities elsewhere. But they were still fish receiving stations. There were a number of families living there. Brookfield was another one. Cathlamet, there were - and so you had docks that were kept up, and warehouses, all the trappings of a large fishing community. All that infrastructure was still there, and, of course, Astoria was just one big long parade of fish receiving stations and there were still at that time, oh, four canneries running, three or four canneries were running in that area. Barbey was running, Union Fish was running, Bumble Bee or CRPA was running. Point Adams Packing was running down in Hammond. Keystone was running in Ilwaco and Chinook Packing in Chinook, so I mean there was all of this - You could see what it was like, what it had been like. A lot of the technology had changed when we went to gasoline powered engines. Of course, I donít remember anything before that, but I remember back into the middle fifties, and all that, like I say, all that infrastructure, the real flavor of fishing communities in the fishery was here. It was a major part of the economy.
CH: When did the gill netting first begin? At what point was . . .
KM: About 1866.
CH: What kind of fishing was going on before that? Was there any kind of commercial fisheries before that?
KM: No. Well, there was some very limited - I donít know if there was any gill netting. There was some very limited seining and trapping and they were trading with the Indians for fish. Irene would probably have a [idea] better of that, but there was a salt-fish trade that ran out of here. There was salt salmon that went to the Hawaiian Islands and various and sundry other places, I think back east, but there was a salt trade and they put you know, fish up in big [?tierces] or casks and shipped it around, and that was the start of it I think. I think even Hudsonís Bay Company was involved in some of that, but the thing really took off in the 1860s when the canning process got to the point when it was perfected that they could can fish and then you had something that was fairly easily transportable, a product and it would keep very well and it was pretty flavorful and, you know, had substantial food value, and that came off about the same time that there had been a fishery in the Sacramento area. The Humes had started down there, and it was my understanding that they moved out of there fairly soon because they saw what mining was doing to that fishery there, and so they moved up here and really got - And I think originally the whole canning thing was started with some contacts that the Humes had on the east coast with canning lobsters, if I remember right.
CH: Was there any conflict at all between the fishers on the river and the people that had the fish wheels, or were they all part of the same thing?
KM: I donít think wheels were so, I mean wheels were way up. You have to, youíve got to have a lot of current to run a wheel, and I donít think there was anything below the Camas-Washougal area in the way of wheels. I mean, Iím not saying there wasnít some conflict up there, there could have been. I donít know. The main conflicts down here were with seines and traps and the gill net fishery.
CH: How would you characterize that conflict?
KM: Well, there was a couple of things. Some of the trap people got a little aggressive and started driving piling for traps out in the drifting areas that gill net fishermen were fishing and there was a - I think it was in the 90s, there was actually some bloodshed down in the Astoria area, around Sand Island. They tried to drive a trap, but there were some situations of that here, and then, of course, the seines also, there was some conflict there, but a lot of it stems from the fact that that was in that whole period in the last part of the century, the first part of this century when there was a lot of labor organizing.
CH: Yes, then I would ask you about also how the Fishermenís Protective Union, how that evolved?
KM: Yes, I think Ireneís done more research on that than I have, but a lot of it started it for strikes for trying to get decent fish prices, and what happened - Itís my understanding, and this is primarily in the oral tradition, and some of this Ireneís been able to verify, but the canners, of course, played various user groups off against each other, and the seining, although was not totally company owned, tended to be more company owned, so that if the gill netters went on strike, they could keep the seiners or the traps running and keep running themselves and starve the gill netters out.
CH: How did these, in the way these were designed, what would, how would you describe the difference between the seiners and the traps?
KM: Well, the seining was a beach seining type, it wasnít pur-seining. It was a seine, you know, where you fished along the beach and you laid a large encircling gear out and then you went out, usually ebb down with the tide, and then somewhere down below, you kept the one end on the beach and walked it down, and then somewhere down below, youíd pull that seine in with horses and dragged it up onto the beach and brailed or gaffed the fish onto a scow as opposed to a gill net which is an entangling type of device. And then the other method, of course was a trap, which was also a form of live capture where, you know, the fish went through a kind of maze way and couldnít get out and you had an area that you could lift up and gaff or brail the fish onto a scow or a boat. Those were the other methods, but I think one of the big sticking points with those other technologies - And they got outlawed, and the gill net fishery was in part behind that outlawing, and Iím sorry to say that, because itís come back to visit us, but a lot of the impetus behind that was the fact that they were a different user group that was played off against other technologies to keep prices down. You know, and I mean, and thatís happened elsewhere. When Alaska became a state, the first thing that they did when they got statehood was vote the traps out of Alaska, and the main reason that they did it was because the canners were using the traps as a way hold fish prices down. They owned the trap; they had some hirelings run the trap and they could say, ďWell, why in the hell should we pay you blah, blah, blah, when we can get our fish through a trap over here?Ē And that was the reason I think that there were those kinds of gear conflicts in particular. It was an awful lot of it.
CH: So the fish wheels in Oregon, going back to the fish wheels, they were banned in the 1920s, later on, werenít they?
KM: They were back before the traps and seines.
CH: Before the traps and seines, yes.
KM: Oh, yes, the last traps didnít go out till 1948.
CH: Yes, yes.
KM: They operated through the summer of Ď48 in Oregon. I think they went out in Ď35 in Washington.
CH: So then, how did the commercial fisheries develop after that point?
KM: Well, the gill net fisheries continued on, I mean, you know, basically. In that regard, I suppose it gave fishermen, you know, gill net fisherman more or less of a monopoly on that, that being the only technology.
CH: Of course.
KM: And a lot of that happened before my time, you know, Iíve read about it and heard some things in the oral tradition, but thereís no question that a lot of that, not all of it, but a lot of it was cannery-controlled, and it was an attempt to break that controlling, and I see this in Alaska even now. I mean the packers seem to be fairly paternalistic and the reason theyíre paternalistic is because they want the fish and they want it as cheap as they can get it, and so they like to have fishermen in debt. They like to be in a situation where you donít have a choice. I mean they get very pious about the horrible things that fishermen do, ďfornicatingĒ with cash buyers, sliding fish off to another market or that sort of thing, and theyíve often preached a morality of - and I know of guys that have lost their markets for, you know for being caught shipping fish to a cash buyer or to another company. Theyíre very moralistic about it, and theyíre not very moralistic about what they necessarily pay fishermen. Some are better than others, I mean, and thereís an up side to this kind of paternalism. For years, they were the ones that kept the fishery operating on the Columbia with this onslaught of this expanding sport fishery. They stood up for the industry on a number of occasions, particularly things like Bonneville Dam. I mean, there were things that the fishing industry did in lock-step, and a lot of these were environmental issues, but when CRPA or later Bumble Bee pulled out of Astoria, it left a terrible vacuum and it left fishermen with, you know, not having to think - I can remember being told, I mean, ďDonít get up at a compact meeting. Donít shoot your mouth off; keep your mouth shut, weíll take care of it for you.Ē Well, when they decided, when they moved out, we all of a sudden had to fend for ourselves. And thatís, you know, you made more money because there was more competition for prices. The prices werenít quite so rigged, but at the same time, you had to take more responsibility and a lot of fishermen werenít up to it.
CH: So what happened then, when they left the area and you were on your own?
KM: Well, there were some fairly good years. We just had to get a lot more proactive in dealing with a lot of these issues, and this is the thing that Iím the bitterest about of anything is the recreational fishery in particular has been the major stumbling block to salmon recovery efforts, I think, on the Columbia River. There has been no unified voice for salmon advocacy on the Columbia River in many, many, many years, and even then it was fragmented, but since the packers moved out, and even then, that wasnít - but I mean, thereís been this attitude thatís been promulgated by the sport fishery, and in particular by those neat, beautiful industrial people in the middle- and upper-Columbia who have wanted to portray us essentially as rapers of the resource ďcut and get outĒ I mean, the lowest kind of people, essentially to kill all these salmon, and itís been a diversionary tactic for the sportsmen. Itís because they wanted to fish and they wanted to keep their jobs, too. For the business community, itís been because they wanted things that salmon had to have to survive, stable riparian zones, clean water, all these things, and they wanted those. I mean those things are very valuable, and so the thing to do has been to blame the commercial fishery, and itís been one long parade of initiative petitions and legislative runs at us to destroy us, and the sportsmen, of course, have this stupid notion that theyíre going to be able to control some of this. They havenít even been able to get rid of us, but theyíre so naive as to think that they are going to be able to stand up to Reynolds or Weyerhaeuser or some of these. Hell! Itís not going to happen.
CH: So, what about, I mean, wouldnít they in turn look back on the commercial fishers and say, ďWell the gill netters are trying to protect their jobs, too.Ē I mean, thatís their main, their self-interest, too, is that theyíre trying to . . .
KM: No, they havenít looked at it that way. They have prided themselves in looking at it as, essentially, rapers of the resource, and if you go back through the literature, there are a lot of sexual innuendos. I mean, for a lot of urban people, you talk to these people that work in mills and in some of these jobs that they donít find terribly rewarding, something thatís very important to them are hobbies, and if it happens to be sport fishing, then, gill netters are something that are looked upon that is something that is stealing something from society, that is taking away their very precious leisure time. And so, you get innuendos like: ďa rapist in your kitchen with a butcher knife,Ē ďlower than child molesters.Ē These are the kinds of adjectives that have been used to describe fishermen, and it has had a profound effect on the psyche of the fishing community, and, of course, the business community has been in there saying, ďYeah man, go man goĒ because they wanted the resources that the salmon needed. They wanted to keep the pot boiling and all this going because meanwhile, theyíre irrigating more land, developing more, the real estate, and itís very much a clash of urban versus rural values. And, no, its only been, I think the only, the first people who have really recognized that we had the ultimate stake in this in terms of our livelihood, our heritage were the environmental community, and they have said, ďWait a minute. Why would these people fish themselves out of their livelihood and their heritage?Ē And they, all of a sudden, have realized that perhaps we are their best allies because what the business community would like to do is basically have a few cameo situations where people could go and look at fish and feel warm and fuzzy and then develop the rest of it, kind of a show-and-tell type of thing. And they know that to have a commercial fishery, you have to have substantial volumes of fish, big volumes, and that conflicts with use of water and resources that fish need, so the idea has been to get rid of us and, of course, sportsmen who canít think around corners very well have been - saying, ďYes, letís get rid of the gill netters,Ē not realizing that ultimately, that theyíre going to be the ones that will suffer, too, but theyíre not willing to wean themselves off of the job because a lot of these people are working for Weyerhaeuser, Reynolds Metals, agriculture. Theyíre wired into one or another of the jobs thatís made the Northwest economy take off, and, anyway -
CH: So, what do you see as the biggest contributing factor to the decline of the salmon over the years?
