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This past week while fishing the Carbon I talked to an 80 year old lifetime resident of Orting while he was walking his dog along the levee. He used to fish all the time, but has lost all of his fishing partners. He told me about the hay days of the Carbon, Little Puyallup, Voights Creek, and the South Prairie Creek.
He remembers seeing Voights Creek so stuffed with Chinook they would literally go on shore to get around the other masses of fish. The hops farmers near the creek would pitchfork the plentiful salmon and place a carcass near each plant. These rivers and creeks were fished hard and they always produced, year after year.
Fifty to one hundred years ago they would log right up to the creeks and rivers, septic tanks were crude and inefficient if at all, there were many more dairy farms with runoff near the creeks, and Commencement Bay was spewing every hazardous substance into the water. Heck they even used to have garbage barges dumping into the sound. Our environment is a lot cleaner now and most of the environmental problems have been curtailed.
So with all that, how could there have been such healthy salmon and steelhead stocks up until 30 years ago? Was it a century of waste and abuse, gill nets, sportsmen over fishing, hatcheries, or over management? I know some will say all of above, but the fish returned in abundance for near a century with all of this going on, what happened in the 1980's to start such a drastic decline?
 

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Well there are a lot more people in the 1980's than in 1920. Bad environment doesn't always appear over night it takes years to even find out about the damage let alone to try to turn it around.
If we humans take millions of pounds of salmon every year (I read a book that had the commercial harvest for the northwest in 1906 at millions of pounds) for years and years, do the salmon reproduce in the millions and millions?
It is also as you thought-that all the things add up from us humans.
 

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My dad floated the Puy in the early mid 80s and he said fshing was fonaminal (doubt I spelled that right) as to compared to what it is now, same with the upper nooch and the Hoh. He would drift it all the time and never see a boat. That may be the case with alot of washington streams now.
 

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Not many of those old timers left anymore, I can remember those old timers talking about how they would fish the Carbon until about ten in the morning then the river would turn black from coal dust from mining operations upstream then they would go over to the little Puyallup and fish, I wonder what the effects of coal dust pollution had on the Salmon and steelhead?

I think wannafish pretty well summed it up, the cumulative effects of a hundred years of overfishing and habitat abuse has finally come home