KM: Habitat degradation. Pure and simple. I mean, we are still looking at enormous volumes of fish. I mean, Irene had seen some good years here on the Columbia River, but nothing like the kinds of volumes since sheís been fishing with me in Alaska, nothing like the kinds of volumes that we regularly see there, where you literally canít look anywhere without seeing jumpers, where - I mean you see people just soak loaded down to the guards in fish. I mean, it happens every year. Good years come and go, some years are not as abundant as others. Last year was a bum year for Sockeye; this year is supposed to be substantially better. But, I mean, those are natural fluctuations in nature, but when you trash a watershed, I mean, it doesnít come back, or doesnít come back very soon, and thatís whatís happened, and getting back, again, to my idea of how academics have sold a lot of this out: they have revised through PR the definition of overfishing, so if you trash a watershed, develop it, parking lot it, log it, pump the water out of, whatever, divert it, whatever, so that that watershed is only capable of producing ten percent of what it was formerly capable of producing. If you catch three or four of those fish out of that watershed in a commercial fishery, or even a sport fishery, in the process of prosecuting a hatchery, say, run of fish, youíve over fished that, but that says nothing why that run is over fished. It just says youíve caught too many, but it says nothing about why the watershed isnít producing anymore, and, of course, thatís why overfishing has become the poster child of everybody whose agenda is anything but salmon health, and thatís one place where Bill Bakke and I agree. But National Marine Fisheries, Bonneville, a lot of these people have bought off on these kinds of definitions of overfishing. I mean, right now, weíre stooging around with, literally a handful, a few dozen maybe, Snake River fish that show up in a troll fishery off of Alaska, and weíre saying, ďYou gotta shut that fishery down. Youíre catching -Ē Hell! Probably two thirds of them wonít even get back to the spawning ground because theyíre going to die at the dams and then the ones that do ninety percent of their offspring are going to die going back out. But that doesnít get mentioned. All weíre talking about is what some trawlers in Alaska are going to catch incidental to catching other healthy runs.
CH: So when youíre talking about habitat degradation, youíre also then referring to the dams as well?
KM: Oh, thatís degraded habitat!
CH: Yes, do you think thatís been the biggest contributed contributor of the degradation of the habitat or are there other things that . . .
KM: Well, itís sealed habitat off, particularly in the Columbia River. It sealed - Thereís a lot of pretty healthy spawning area up there that fish donít have any access to, particularly these Lower Snake projects. I mean, thatís why a lot of this has collapsed over the last twenty years, because this took place in the fifties and sixties. These were wild spawning runs, and pretty damn healthy ones prior to that, but then you got four more dams, the ones that theyíre talking about breaching that went in, and surprise, surprise, the Snake is crashed! And yes, so, one of the other things, the latest thing that the Power Planning Council had, the report that they had done - I think it was called Return to the River. - and their whole suggestion was that if youíre going to turn this thing around, youíve got to return to something like normative river conditions, and this whole business of stooging around trying to salvage some obscure little stock that probably was never very important in some sub-basin of a sub-basin, is really beside the point, because a lot of the big spawning went on in the main stem, and thatís the reason that the most healthy run of wild salmon youíve got in the Columbia Basin is that upper river Bright run. They spawn in the Hanford Reach, and that run is still there. Itís extremely viable because Ben Franklin Dam was never built, and the Ben Franklin Dam was never built because they were scared that if they built that you would raise the water table and get into a bunch of stuff that they had buried for the Manhattan Project and projects since then on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Thatís the reason that that run is still there, and if you look at most of the areas where these dams have gone in, there was massive spawning of various and sundry types of fish - A lot of it was fall, but some of it was spring and summer. - in the main stems of the Yakama, of the Snake, of, you know, these big, the Willamette. Thatís all gone. Itís been dammed, ditched, diverted. I mean, youíre talking about habitat degradation, unscreened irrigation ditches. Youíre talking about massive run-offs of chemicals and herbicides and pesticides. Youíre talking about denuding of a lot of streams from cattle grazing, from logging. Itís a whole host of things gone. I mean, overfishing is the easiest problem in the world to cure. All you do is crank down on harvest, and let me tell you, if youíve got a couple, three hundred thousand dollars, or maybe a million dollars, invested in a fishery, the last thing you need to do is be sitting on the beach three or four years from now because you got greedy this year. Fishermen tend to think long-term, especially when youíve got these huge investments, and the older you get, the more long-term you think because you think, ďWell, Iím going to retire, and one of my retirement stakes is to sell that boat and gear and permit,Ē and if youíve over fished yourself, the boat and gear and permit isnít going to be worth anything. So why would anybody want to destroy their retirement? But this is the mentality that a lot of the recreational fishery and a lot of the industrial community has which says, you know, you take it and you get it now.
CH: One of the dilemmas, perhaps, in dealing with that is that some of these other uses of the watershed, logging or even hydroelectric or cattle grazing and things like that, the effect on the fish is more indirect. Maybe some people can look at the commercial fisheries can say, ďWell, here these people are taking fish out of the river, and the cause and effect relationship to the fish up in the watersheds is not as direct and perhaps is that part of the reason why people . . .
KM: Well, thatís part of it, but itís much more difficult to see, because we fish adults, on the adults. Thatís what I kill, are the adults, and the big mortalities from the industrial users are on the juveniles, so they have spent millions of dollars focusing public attention on adults when probably ninety percent of the mortalities go on before that fish is a year old. Thatís where the big kill is, and people donít think about that. Theyíve directed the debate toward the adult.
CH: What about in the natural cycle in terms of the smolts and what is the survivability of how many to an adult? I mean, how many would die, aside from the dams and things like that?
KM: Well, I think youíre looking - If you get, you know, three percent, youíre doing well. You know, the rest of it fall prey to predators and diseases and this sort of thing, and salmon runs can be incredibly prolific on, you know, three or four percent. I mean, in ideal conditions, sometimes you get fifteen percent. Some places in Alaska they get a hell of a lot higher than that. It just depends on the gravels and ocean conditions and a whole - and that all changes. You know, you get natural disasters and things come and go, but when you get a situation where youíre looking at eighty five, ninety percent mortality on out-migrating smolts, and then on top of that, you pile the natural mortalities from predation and diseases and all the other things that happen, starvation, itís more than the fish can deal with. It is amazing that normally wild stocks can handle a fifty percent fishing mortality pretty easily if youíve got reasonably good habitat. In other words, if youíve got a run of a hundred thousand fish coming back, you can pretty easily crop fifty percent, and in some cases some of the Sockeye runs up in Bristol Bay and some of that stuff, I mean, you can harvest eighty percent. Itís incredible, the kind productivity youíve got. But I mean, thatís how bad the environmentís been altered and how much, because, in a lot of cases, this stuff weíre harvesting at ten, fifteen percent, and weíre still losing ground.
CH: Some of the historians when theyíre trying to look at this picture, they have noted that when some of the commercial fishing companies moved out here, was after the collapse of the cod banks off of Maine and New England. Is there any, does that fit at all in the . . .
KM: No. No, I think there was some collapse of some salmon fisheries in the eastern United States in the last century and that was largely because of dams on the Penobscot and a number of those rivers when they started damming for sawmills and power and one thing and another. The cod fisheries on the East Coast have probably really only collapsed since after the second world war.
CH: So there really wasnít any factor there before that might have might have been attributable to overfishing?
KM: No. Well, I mean, thereís probably places where overfishing has gone on, but itís only been since the second world war that you had the kinds of technologies, and this is where you can get planned overfishing and itís come, not from in-shore small entrepreneurial fishermen, but itís come from multi-national corporations who have invested enough money in technologies that they canít afford to tie up a boat for six months. Theyíve got to keep it working, so theyíre in the provincial government or in the federal government in Ottawa, or the federal government in Washington, DC or in Boston or whatever they have to be, twisting arms to deliberately overfish because whatís really the bottom line for them are payments to banks and the amount of money that they have got invested in kinds of technology, the technology is leading them around by the nose. Itís like once you developed nuclear power, you couldnít not use it, and thatís where the overfishing is coming from, but people in urban areas who are very much aware of what their life styles has done to the environment, love - They absolutely slaver over overfishing stories because it makes them feel good. It makes them feel that ďsomebody is really shitting on the environment besides me.Ē It really, I mean, you canít believe how those people - They love to hear ďoverfishingĒ and when I talk to a lot of them about Alaska, and the fact that itís very well managed, itís like [sighs] - Oh, its like Iíve popped their bubble, Because they really wanted to hear that fishermen are really overfishing and that it isnít their Lincoln Navigator and their, and all this other crap that the lifestyles that they have become attached to thatís behind it and it is!
[End of tape 1, side 2]
Tape 2, Side 1
21 May 1999
CH: This is an interview with Kent Martin at his home on the Columbia River in Washington. The interviewer for the Oregon Historical Society is Clark Hanson. The date is May 21st, 1999, and this is tape 2, side 1. So, to go back to the situation in Alaska, as long as the Alaskan government keeps managing the fish the way they are and development doesnít creep into those watersheds, you donít see that thereís going to be a problem with the harvesting of fish the way itís going on now?
KM: Big problem is the price, you know. No, itís going to happen. I mean, I look at a lot of the interior of Alaska that is fabulously rich in minerals and natural gas and itís just a matter of time. A lot of that stuff is far enough back and inaccessible enough that the prices of some of those things and aluminum and tin and copper is going to have to get up high enough to pay to go in and extract those materials, but that will come. It will come eventually, and when that happens that will be the beginning of the end.
CH: Going back to perhaps a more basic question, I was - some time ago, maybe it was about a year ago. - I was looking at a documentary on public television, and they were interviewing a former commissioner in California that was in charge of the irrigations projects down there, and in the 1950s he was one of the main persons responsible for creating the irrigation projects in Central California, in the central valleys, and he said that, ďWell, you know, what if we have to sacrifice the fish, whatís wrong with that. Weíre providing so much food for the world. Weíre providing so many jobs. Weíre providing so much food for the world that whatever was lost by losing the fish was overcompensated many times over by the amount of food production that weíre creating.Ē So how would you respond to that, and why are the fish important? And why are the salmon in particular important?
KM: I guess, it would be difficult for me to argue with that.
KM: I frankly value salmon very highly and Iím willing to make substantial sacrifices. I donít see the rest of society willing to make those sacrifices, and I see, of course, the business and industrial sector drastically overstating what itís going to cost to fix a lot of this to scare the be-Jesus out of people to make them think that, you know, ďGive me your first-born son and maybe your wife, and then maybe we can fix it.Ē Itís that kind of thing. Thereís that, because we are talking huge amounts of money. And maybe itís more difficult for me because I have lived around salmon. Iím in Alaska every year where thereís an incredible abundance even yet, that everything from walking a creek that is - The stench is so bad that you almost have to hold your nose from the rotting salmon carcases from the natural cycle of fish spawning out and dying and all that sort of thing. Some of them, youíve got to be careful about walking, about bears that are hanging around there, too, you know, and they arenít too happy to see you. But I guess my, what I find - Itís a justice issue. Most bitter about it is society has demonized commercial fishing and fishermen, and itís a kind of displaced aggression and itís a way of - Itís become a kind of scapegoat, someone to blame for the guilt that they have - and what I have most bitterly resented is that we have been blamed by society and we have been dehumanized and this dehumanization then has served as the rationale for not having to do anything to help entire cultures and families and people that have been displaced almost like ďethnic cleansingĒ whoíve been destroyed, lives that have been destroyed and the rationale is ďWell, they did it to themselves. They over fished. Thatís the reason we donít have any fish. Why should we have to provide any real job training for them. Why should we have to do anything to deal with the alcohol and broken marriages and the drugs and the wife beatings and domestic - everything that goes on when a society is imploding and a whole culture - Ē And if you dehumanize those people and essentially say that they are author of their own misfortune then society is somehow exonerated from having to do anything to ameliorate that, and thatís what Iím most bitter about, I guess, is that society has done this to us and then blamed us for it to boot. And I see it every day. That guy that was here earlier, is a good example of someone whoís just been totally shattered by whatís happened. I mean, his family were boat carpenters, they built a good number of the gillnet boats on the Columbia River. His father was a fisherman also. Heís fished all his life. Profoundly bitter. Heís had a major problem with alcoholism, has conquered that now. But, you know, I see that. I know another fisherman whoís got a little shed out behind his house and heís got it decorated with, oh, needles and twine and souvenirs from the fishing industry and he goes out there and sits there every day. I call it the Church of the Risen Salmon. Itís - To see those kinds of things, it just makes me violently angry, the injustice of it, and thatís what Iím having more difficulty with; to see the people who have destroyed this not only get off scot-free, to get off rich, on this thing, and to be able to disown their own complicity in what they have done.
CH: And are these the people who were the direct, the people who were directly concerned with the demise of the river, or indirectly through just sort of the general population?
KM: Both. Both, I mean, the people who are directly in, you know, have provided all kinds of PR rationale so people donít even have to think about this sort of thing. I mean that what it has become, and it has become a monumental taking, or land-grab in the sense that the whole environmentalist movement, or a lot of it has been used as - A lot of the environmentalist community is moving away from this now, but the common everyman environmentalism thatís always talked about, especially for the guy that works for Reynolds Metals or Weyerhaeuser or one of these industries, theyíve been able to essentially say ďWell, itís really over fishing and what we need to do is we need to realize that the I-5 corridor is a dead loss and now there are all these jobs - what we need to do is we need to lock up the lower Columbia to save eagles and fish and all this sort of thing down here and if doing that means getting rid of commercial fishing, then thatís probably whatís got to happen. After all, itís important for me to have some place to come and have a place to recreate.Ē And this has become a monumental land-grab, and of course, the environmental movement, preserving salmon, Spotted Owls, eagles, Marbled Murletts, whatever, green areas, old growth trees, has become the battle cry. But if you really want to look at this, I mean, these people expect sacrifices out of rural people that they wouldnít dream of making. I mean, if weíre really serious about this, then we should pull out all the back yard fences down in the Portland-Metro area, plant a batch of scrub oak and native plants, and essentially try to get as much of an urban wilderness as we can. But people donít like, you know, skunks eating out of the cat food dish on the back porch. They donít like coyotes killing their cats. They donít like Lyme Disease and all the things that go with living in the boonies. They want this, you know, they want to keep it there to go back to, so that they can come out here and visit, and they donít want locals spoiling that. I mean thatís what this Paddle Center, this Kayak Center down in Skamokawa is all about. Itís an attempt to attract those kinds of people to come out here and - I donít know if Iíve answered your question of not.
CH: Yes, well, in a way. I mean you have, and of course youíve also said that the salmon are important as a way of life and as a way of the culture involved with of this particular part of the... . . .
KM: Itís a kind of an icon that people, probably the media as much as anything, has built up as a major identity totem, I guess as the media calls it, for the Northwest. I mean, you could go to streams around places like Ketchikan, Wrangell, and Petersburg and see them so bloated with fish in the fall. You know the only people that are there looking at them are the people that come in on the cruise ships. Nobody bothers them. The locals donít give a damn. Theyíve got all the fish they want. I mean its ďHo-hum.Ē Itís like those same kinds of people there from Petersburg or from some little isolated place might think itís neat to go out to the Portland Airport and watch jets land for a while. Thatís the last thing that a lot of urbanites would think about. So salmon is just part of your radar screen. Itís there for somebody thatís been around it a lot. For people who havenít been around it a lot and have this romantic idea of it, itís different. Iím not sure where this is taking us and Iím not sure but what this isnít a very carefully choreographed effort on the part of the business community, and this is why the business community has wanted to get rid of commercial fishing because we are the only excuse left for big volumes of fish. If you get rid of the commercial fishery - Iím already hearing this with regard to the hatchery programs - but for years the attitude was, you know, ďTrash a watershed and build a hatchery to compensate,Ē and now people like Bill Bakke are saying ďWell, that genetic material from wild fish is really worth something,Ē and I tend to agree and for a lot of people the whole Walt Disney wild thing is important. But when it comes right down to it, there is going to have to be some kind of accommodation because we just donít have the resources to support big wild runs anymore. I mean, there are some in the upper river, but if you are going to - And this is the other reason that the business community would like to get out from underneath paying for all these hatcheries, so, if you get rid of the commercial fishery - Iíve already been told by state people, federal people, and private people, if the commercial fishery goes, most of these hatcheries are going to go because thatís the first thing they say is ďWell, why would we have a hatchery if nobody is going to catch fish?Ē The sportsmen have all these weird fantasies about theyíre going to be able to catch them, but the statistics show itís a very low . . .
CH: So what would happen then?
KM: Youíd have to run enormous amounts of fish by sportsmen for them to catch any amount. The fish end up at the hatchery, so then the stateís got a problem. You know, do they get into the fish business and start selling fish? Do they start dumping surplus hatchery fish on markets from fish that are coming in from Alaska and farm fish from South America? Thatís not going to go over very well. And of course, so the business community would like nothing better than to get out from underneath these contracts that theyíve signed to spend X million dollars a year to maintain these hatcheries to mitigate for the watersheds and the habitat that they destroyed.
CH: When you were referring to the recreational use of the river, say like the people down at the boat rental place, is there something that is wrong or subversive about the recreational use of the river aside from the sports fishing part of it that may pit you against . . .
KM: No, other than the fact that all too often the recreational people donít want to make allowances for people living out here, other than to follow occupations or lifestyles that are very much in complement, that are very congruent with what they think the area should be like. They donít like to see clear cuts, and by God, they sure donít like to smell cow manure from dairies. Big time, thatís a big time beef, and if youíre going to live in the country youíre going to smell cow shit. I mean thatís just the way it is. Those kinds of things, and thereís been some resentment here because of that. And there have been a number of retired people that have moved here because they like the quiet attitude. They donít like drive-by shootings and they can get away from all that sort of thing, and theyíre not here five minutes and theyíre trying to make it like Lake Oswego, you know, bitching about somebodyís cows getting out and massaging their rhodies and theyíre griping about, you know, the smell and that kind of thing. So, yes, I donít have a problem particularly with recreation here, but the fact of the matter is that it doesnít replace whatís here. What recreation has meant for the Lower Columbia River is grinding poverty, because people essentially are contributing to a service economy and that does not support families. They want to go back to the I-5 corridor and they want to be able to have the kind of money and have the kind of job that will allow them to drive a BMW or a Whatever or a - and have nice vacations and do all this sort of thing, but the way that they can afford to do that is to keep people down. I see this as a kind of oppression. I really do. And the way you justify that kind of oppression is that you demonize loggers and commercial fishermen and local farmers and that sort of thing to give them no other option but to force them into a service economy, and you do it in part with quasi-environmental regulations. I have thought for a long time that the dairy industry which is virtually gone here now, could have survived by value adding, in other words, specialty cheeses and dairy products. And, you know the dairy farmers, when they were here, were told by the large milk producers and - and all thatís been sucked away to places like Portland and Vancouver, the big creameries - ďDonít get any ideas of contributing to little homey little guy that wants to put up a cheese factory or you could find a market for all your milk.Ē They donít want any upstarts down here, so there has been that systematic extermination all for very high sounding ideas of economies of scale and consolidation and saving the environment and itís left an area thatís incredibly rich in natural resources absolutely poverty stricken. Absolutely poverty stricken! A log has no value in Wahkiakum County unless itís hauled off to Long view or Aberdeen or someplace to be milled. The idea of, look, the last little patch of timber or couple of patches of timber, I had a log buyer looking at it and I was suggesting, ďGosh, it would be nice if there was a local mill here,Ē and he looked at me like I was some kind of heretic. I mean, that log doesnít have any value unless it contributes to the economy of Long View and these large urban areas, Portland and Vancouver and Kalama, that whole I-5 strip have actively discouraged any kind of development down here, partly because they want a place to recreate, and partly because they want all that development to go on up there. I mean, thatís whatís happened to the Port of Astoria. Why in the Hell should we be thinking about digging a channel clear to Portland to get larger ships in when youíve got a port with fifty foot water at it right now or, you know, right close to the bar, but weíre going to spend millions and millions and millions, hundreds of millions of the taxpayersí dollar in order to keep the economies of Vancouver and Portland and Long View solvent for a few more years so that they think that they can compete on the world market. Itís ludicrous. Talk about subsidies!
CH: Also the same thing with the Port of Lewiston, Idaho, which is not even a commercially viable . . .
KM: Absolutely ludicrous. But thatís one of the big - You know, and thatís one of the things, that was one of the reasons for damming the Snake in the first place was to provide a barge port to Clarkston and Lewiston, and thatís - Weíve traded something that the Columbia River was famous for, those Snake River spring, summer and fall Chinook runs, and it provided incredible value to the economies to the lower river, and thatís all been sacrificed for some sort of subsidized economy to raise subsidized agricultural products and barge them out of Lewiston. Itís ludicrous; itís absolutely asinine. I get the feeling, maybe Iím not able to rhapsodize about salmon like some quasi-environmental nut. Iím really not, and itís because theyíre a part of my life, and itís something thatís there. You know, we eat salmon. I put some up in the freezer every year, but I donít get tears in my eyes or a lump in my throat when I talk about salmon. And I donít think Irene does either. Itís our livelihood. Itís our life-blood. People who can rhapsodize like that, it isnít so intertwined with their everyday life. I mean, itís like asking, ďWhy is the Pope a Catholic?Ē Not to put to fine an edge on it.
CH: Well, was there anything else along that line that you were interested in saying, then, in terms of your relationship to the salmon and why they are important to you?
KM: Well, I guess I value it very highly because it has been a defining part of my existence. So much of the fishermen are always stood apart a bit from the rest of the community here, even if most of them were pluralists, involved in a little bit of logging, a little bit of farming, but fishermen as a group always stood apart kind of apart because that was essentially the defining part of their existence, and not to have that has left these communities terribly poverty stricken. So it has been a very bitter pill to swallow. For us, salmon was your whole life. It defined your existence because there was a whole culture, a whole cultural territory or ethnicity, a whole identity as a fisherman that went with that, and then when that was taken away, people have been just kind of drifting.
CH: Were there any kind of occasions when the fishing community would get together to do anything, or . . .
KM: Well, Fishermenís Union meetings, trips to Astoria, I mean, you saw fishermen at different times and places in your fishing cycle whether it was out fishing, but very often, of course, the various associations that you belong to in Alaska, they would come around and have meetings here. They would have meetings here, stateside. You would have that. You would have Fishermenís Union meetings. You would have, when you went to Astoria to buy gear and this and that - I donít know that Iíve ever been in England Marine that I didnít know somebody, fisherman, I mean, there. You just, it was a world almost that was circumscribed by the fishery.
CH: Whatís the status of the union now?
KM: Itís there pretty much in name only. I mean, there are not many members any more, just probably fewer than fifty members, and I guess again, industrial community, the wider society knew very well that you canít continue to operate if they shut off. We quit being able to fight a lot of these battles because we werenít getting the fishing time to generate the money to do that, where most of these others, the irrigators and the hydro people and all this, theyíve been able to continue all these battles because theyíve been able to continue business as usual to generate the revenues to support it.
CM: Is there any kind of alliance with other fishing groups like the dory fishermen or the other -
KM: No, I mean, thereís been alliances with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen and occasionally at PFMC meetings (the Pacific Fisheries Management Council meetings) you might have some conversations with the Deep Sea Fishermenís Association, such as the draggers and the halibut people and those kinds of - So, yes, there are certain, but not close because here in the lower river, the fishery has still been very much tied up with extended families and ethnicity. Itís been a very insular thing, and thatís made us ill equipped to deal with the wider world. Most fishermen have been, their families were involved in the fishery in one context or another since they came to this country. We donít relate. In fact, we very often go to no small lengths to more or less keep people out of our world. Itís a very - less so than it was, but still a kind of an exclusive club. There hasnít been . . .
CM: Is for economic reasons, or . . .
KM: Part of itís for economic reasons. Fishing is the kind of game where you can make a lot of money very quickly and that attracts people who donít think about the years, the seasons, the days, the months that you donít make anything or go in the hole. But it tends to attract public attention. It tends to attract people who might want to get into it and also attracts a lot of criticism, a lot of kind of maybe sour grapes, resentment. You know, when some guy thatís working in a day wage job hears of some gillnetter thatís made eight or ten thousand dollars in one night, then they think, ďHell, Iíve got to work for three months in a mill to make that (or ďat my jobĒ). What right does that guy think he has to make ten thousand dollars in one night off a public resource? Whoís he think he is?Ē From there it just snowballs, and then people start finding excuses to, why we shouldnít have that. Thatís another reason, so fishermen long ago have learned to close ranks about this kind of thing. They really have.
CH: A lot to the environmental people that I have talked to in context with this project have said that the - really havenít, to me at least, havenít expressed much antagonism towards the commercial fishing people in that, other than saying that, at least some of the people saying that really thereís a small group of people that are arguing over what percentage of the salmon thatís left theyíre going to get when it should be directed more at what the causes of the decline of the salmon . . .
KM: And theyíve all got nice jobs to feed their families with. Itís very easy to talk like that. If we werenít arguing and defending our turf, weíd have been out of here. Weíd have been in the museum fifty years ago. Itís that simple.
CH: I think that what they were saying is that the problems regarding the dams or with the environment, the degradation of the watersheds, if those issues could be addressed, then there would be enough salmon for everyone.
KM: I would agree one hundred percent if weíd have addressed those issues in the level that weíd have wanted to, weíd have been out of business, like I say, fifty years ago because the recreational lobby would have put us out of business. We had no choice but to make decisions to fight initiative petitions. We spent millions of dollars fighting initiative petitions and runs on us in the legislature, and I canít think of once, ever, that any of this was instigated on the part of the fishing industry. In fact, if you look back at the literature, weíve always said, ďLook, we can accomplish a lot more if we work together,Ē and for most of these recreational organizations were formed with the specific purpose of getting rid of the Columbia River gillnet fishery, for example. Most of these recreational groups have taken advantage of angler frustration about not being able to go out and load up their deep freeze in two week ends or whatever, and from there it goes easily for some dirty little charismatic to decide that he can really make time by keeping these people really stirred up. I mean, people donít pay fifty dollar or twenty five dollar a year or ten dollar year memberships to an angling club unless you can get them angry enough to figure that this guy is going to go out and beat up a bunch of gillnetters if I pay my money. And so, they have kept this whipped up to a fever pitch, and I guess I would have to say the reason that they have not prevailed thus far is because they have not been honest. They have invariably in initiative petitions and in legislative battles over and over again been caught in lies. Over and over and over again their arguments have over and over again fallen apart under things like legislative scrutiny and legislators back off. I mean, we had a series of them in Washington in the legislature here a few years ago and I remember going around the legislature . . .
[End of tape 2, side 1]
Tape 2, Side 2
21 May 1999
[Tape 2, Side 2 is temporarily unavailable]
Tape 3, Side 1
21 May 1999
CH: - at his home on the Columbia River in Washington and the interviewer for the Oregon Historical Society is Clark Hanson. The date is May 21, 1999. This is tape 3, side 1. So, going back the formula that you were coming up with for how to deal with the restoration of salmon then, we were talking about making the hydro system more fish-friendly, and were there other things, other than what youíve already mentioned that would help achieve that end to make the river more fish-friendly?
KM: I think you have to take a look at the kinds of pollutants that are going into the river. Theyíre finding some pretty nasty stuff in resident populations of river otters and resident fish like carp and that sort of thing. I mean, that does have an effect. There have been some studies done. They compared a couple of rivers up in the Puget Sound. One was the Skagit, which was a very clean river system up in the north, with the Duwamish, which is a very dirty system that comes out in the Seattle area, and they found that fish coming out of the Duwamish that had been exposed to a lot of these chemicals and that sort of thing were much more prone to infections and diseases than the ones that were coming out of the healthier one. Yes, it makes a heck of a difference. I think there needs to be - Thereís a whole host of things and I think itís going to be much friendlier for human beings too, but I guess I really question how much society wants to pay to turn back the clock and, of course, thereíre going to be the people there in the business community that have made enormous investments in this that are going to pull out the stops to make sure that the remedial actions that are taken are as minimal as possible, and that they get maximum PR. They will get a lot more PR for their miles than probably actually what happens, and rest assured if they get something turned around at all they will be the first to take the credit for it. I mean thatís just the way it goes. So much of this is an urban versus rural clash. I see rural communities all across both states really taking a slamming on this. Rural economies are not being valued very highly, in fact, the main value that a lot of people seem to have in urban areas is that rural economies are there primarily to find places to rest and recuperate and get away from the shell-shock urban life, drive-by shootings and traffic jams and road rage and all of that.
CH: The agrarian population in this country has been in steady decline for most of this century. Do you feel that the rural voice is going to have much leverage to be able to turn around, or to be able to defend its interests?
KM: No, because the rural voice is more and more controlled. I can tell you for certain, having grown up here, that if the logging and the timber, especially in those years from, say, 1920 on, had been done essentially with total local control, it would have been done considerably differently than it was. But basically, and even now, rural economies like here are controlled, or the products are controlled from the general offices in places like Chicago and San Francisco and probably at a remove from that in banks in New York and people donít really give a damn for, as long as they donít have to live there.
CH: Is there any way of dealing with that? Is there any way of solving that dilemma?
KM: I wish there were. Thereís a very strong movement to keep rural people disenfranchised because theyíre sitting on huge resources and were you to give them control of that, I think it would alienate an awful lot of people in society. And it would force the wider society to start paying more of what they owe in this, but right now the thing is essentially to make rural people, fishermen, loggers, farmers, whatever, pay a good part of this, the most of it, in fact. I guess that Iím particularly disturbed about. I look at the fishery and what it was here, and a whole way of life, everything that was a part of it, I mean its been destroyed and the incredible indifference - Itís like when Reynolds Metals in Longview sold their cable plant. They had a plant that made aluminum cables, electrical cables and when they sold that to another company the company ran it for a brief period and then shut it down. I think they put about two hundred workers, two hundred and fifty workers or something out of business there, and the governor came down and there was all kinds of hand wringing and speeches and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and then about at the same time the Columbia River took a big hit. The Columbia River probably in terms of income generated and value to the economy was worth six, seven, eight times what that cable plant was and the collective reaction from politicians was ďHo, Hum.Ē It was because primarily this was an urban agenda (to shut down the fishery) because they wanted to switch over for recreation and they wanted the resources that salmon had to have. It was a whole bunch of agendas and none of it had anything with rural areas. I mean, if you get thirty miles off the I-5 corridor on either side and you see poverty, big time, and thatís directly related to the kinds of things that are going on here with these rural communities. They have been looted of their resources, and even of their historical heritage.
CH: You mentioned earlier the Indian gillnetters and thereís still a lot that do some fishing on the river. How do you feel about that. Does that frustrate you in terms of youíre not able to do something that theyíre able to do, or do you feel that theyíre justified in that?
KM: Iím very frustrated at the fact that for all the abuses that the Indians say have been heaped on them, theyíre not any more noble when theyíre in a position of power than those dastardly white men, and I guess, their attitude is - This is probably going to come up in court here in the near future. - their attitude is the federal judges have given them fifty percent of the fish, and if it takes all of the critical stocks - and youíre allowed so many critical stocks, so many Snake River falls that you can burn in order to catch healthy stocks, and their attitude is if it takes all of those critical stocks, youíre allowed to catch a hundred fifty Snake River falls and they catch a hundred forty nine of them to catch their fifty percent, then thatís the way it should be, instead of saying, ďWell, half of that is - If itís a hundred and fifty, we take seventy five and you guys take seventy five.Ē They say, ďWe want the hundred and forty nine, or the hundred and fifty; we want it all,Ē and their hokey rationale is that ďWell this is all the white manís problem. If it wasnít for you damn white men, we wouldnít have dams,Ē and all the while theyíre using lights and driving cars and all that sort of thing. I have some real heartburn with the kinds of attitudes that I have seen exhibited in that. Fifty percent is the law of the land and thatís the way it is, but I have real heartburn with the way it applies with Indians. And then, of course, if they have to have all the critical stocks to catch their share, we have to sit down here and watch our half go by so that they can catch their half with their share, then they say, ďWell you forewent your opportunity. You didnít catch your half, so that belongs to us, too.Ē So in many cases, in most cases, we havenít been allowed to catch our fifty percent because of these kinds of attitudes, and Iíve been especially disturbed with the stateís - You go into federal court, what the judge will tell you is, ďYou donít have any business here. The state is the one represents you as a gillnetter,Ē and, of course, the states are primarily interested in minimizing the hassles with Indians in court cases, so theyíre more than happy to give our half of the fish away to the Indians to avoid a court battle. It seems to be changing now, some, but for all of the PR that the Indians have talked about for themselves, Iím not too impressed with some of their attitudes in that. Iím really not.
CH: Another part of the problem is many peopleís eyes is whatís happening off the coast. You know, the salmon go down out to the ocean and then who knows even where they go, but there are a lot of international interests that have large trawling operations and things like that.
KM: Thatís industrial hog wash. Thatís somebody looking for somebody else to blame for what the real problem is. The amount of any kind catch off the Washington coast where Columbia River fish that would be taken by the deep sea industrial or anything is long since nothing. It never was very much. There was some, I think, when the Russians were mid-water trawling off the coast here on this joint venture thing until we got up and running on this, but this high seas drift net thing and theyíre catching some Alaska salmon, probably maybe even some northern Canadian fish, and I think those are some issues that need to be addressed, but anybody that tells me, ďBefore you come and tell me to screen my irrigation ditch or before you ask me to give up any of my water, you better take care of those high seas . . .Ē Thatís just a bunch of, you know, blame somebody else, and itís worked very well. Itís drawn public attention away from what the real issue was, and in the mean time, of course, they have proceeded apace to destroy and develop. In fact . . .
CH: Meaning who?
KM: The irrigators, the barge people, the hydro people, all of those people that are in the middle and upper basin who would just as soon see salmon disappear. There are people up in Idaho and eastern Washington and Oregon who feel very strongly that they would like to see this thing turn around, but, believe me, theyíre voices in the wilderness.
CH: When you go up to Alaska, how do you feel going up there, in terms of coming from here. Are you looked on as an outsider up there?
KM: Absolutely. And I donít blame them, especially in Bristol Bay. Thatís the north one. Itís clear up in the Arctic. The local people are mostly Eskimos and Aleuts. Theyíre the natives. Yes, and thereís a real undercurrent of resentment, and I canít say that I really blame them for it. I donít notice it as much in the southeast, the later part of the season where I fish. Itís not as much there, but itís there and, given the attitude of my congressional legislators with regard to the fishery in the Columbia River, I have started to spend the bulk of my money for gearing up in Alaska. Our travel arrangements are made through a travel agency in Wrangell. I no longer order parts or things I can buy. Anything I can buy up there I buy up there, and it costs more but I have let people know also up there, but since this is where the bulk of my income is coming from, I figure I need to put something back in. And this is one of the things that has most disturbed me about the value of the fishery. There was a study done a number of years ago in Washington and about the value of commercial versus sport fish fishing - This was for one of these legislative runs that the sporties made at us. - and Alaska was written off by being a distant water fishery despite the fact that I might bring a paycheck of anywhere from twenty to a hundred thousand dollars back out of Alaska and spend it here, it wasnít counted. And yet, some used car salesman from Minneapolis comes out here and dumps two hundred dollars into a charter boat experience at Astoria or Warrenton or Ilwaco that was counted. That was massaged and value added and on and on and on, but I bring twenty or fifty or sixty thousand dollars home and spend it here. That didnít count. And this is the kind of economic gerrymandering that was done by a lot of these people who wanted to make Washington the sport fishing capitol of the world and get rid of us. I find it hard to believe that many f them have really the interests of the fish at heart. Theyíre more interested in viewing the resource through the holes in their punch card.
CH: So are there other parts to this dilemma? Is there something else that we havenít covered in terms of the problems of the Columbia River Basin or how itís being managed or have we covered all those? Have we covered all those? Are there other things that youíd like to say in terms of what problems should be addressed or how we should go about doing it?
KM: Well, like I say, habitat is the major issue and recycling of pollutants and wastes, cleaning up the water more. If weíre going to do it, I mean, itís got to be more fish friendly. I can understand why society would say that itís not worth it. In fact, Iím on both sides of this issue because the one thing thatís kept us alive over the last few years since weíve had not only lousy fish runs, but lousy prices has been timber thatís been in the family, so Iíve been logging timber a little of the time to keep us afloat. So Iím very sensitive to the kinds of things, especially if youíre a small wood lot owner, to people coming in and saying, ďWell youíve got to leave these trees here.Ē The last cutting I did, I left a number of very large trees along side a creek, and itís only barely two feet wide, but itís a tributary to a salmon spawning stream, and the value of those trees, to my share after taking the cutting and the falling and the bucking the yarding and the loading and the hauling off to a cutting mill and to pay a contractor to do all of that, was, even after all of those expenses was probably about sixteen hundred dollars. When was the last time that you know of that any of these people bundled up sixteen hundred dollars cash and gave it to their local environmental organization? So itís difficult for me to talk too hard against loggers and those kind of people. I can understand that - And the whole issue, like I say, hinges on the fact is that the broader society has not been willing to pay for what they want in terms of environmental turn around. Iíve been leaving a lot more trees than I need to and Iíve been doing it for two reasons. One, I felt that it was right; it needs to be done, and two, if I didnít, one of these days that state forester is going to come along when I want to whack a few more trees and say, ďYouíre going to leave a bunch of this patch here because you havenít left anything over here.Ē So, Iím trying to stay ahead of that curve. Itís for two reasons, but I feel very strongly. In fact, a lot of the area that was originally homesteaded by my great-grandfather, John Alfred Strom, Iím going to scarify over the next three years. First, itís going to start this next spring, and plant back the trees. Thereís nothing left in agriculture here. It was fairly marginal land even when it looked pretty good to a Swede or a Norwegian emigrant where you had very little there. We used to, when I was a kid, my uncle and then my dad when he dairied a little bit - we used to run heifers and dry cows up there and that sort of thing, but it isnít good land for hay or that sort of thing. Weíve got some other bottom land that we used for that. It was pretty marginal and Iím going to, like I say, scarify it and plant it back to trees, and Iím very aware of the fact that a bunch of it is going to go into buffer strips and Iíll never be able to do anything with it, but thereís also a feeling that I want to leave some kind of a legacy. I am a land owner and I feel that there are some stewardship responsibilities there for that. Unfortunately, a lot of the people that talk about land stewardship arenít willing to put their money where their mouth is because they donít have it to put there. I mean, youíre talking some big bucks.
CH: In the . . .
KM: Let me say this, that probably the really crass businesslike thing to do - Itís a beautiful valley that winds its way up along the hill. The really crass businesslike thing to do would be to find some California real estate guy that wants to sell to some wealthy industrialist or whatever a hideaway, you know, sixty or seventy acres with beautiful trees and a creek running down it, verdant pastures and all this sort of thing, and sell it to him for a hundred fifty thousand dollars. I mean, that would be the business thing to do and I have had people say, ďWhy in the hell are you going to plant it back to trees?Ē So I say, ďWell, my granddaughter maybe someday will get some use out of it,Ē but itís the right thing to do and most people donít think that way, certainly not people who are working every day and are just barely keeping ahead. The idea of putting this, walking away from those kinds of opportunities is just an anathema, but I think, anyway thatís my take on it.
CH: One issue thatís come up thatís a little bit different than this but is the salmon treaties that were arranged between the United States and Canada, and how did that affect you? What is your feeling about that?
KM: It has not affected me much yet and Iím not sure it will. The fisheries that I fish on in southeast Alaska are inside net fisheries. The only sense in which it will affect me are there are some trans-boundary rivers like the Sitkine and where the lower thirty or forty or fifty miles of it is in Alaska and the upper part is in Canada, and we have to pass quite a bit of fish through for fisheries that go on in those rivers - A lot of them are native fisheries. - that go on in those rivers up there. Thereís been some sparring back and forth but those arenít the - The really contentious issues are some of those where you have stocks out of the Fraser and the Skeena and the Nass and a lot of those Canadian stocks milling around in the gulf of Alaska and getting whacked, in particular, Alaskan troll fisheries, and of course, they catch Columbia River fish too. What happened in the past is that there were a lot of Washington fish caught off of Vancouver Island by Canadian fishermen and, in part that was traded off for a lot of Fraser River Canadian Sockeye that came through Puget Sound that was caught by American fishermen and a lot of Canadian fish that was caught by Alaskan fishermen and some Alaskan fish that was caught by Canadians. There was a kind of a parity, more or less anyway. Depending on whose calculator youíre using and who youíre talking to it wasnít as equal as maybe Iím making it out to be. What really made this fall apart was the degradation of the habitat on the Oregon and Washington coast where our stocks started to collapse, stocks that the Canadians had heavily depended upon so we went to the Canadians and said. ďLook, weíre losing our fish. You guys have got to stop fishing on our fish,Ē and the Canadians are saying, ďThat isnít our problem. You people are the ones that have trashed your own nest. Youíre the ones that have trashed your own watershed. Why do you expect us to shut down to protect your fish?Ē And, of course, the State of Alaska is saying the same thing, ďWhy the hell should we cause all kinds of economic hardship on a lot of these communities like Sitka and some of those that have big troll fisheries for Coho and Chinook out in the Gulf of Alaska so one of your developers could put in another god damned subdivision down here and trash another watershed? Give us a break!Ē And I understand that very much. There are some very contentious issues there. I donít pretend to have a grasp on all of them, but the unfortunate part is that the people that really need to be bellying up to the bar arenít. Theyíre pointing fingers and blaming fishermen. I think thatís the real problem with it.
CH: Do you ever get into confrontations with the Canadian or Alaskan or other fishermen up there?
KM: I havenít, no. The Canadian government has stirred up some problems. There have been some problems with fishermen that run their boats back and forth - I havenít done that. - but itís largely been political showmanship, theatrics, that sort of thing. There are other issues, I think, political issues that get traded off back and forth, but I think the real issues are that there are salmon stocks that are starting to become very depressed and itís very difficult for us to go and ask other fishermen in other areas to give up fishing opportunities, in some cases on their own stocks, in order to pass some intermixed fish through so that they can get burned up at Priest Rapids or John Day Dam. And thatís literally what your talking - Because these people in the upper Columbia have given up nothing for all of this. Zip. Theyíve sat and watched these dog and cat fights. In fact theyíve actually stirred them up and probably I would have to put at ground zero the agency leaders who have found that itís very good for their job future to keep this pot boiling, especially if it takes the heat off of the people in the basins and watersheds that are really doing the damages. And thatís why, because youíve got people like Bill Wilkerson, who was a former director of the Washington Department of Fisheries. Heís working for the timber industry. I donít believe for a minute that those people are really interested in really playing hardball or theyíd have made some decisions already. Theyíre still nibbling around the edges of making statements and this and that, but in terms of really being advocates for the fish, you donít get a good position with National Marine Fisheries or with the Washington Forest Protective Association or the Cattlemenís Association if you take a salmon advocacy position. I mean, look how long it took for them to fill the last vacancy at the Bonneville Power Administration. Every time theyíd come up with somebody the industries say, ďOh my god! Heís too environmental.Ē Do you remember that? That was going on fairly recently, and people that take strong salmon advocacy positions just - They donít have a career future. And thatís the reason you keep this pot boiling, all these allocation fights. I mean, if you keep sportsmen and commercial fishermen and Indians feuding and bickering with each other then you donít have to deal with the really contentious issues and take a stand on issues that could very well mean job extinction for you in the future. Thatís been the agenda.
CH: What would you have the National Marines Fisheries do in terms of actions that they could take?
KM: I think that they are better, and the only reason that they are better than they were is that there have been a number of court cases that took them to court and thrashed them. In fact there was a federal judge on that one plan that they came out with. - What did he call it? - ďWoefully inadequate,Ē or something. I donít remember, but theyíve had their butt kicked in court on three or four occasions by environmental groups and, in some cases, the fishing industry has been involved in these lawsuits with them. So, I think theyíre better, but NMFS is still trying to broker some kind of deal because their budgets, their salaries, the good graces - Their department depends upon staying ungood graces of people like Slade Gorton who is an incredibly powerful man. Whatís the name of the dame over in Idaho? Ellen Chenoweth, Doc Hastings, you know, Gordon Smith I believe. I mean, these people have a lot of power in Congress, and if you offend them all of a sudden you donít get the budget to keep your job. You get relegated to nothing.
CH: The Columbia River Alliances for the - basically this is business interest on the Columbia River. Is that right? As sort of their trade organization...
[End of tape 3, side 1]
Tape 3, Side 2
21 May 1999
KM: I was saying that our most valuable allies are one, the Indians, and two, the environmental community and it is perhaps telling, that both the business-industrial and the recreational fishing community probably consider them for the most part death enemies. And I was shocked to read articles in some of these publications because youíve got some very new restrictive legislation starting to come out now to preserve habitat to try to turn this thing around, and I have been shocked to read in some of these recreational fishing publications which I read periodically just to get an idea, you know, where the other side is going. I was very shocked to hear comments coming out of them which sounded like something that would come out of a CEO for one of the industrial users of the Columbia River. I was shocked. I was really shocked to hear that, you know, and the talk about ďdamned tree-hugging environmentalistsĒ or something to that effect. I just didnít expect it. I had thought that the sportsmen would be much more interested in environmental preservation and turning this thing around and there is a handful that - There are some that are, and surprisingly enough, the ones that are most interested in that arenít particularly hostile to us.
CH: What about groups like I think there is Frank Amato that has the Salmon - Steelheader Magazine and those people that are, I believe, fairly environmentally oriented. Have you had any contact with . . .
KM: Yes, the group that I have worked with the most, other than the Fishermenís Union, the Salmon for All - Iím on the board of the organization. - and there have been some contacts between Salmon for All and Frank Amato and I think itís possible to work with him. I really do. In fact, what he has come, I think, around to seeing is that we have some of these known stock terminal fisheries - They have one down in Youngís Bay where they have net pens and they release fish then in three or four years, whatever, the fish come back and thereís a fishery on them, and of course what theyíre finding is that this provides some fishing opportunities for sportsmen too. Theyíre in known areas so that youíre not out necessarily on the mainstem zapping a bunch of Snake River Springs or whatever happens to be going by thatís a critical stock at the time. And I think Frank Amato has discovered that there are some excellent fishing opportunities for sportsmen there as well. I mean they would be fishing in front of us and we might go in for twenty four or forty eight hours and clean up the accumulation and then they might have a week or ten days when more fish filter in that would be pretty good sports fishing, this time. I mean thereíre those kinds of things. Some of the people on the board - I havenít had much contact with them, but some of the people on the board, I think, feel that thatís the direction that we need to move to build these kinds of partnerships, but unfortunately, thereís a lot of recreational people that arenít interested in that kind of thing. Theyíre primarily much more interested in - They live this fantasy life that somehow it would be some kind of fishing Disneyland, if they could just get rid of us. Those are - But anyway, that really shocked me to find that out, so, like I say, the people that have an environmental bent that want to turn a lot of this around I think, by and large, are on our side. I mean, some of the ones like Bill Bakke theyíre - I think theyíve gotten farther and farther out into right field in terms of environmental preservation. You know, Iím not sure what kind of reconciliation could be made with that. I havenít talked to Bill for quite a while, but I know that the last time that there was - What was it? Ballot Measure 8 in Oregon that was the big run that tried to put us out of business several years ago, and that was the last time I talked to Bill Bakke and I got in a row with him because his group at that time refused to take a stand on it, and I told him, ďAll you have to say, it isnít doing anything for the environment. All it is is a grab, a fish grab, on the part of the sport fishing industry,Ē and he said, ďWell, I know that. Itís an allocation issue. Thatís why weíre not going to get involved,Ē and I said, ďThatís all your group would have to say. ĎItís an allocation issue, not an environmental issueí,Ē and he wouldnít do it, so I said, ďTo hell with you and the horse you rode in on then.Ē
CH: Well, I think that thatís what I was referring to in terms of environmentalists saying that the fight over the fish is basically an allocation issue and not dealing with the problems of the decline of the fish . . .
KM: Thatís all he would have said, but he couldnít bring himself to even say that, and I thought - I mean, his group was one of the ones that wrote the Salmon for All asking for some money on some fish restoration projects, and, as I recall, we donated some - I canít remember for sure, but we have built bridges with the environmental community because itís in our best interests, I firmly believe to try to turn this thing around, and for groups to say, ďWell, thatís an allocation issue. Weíre not even going to take a positionĒ - All you have to do in the way of a position is just to tell the truth, say itís an allocation issue, itís not an environmental, but he wouldnít even do that, and I donít know if he was afraid of alienating some of his people or what it was, but ever since then I just lost a lot of respect for him. Heís kind of an environmental purist. You talk to biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and I see them in Southeast and Petersberg and Wrangell and I - You know, you get on a first name basis with them and you talk to them up in Bristol Bay and places like King Salmon and they look at whatís going on down here and they just kind of snicker about some of the tiny fragments of genetic material that are left here in trying to turn this thing around, because up there you round run sizes off to the nearest hundred thousand. Most of the runs youíve got here, well they donít even amount to what their round-off is. So anyway, I view the environmental community and the Indians as probably the best allies that we have. Iíve got heartburn with both at times, but I view them as the very best allies that we have in turning things around and I find probably on the other side of the fence sportsmen who are essentially wolves in sheepís clothes and who are essentially puppets of the wider business community, many of whom work for the wider business community who want to pay some lip service and set up aside a few little show and tell projects, but essentially develop the rest of the Pacific Northwest, pave it over. In fact, thereís an initiative petition going on now, in Washington state - theyíre trying to get signatures for it. - and the whole idea behind it is to take advantage of all the anger and frustration thatís coming from listing a number of stocks up on Puget Sound where a lot of real estate people and people who are living in fancy homes up on Hood Canal and places like that are going to be told maybe you can only wash your car twice a week or whatever because of ground water supplies and all this that thereís a lot of frustration, and theyíre trying to take advantage of that to get rid of us. And the environmental community, of course, sees right through it and they say, ďWait a minute. There is no excuse not to have viable runs in a lot of these streams.Ē The business community will make short work of that to say, ďWell, why should we give up all these opportunities on these resources so we can have two thousand fish in every creek? That doesnít make any sense. Letís just have it here and here and here and the rest of it weíll go ahead and develop.Ē I mean the environmental community sees through that and thatís good. The sportsmen donít. They havenít been able to think around corners long enough to do that.
CH: Youíd mentioned earlier about the need for - You didnít actually term it as drawdowns, but in terms of letting more water through to be able to help the salmon. One of the problems that a lot of people see with a few of the dams is that the reservoirs and water behind them is so slack that the fish canít find their way down the river . . .
KM: Itís a major problem.
CH: And that, in particular the John Day Dam really needs . . .
KM: Itís probably the worst in the entire system. The interesting thing is that I guess because I have been able to keep my mouth shut about not divulging what I learned from where. I have been able to sit down with a number of these biologists in both Oregon and Washington at various meetings, the Pacific Fisheries Management council meetings, or North of Falcom - some of the meetings when we are talking fish business, sit down with them in the evening or in an afternoon and have a glass of beer or a cup of coffee and sit down and talk to them about what are their feelings are and what their gut issues and what theyíre seeing and most of them when you get their guard down thereís this kind of rage because this is their lifeís work. They have spent years in many cases dealing with these issues and then to see it all flushed down the drain as it were - No pun intended. - because some dorf at Priest Rapids forgot to raise the water level back up when he dropped it or forgot to drop it when he should. There is this kind of rage. They feel profoundly serious about turning this around and thereís this real antipathy toward the business community.
CH: What about all the technical modifications that people are talking about in terms of the dealing with the turbines, the fish dying in turbines and different types of transportation of fish or the supersaturation level from the hydroelectric dams and . . .
KM: So many of the techno fixes are, again, ways at attempting to get around the basic thing that we need to do which is to return to something like a normative river. They keep tweaking the system, hoping - I mean, for them, itís a win-win situation. If they are lucky enough to stumble on something that really turns this thing around, theyíve won. If the fish go extinct theyíve won. Either way theyíve won, and in the mean time theyíre continuing to generate power, continuing to have navigation, continuing to have irrigation. Theyíve got the best of all possible worlds. No wonder that theyíre fighting tooth and toe nail for this.
CH: And what about when the Bonneville Power Administration comes out and they talk about that - Actually, the fishermen should receive a direct monetary compensation from the BPA until they firm fish - Low-caring capacity is achieved and sustained. Have you talked to anybody from the BPA about or has that been an issue among people in your groups?
KM: Well, absolutely. Itís been an issue among our people. It was shot down partly by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife that - They were the Washington Department of Fisheries at that time. Bob Turner who is now at National Marine Fisheries because he felt that Bonneville was going to take money away from projects that they would be working on fish with to support gillnetters and he felt that that was wrong. I think that it would have done a great deal to have reassured fishermen that society places a value on its fishery as a part of the Northwest experience. I mean, the fishing industry has been probably one of the most colorful industries on the west coast, and itís very much a part of our cultural heritage, and it would have made a lot of people feel that - Yes, I mean the play that we had wanted was to lease back our share of the fish, in other words, pay us and let the fish go through for spawning, we more or less had this all lined up but it was shot down by one, the Washington Department of Fisheriesí director, Bob Turner, and the Indian community who said, ďThe hell you will! If you do that weíre going to fish on them. Thatís foregone opportunity, and we will catch them if you people donít.Ē
CH: Well, thatís sort of sounds similar to what you were saying, but from the opposite perspective, coming from the Indians in terms of the companies or the agencies buying off the Indians, so werenít you being put into a similar sort of situation where you would be basically bought off, in a way, by being given money to keep from fishing to deal with the problem?
KM: Yes, to provide additional spawnings too, and of course, the Indians, part of their argument was one, that they wanted the extra fish, but also part of it was saying, ďThatís not really the issue. We can provide all the - Nobody can fish and we can provide every fish that swims in the Columbia River up there, and weíre still going to lose this unless we make some changes.Ē And I think the Indians felt very strongly that this was just another straw horse being put out to distract public attention to buy a few more years and it really wouldnít have attacked the problem. I think it would have provided more - The one argument that we get trotted out at us all the time is that, ďWell, you close the fishery down and it provides an immediate punch of salmon up there, and itís the best way of enhancement that we can think of.Ē But because the senior management officials in the agencies are pretty much political animals thatís where it stops. You get an extra punch of fish up there and nobody else changes and so you donít gain anything. Itís just like flushing it down the toilet. Whatís led to this pervasive public feeling that overfishing thatís the problem is that for years, for fifty or sixty years we kept losing fishing time. Theyíd whittle off week here and a week there and they say, ďOur runs are down. Weíve got to take some more time away from you,Ē and the hydro people and the irrigators would say, ďYes, itís overfishing,Ē and so we would lose a week of fishing time and thereís a punch of fish going over the dam and of course then the hydro people saying, ďSee! We told you! We told you it was overfishing. Look at all this escapement.Ē Four years later the run comes back and the jack return before that predicts a poor run, and they say, ďWell, youíve been overfishing again and weíve got to take some more time away from you,Ē and this just went on and on and on and itís only now that those people are starting to get hysterical up there because they donít have anybody else to close down. They have nothing left to take. I mean, theyíve got Alaska, Canada, California, Oregon, Washington locked down to a pittance of what they once were and theyíre essentially - Theyíve expanded their operations up there. Theyíve bought an incredible amount of advantage over this, but in terms of doing to save - And theyíre still trying. Theyíre saying, ďWell, now itís the Indians and itís those damned Chinese nets. And itís the Canadians. Itís Alaskans. Itís dirt under your toe nail. Itís anything but us.Ē I mean, thatís what theyíre saying, and I am probably not too rational about it in the sense that Iím bitter enough right now about it that I guess it wouldnít hurt my feelings a bit to see some other people blame them. It really wouldnít, and thatís not a very nice way to feel, but itís twisted and warped me enough [that] I have looked at the incredible problems and the incredible devastation that - and an entire way of life and a culture - The guy that was here this morning, Arvid, like I say, had a major problem with alcohol and - Weíve talked about it and heís probably one of my very best friends. Iíve known him - I went to school with him, and a lot of it was directly related to whatís happened on the river. I mean, I heard despair of not only being told that youíve lost your livelihood, but itís your fault, that you are somehow less than a genuine person because you were out there raping the environment. You were out there defiling the environment. You are the lowest kind person. Youíre not deserving of any kind of compensation. Youíre not deserving of any kind of recognition for what you feel. Youíre less than a human being. I mean, this is the kind of collective thing thatís been heaped on these people so that the rest of society could feel like they could disown their own guilt, their own complicity. Does that make a - ?
CH: Yes, yes, no, and I think your sense of frustration and bitterness are easy to tell that youíve . . .
KM: It made me so angry that I wrote some Christmas cards out, some of the Christmas cards out this year and you know some of the hysteria was really cranking up about Christmas time this year about breaching those dams on the Snake River and some of the messages that I sent to some of my friends was, ďRevenge was sweet, especially at Christmas time.Ē Itís a pretty nasty thing to say, but thatís the way I felt. You know.
KM: Revenge. Some blood needs to be let on this. I mean, you know, I see the kinds of systematic extermination thatís gone on and the confiscation of our rights as citizens to have redress has been taken away from us by a PR machine thatís been intent on development in the Columbia Basin in making damn sure that they donít have to suffer the consequences. Theyíve heaped it upon us.
CH: The growing commercial concerns of fish farming, especially even domestically, has that effected you very much?
KM: Itís affected us in markets. Weíve got a season coming on the Columbia River this fall that looks like thereís probably going to be a pretty decent Coho fishery but the thing that weíre looking at is the lousy prices for fish, prices that I got twenty five years ago for fish and a lot of this is directly related to the pulling down of trade barriers and the world market thatís awash in salmon from huge production from Norway, Scotland, the Shetlands, Ireland, and even New Zealand now, and in particular, Chile. There are some profound environmental concerns I have with fish farmers, too, but itís really, you know, our markets are - because they zeroed in on our markets. They really have.
CH: So they flooded the fish here with their market. How is it that the Norwegians and the Swedes and some of these people that have a comparable standard of living to people in this country, how are they able to be able to flood the market with fish and they still make money off of it?
KM: Look how heavily subsidized the Norwegian economy is: North Sea oil, and this has been the centerpiece of a lot of Norwayís rural development. You hear about a lot of rural, little fishing communities and villages. Fish farming has been a big thing, and the Norwegian government is behind it and theyíve invested huge amounts of money in advertising. First they went to our markets and dumped on our markets, and you know, of course, salmon is a fairly seasonal thing. Itís primarily available from spring through to late fall to fish, and if youíre looking at farm salmon, youíre looking at something thatís available year around, and thatís been made worse by the fish processing industry thatís been less than scrupulous in its quality standards in the past and, you know, a person doesnít have to buy a piece of locker burned salmon more than once or twice thatís got freezer burn on it and you figure out pretty quick, ďWe arenít going to go back for seconds on that!Ē And so people have been used to buying fresh and - You can freeze salmon, if itís done right, and hold it for months and it would be very difficult to tell. If you can please me, you can please about anybody. We please the Japanese market. The Japanese are extremely discriminating consumers of salmon, and if you can please them, you certainly could please the American consumer, but unfortunately - and I still see it. I see lousy fish put on the market and a lot of it, part of itís got to do with supermarkets and retailers that, if fish doesnít sell, instead of getting rid of it, they wash it down with some kind of solution a couple of times and hold it as long as they can. Iíve seen processors who held fish too long before it was butchered or before it was shipped out. I mean, thereís a whole host of things that - Itís gotten better. Theyíve had to get better, but in the mean time, weíve lost a lot those markets to fish farms that you can call. You can call a fish farm in Chile on a probably a Tuesday or Wednesday and you could have fresh salmon deliver for Friday nightís specials at your restaurant, flown in.
CH: Given all these things that youíve said, it sounds like you feel fairly pessimistic about the future.
CH: Do you see any hope in changing things?
KM: Iím not sure. For the Columbia River, not a lot. Iíd like to believe it, but I have seen how absolutely shameless American politicians are in getting themselves reelected, and the people that want to maintain the status quo, if thereís one thing they have, itís money. In the Alaska situation, where there are still lots of fish, I donít know. I mean, some of itís going to depend on what happens with regard to fish farms, and there are some - Thereís an ugly underbelly of fish farms, very serious environmental consequences to fish farms. There has been some very serious over fishing problems of bait stocks in order to provide food. The recovery rate - I canít remember, is it like three pounds of food that they have to feed to get a pound of recovery? Itís something like that. Itís mind-boggling how much they have to dump into that fish and a lot of it had been bait fish, anchovy type stocks, and some of these third world countries were anxious to get western dollars and have been zealously over fishing their bait stocks in order to provide food for farm fish.
CH: Isnít this the same kind of thing that happens for grain and other things for cattle to be able to produce a relative small amount of meat?
KM: Yes, and youíre starting to have very serious environmental problems with feed-lot beef and pork now, big time, and we have just begun to even think about dealing with those kinds of situations and youíre going to have the same kind of thing with fish. Weíre going to [unintel. words] diseases. I think there are some real concerns about the kinds of diseases that are going to crop up in penned up fish farms and their implications for wild stocks.
CH: Well, also the . . .
KM: Certainly the state of Alaska is just absolutely paranoid about it. Absolutely paranoid.
CH: Also about the genetic - the Atlantic salmon getting out of the cages and . . .
KM: It already happened. They found some active spawning going on in some rivers in BC and, yes, I mean, the Canadians arenít very happy. The fishing industry isnít very happy, but the reason itís hung on as long as it has is because you have some very well-moneyed and powerful corporations that are sitting on a number of these fish farms.
CH: So, is there anything else in this story that you would like to tell? Anything that I havenít covered or havenít asked or you havenít said?
KM: I guess Iíd like to be more optimistic than I am about the fishery, and Iím not sure I can be. The Norwegians have started into halibut now. Within fifteen years they will control the world halibut market. And I just see the whole fish farming as a street that weíre going down that I see as many questions as there are answers, especially environmental questions. Now, I donít know. I was once asked to give a presentation - I think it was to the Portland City Club. - on the fishery, and at the end I had I had a guy ask. A businessman asked, he said, ďWell, what is it like to be a fisherman?Ē I told him a story about - I had a college professor pulling boat for me when we had an August fishery down on the mouth of the river, and it was one of those day floods and there were sportsmen buzzing around and some guy came by in his yacht and he had to go around the end of my net and he called me every name he could lay his tongue to just because I was there, and all the images you could conjure up about the dastardly gillnetter and all that sort of thing, and this guy turned to me and he said, ďWell, congratulations, Kent. Now you know what it feels like to be a Jew.Ē And I didnít have any idea that he was Jewish, but thatís how I answered that guy that asked that question. Itís like being a Jew. I couldnít not be one, even if I wanted to. I found that out when I attempted to be in academia. I couldnít not be a fisherman if I wanted to. I mean, I wasnít happy; I wasnít eating. Probably generations of, almost all of my ancestors, were fishermen. Not quite all of them, but most all of them. Certainly, even my motherís people - Her maiden name was Engleson. Her father was a barber in Portland for years, but he fished, Lofoten in Norway before he emigrated to this country, and that goes back to Bronze Age. He fished on cod fishing schooners and salting and running salt fish to Italy and Greece and places like Latvia and all over Europe -
[End of tape 3, side 2]
Tape 4, Side 1
21 May 1999
CH: This is an interview with Kent Martin on the Columbia River in Washington. The interviewer for the Oregon Historical Society is Clark Hanson. The date is May 21st, 1999, and this is tape 4, side 1. Go ahead:
KM: I had another story I can remember. I was to a meeting at Longview, and Al Wright who was kind of the power industry guru at the time - I think he was the head of PNUCC, which was the Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee, and he was giving, you know, all kinds of things on the power and generation. Bob Turner was the head of the Washington Department of Fisheries was there and they were kind of sparring back and forth and Bob Turner was trying to provide some sort of defense, at least for the fishery and fish and the fishing industry. And anyway, I went outside to get a drink of water while he was taking questions. This guy, a businessman from somewhere in the local area, and he came in and he said to me, ďWell, would you people really be willing to sell out?Ē Before even I had a chance to think about it I said, ďThatís like, would he like me asking you how much would you charge to sleep with your daughter?Ē Itís that personal, that insulting to me to think that my heritage that goes back probably to Viking times or farther, I mean, if you want to talk fishing ancestry, I doubt seriously the American Indians got a damn thing on me or most anybody else thatís a fisherman in the lower river because most of them came from Yugoslavia and the Dalmatian Coast of Yugoslavia, Norway, Sweden, Finland. They all came from fishing communities and fishing families and it probably goes back to - Who knows? - the neolithic, maybe. I donít know. And, I guess that shows what a gulf it is between the wider society and people in traditional occupations like this. Itís just impossible for them to relate to something that is totally steeped, the whole way of life is colored, the way you view the world, the way you think, everything about it, and I just - Most fishermen I know think this way. Most of them have not been able to express themselves, and, maybe, thatís one of the reasons I came back and Irene and I both got deeply immersed in the politics of the fishery, because we felt that these people needed somebody to speak for them. They desperately needed somebody to say, ďHey, wait a minute. It ainít all this way.Ē And I think most of society still doesnít understand that. Most of society doesnít think, ďWell, why donít they just re-train?Ē Well, aside from the fact that the efforts that have been made to retrain have been pretty minimal. To help fishermen, theyíve been very minimal, in fact. Itís just very difficult, and, you know, I understand. For the first time in my life over the last four or five years, Iíve gotten some glimpses into the kinds of the anger and frustration that the Irish Republican Army must feel, that the Kurds must feel, where you get to the point where you meet this impervious wall from the rest of society and Iíve talked to, and weíve had meetings, fishermen, and Iíve said that the only other alternative that I know of is to get involved in some kind of terrorism or civil disobedience to get societyís attention and itís given me a new appreciation for the kinds of feelings that are driving the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Irish Republican Army, the Kurds, the Basques, all those minorities that have had the hell kicked out of them by a society for the most part that doesnít give a damn. And I think most fishermen feel that way. They really do. Most of them just arenít able to talk about it or put it into words, but it has utterly destroyed countless lives. And my mother has a beautiful home on the water down here. Sheís in a nursing home now. Itís a lovely three bedroom home that my dad built. It was 1959. Weíve got it rented, generating part of an income for her to keep her in a nursing home, but Iíve had a number of people say, ďLook, why donít you sell this and take this money and put it into an account for your mother. What with this and the acreage youíd probably [unintel. words] I mean that house is going to be worth more. Itís on the water and all and blah, blah, blah. And, as I told Tom and Sherry Vaughn the other night at dinner, Iíve got to do a lot more healing before I look at that river every day, before I want to see people coming and going in their boats, sportsmen and one thing and another, that have done their damndest to destroy me. Thatís a - Iím probably better off here on land that was - This particular piece was settled by my great grandmotherís sister and her husband, homesteaded. The other piece was across the valley. Itís been in our family since it was settled, and I suppose some descendant of the Chinooks could say, ďWell that was mine, originally.Ē I donít know. Nothing I can do about that, but - Iím probably better off right now not looking at that. Iíd rather not. So, in some way, I relate to how the Indians are saying or when the Indians are saying, ďTo hell with you, white man. I donít care whether youíre a gillnetter or what you are. You ainít getting what I - Iím going to get as much as I can.Ē I can understand some of that, and I think they have been waiting for the states to come and say that this has gone far enough through the federal courts, and, of course, so far the federal courts havenít because thereís a whole bunch of - What would I say? - absolution and confession going on there on the wider society that they feel that somehow they can make things better by giving these Indians this sort of thing.
CH: But going back to the issue of the treaties. I mean there may be no way around those issues in terms of . . .
KM: Well, I donít think there is, probably, a way around them, so the question comes back to me, the figures that Iíve seen tossed around, if they end up exterminating, extinguishing a number of these upper river runs of fish, if they end up having to pay the Indians compensation, the figure that Iíve seen tossed around was something on the order to 12 billion (with a ďbĒ) dollars, and make no mistake, the business community, thatís the corporate farms, and hydro and all that, are counting on the taxpayers coughing that up. Theyíre not about to, and I donít think they much care [unintel. phrase]. I think Iíve got that right, the right take on it. Itís tough to turn around, and I guess itís a question of how much of a strategic retreat is the business community willing to make, because theyíve been making some nasty comments about the Indians lately, and the whole attitude is, ďWhy should we make sacrifices if those damned Indians are just going catch the fish in their nets?Ē And itís like, you know, theyíre the only ones that have any rights - The only people so far that have made any sacrifices is us and the Indians, but thereís some idea that I donít have a right as a fisherman, even unto the fourth generation to catch a fish out here, if some irrigator has to give up a few hundred gallons of water. And thatís not the way I see it. In fact, I keep hearing about, ďHatcheries essentially being a subsidy for you damned gillnetters. I mean, theyíre subsidizing you people and thatís the ultimate subsidy is the hatcheries,Ē and I always snap up people short on that and say, ďWait a minute. Hatcheries are a subsidy for the quick and dirty development of the Pacific Northwest. My fishery was already there, just like it s in Alaska. The fish did their own thing on their own. The hatcheries were a subsidy for those people who wanted to go in and make changes. They werenít a subsidy for me. But thatís how far afield the whole argument has strayed, given people who had unlimited expense accounts to form public opinion. I mean, I canít put it any more plainly other than that Iíve got needles that I - and meshboards and tools, that I use in my trade that were made by my great-grandfather, Eric Martin, you know, and I could pick up that meshboard and I could feel what it was like, to tell what his hand was like. I can tell he was left handed, like me. I can tell by the way the board is worn. Those are hard things to try to explain as having value to someone whose love affair with his trade doesnít go too much farther than a computer screen or, you know, stock options and - There just isnít the same kind of grounding in something in approximating the natural world. So much of what people work in nowadays is very much an artificial world. Iíve had a number of escapes with my life and the bulk of them have been in fishing situations, [unintel. word] and weather, caught in storms, ugly situations like that, and I guess you feel a lot more close to that sort of thing if you do. And Iím not trying to put those people down, but what I am saying is that thatís the width and depth of the chasm that separates us, and itís probably as difficult for them to fathom my feelings and instincts as it is for me to feel theirs, and I donít know how to bridge that and if there is one big stumbling block, itís that. I donít see a value in society being placed on real cultures, traditional cultures, other than in the most Pollyanna sense of the word, the Grisly Adams, Flipper, you know, the kind of thing thatís all dressed up, doesnít come in just the least bit close to what the real - I mean I kill fish for a living. I mean thatís the down and dirty way of talking about it, and for a lot of people, they just donít relate to that. And yet, their lifestyles, the subdivisions that they move into and live in, the freeways that they commute on, the sport utility vehicles they drive, the water that they use to wash their sport utility vehicles, and their lawn and all that sort of thing, is just as lethal as my gillnet. And thatís the big challenge is to try to convince them that thatís the case, because most of people to - They want what my religious wife calls cheap grace. They want to give twenty bucks to Greenpeace or whoever, even if they have to step over somebody sleeping on a heating grid to do it and feel absolved, and I guess absolution is not that cheap or easy, and thatís what I wanted to holler at that meeting that time that I went to is that you donít need to apologize to these Indians, the sacrifice has already been made for you. Letís get on with our lives. But, of course, the Indians have viewed this as a very important political tool to continue extracting benefits, privileges and perks out of a society which they despise because theyíre passed out benefits, privileges and perks. I mean, itís a nasty situation and Iíve got a lot more questions and a lot more problems than I have answers. I donít know if that makes any sense to you or not, but thatís kind of the world from where Iím sitting and I wish I felt more optimistic about fishery. Maybe thatís getting because Iím getting older. I donít see, certainly not in my lifetime, another seven, eight, ten years, that Iím going to fish, any major pick-ups on the horizon in regard to fish stocks. The price this year was a major - Where thatís going to go, Iím not sure, but right now the fishery is pretty marginal when youíre looking at it. Of course, thereís five species of Pacific salmon, and at one time or another in my fishing cycle I catch every one of them, but when youíre looking at $.60 a pound for Kings and up in Bristol Bay, youíre looking at this year $1.22 for Sockeye, which was the high point. That was the top of the line. When youíre looking for $.55 for Coho, and youíre looking at $.26 for chum and $.16 for humpies. And those are prices that I got for fishing before I met and married my wife 26 years ago, and 26 years ago you could buy a new engine for three or four thousand bucks. That same engine now is twenty, and thereís only so many ways you could cut corners, only so much squeezing that you could do. And a lot of this I blame for fishermen, because fishermen have been reluctant to sit on the beach and strike. There have been some newer people who have moved into the fishery and a lot of them were deeply in debt, and bankers in particular are notably anti-union and, while they might let you pay the interest and forgive the part of the principal one season if you have a bad season, theyíre not very amenable to that if they know that you sat on the beach striking for a price, and a lot of these guys have gotten in over their head and so, what happened is when we struck in a number of those cases those guys went fishing and a lot of them had a season put in before we settled and, of course, then, they got paid for the whole season in what we settled for. They made fabulous amounts of money. And so, the last several years, weíve said, ďOK, we can play that game.Ē We havenít struck, and the fishery, the part that really gravels me about it is that a lot of those kinds of people, those opportunistic people got out of the fishery when they saw that coming. They are into whatever scam. Theyíre doing whatever the latest, used cars, or whatever the latest scam is. You know theyíre into something. Itís just another chance that they saw to take advantage of the situation, and weíre left with this situation and weíve got to try to start to try to undo about - We try to build back 75 years of solidarity among fishermen that was blown away in eight or ten years, probably in a decade, by a number of fast buck artists that came in and looted the thing and then bailed out. Like I say, theyíre on to something else, whatever the latest scam is, pyramid schemes or who knows what.
CH: Well, you sure have laid out a lot of the problems pretty clearly, and I could certainly sympathize with your problem with laying out solutions to those problems because it must be very frustrating for you not to see realistic solutions in front of you at times.
KM: I see realities, or I see solutions, but Iím not at all convinced that society is going to be willing to pay the piper. I have real misgivings. The problem [is that] we have been compromising for years on salmon issues and now the same people who have been insisting on compromises all these years are now saying, ďWell, youíve got to let us, or weíve got to have more compromises here,Ē and what the environmental community is saying is that we donít have any wiggle room left for compromise. And, of course, some of them are less than honorable in the sense that they have probably asked for some pretty unrealistic changes to be made and they have, essentially, heaped upon large corporations like Weyerhaeuser - Thatís just one I picked, you know. Thereís a lot of others. - A lot of these benefit and say that they can darn well afford to pay after all the environment that theyíve damaged, but thatís only half the picture. The other half are a lot of small wood lot owners, you know, a lot of small individual family businesses that are going to get nuked out as collateral damage in [unintel. word] along with this, and itís come to this impasse. Society has postponed and put this thing off, and like I say, I really believe if the sportsmen had gotten with us, if we had really worked with the sportsmen with this, the Indian issue, probably would have been a lot less thorny because theyíd have gotten some of the fish, it would have been a much more united front and we would have been able to very effectively bargain. Some of these power projects, notably, possibly some of the ones in Idaho, just plain wouldnít have been built. Thereís a whole - It would have been a lot better screening of irrigation ditches a lot sooner. Thereís a whole host of things, if youíd have had a really potent voice of user people - What Iím saying is if the sportsmen would have put even a fraction of their energies that they put into trying exterminate us, into some of these issues about what salmon had to have, I think we could have made a big difference. I donít think weíd be even close to this, the pickle that weíre in now. I mean, there are pictures down in the union office where back in the 40s and 50s where union executives, Russell Bristow and Sharkey Westerholm and some of those people went up east of the mountains and took pictures of watersheds and dams and stuff that went in to try to drum up support because they saw it coming. The packers saw it coming. I mean, if it hadnít been for the Columbia River Fishermenís Protective Union and the Columbia River Salmon and Tuna Packers Association there would have been no ladders at Bonneville Dam, and it was done from a purely selfish economic interest, but in this case, it would have been very good for the salmon, and probably we would still have it flourishing, some kind of canned, or at least a fresh salmon industry here on the lower Columbia, but, instead, we had to spend countless numbers of dollars flailing away to who was going to catch what. It was very easy for someone in the environmental community to say, ďWell, if they hadnít spent all this time fighting over who was going to catch the last fish . . .Ē the fact of the matter is we didnít pick any of these fights. They were invariably picked by recreational fishermen, and now, I find out, often by recreational fishermen who were totally in bed, whether they knew it or not, with the business community that wanted the resources, and it was a whole diversionary tactic. Part of the reason that Alaska has hung on to as much of their natural resource salmon base that they have is that theyíve got a big, powerful fishing industry there thatís seen whatís happened down here and anything that the business community gets in terms of mining and oil and gas concessions and all of that sort of thing, they have to fight for because youíve got a fishing industry thatís got huge amounts of dollars and a lot of fishermen that creates this kind of populist background to really raise hell with people in Washington, DC and Juneau, and itís worked. It isnít the only answer and it isnít all of it, but itís intriguing because youíre starting to see the user group battles going on now in Alaska, and the fighting is all coming out of all the problems, all the activism, the anti-commercial fishing activities coming out of the Anchorage metro area, and itís coming out of three or four state legislators, one of which in particular, his other passion is mining. It seems like every year heís got a bill or two up in the legislature trying to get at commercial fishermen and raising hell and at the same time, heís a big fan of the mining industry. Well, surprise, surprise. What would make you think? And of course, heís a hero with his urban constituents in Anchorage and Palmer and Wasilla and Eagle River and all those places. They think heís the neatest thing since sliced bread because heís representing their interests as sportsmen, and probably for some of them is also as employees in the business sector, but the whole issue is, again, divide and conquer and the tactics are identical to what went on here. Itís obscene. You see people literally sell their souls like that only for natural resources.
CH: It sounds like history is repeating itself.
KM: Itís certainly trying to. Alaska is such a big and vast state that the one thatís going to go first is probably the Cookís Inlet fishery. Thatís already been under fire. I donít think itís going to happen any time in the immediate future, but it will come, and itís coming from pollution and sportsmen and people in the Anchorage area who want in one hand the fish for themselves and they want the natural resources, you know, the oil and the gas and minerals and all that sort of thing. Yes, itís a similar sort of thing, the difference being is that in Alaska there isnít this vast interior that lends itself to agriculture, but there is a vast interior thatís very rich in minerals, and thatís going to be the big issue.
CH: Well, thank you for sharing your views and your time with me and I know that youíre soon to be leaving to head to Alaska, so I appreciate the time that youíve taken and I hope that youíre wrong.
KM: Well, I hope that I am, too. This is the first year - I suppose, maybe thereís some healing going on because this is the first year when I have had mixed feelings about leaving just yet. Usually Iíve been glad to get out of here because itís been pain and anguish and bitterness and suffering and I canít wait to get out of here and get into an area where fishermen are treated like normal citizens and where youíre respected and liked because youíre a fisherman and get away from having to, you know, looking over your shoulder and wondering whether somebodyís thinking about you. Just reading the hate letters about you in the paper and that sort of thing. Itís terrible, and I do it all the time. So there has been some healing going. I donít know if Iíll outlive the healing or it will outlive me.
CH: [laughs] OK, well, thank you.
KM: Youíre welcome.
[End of interview]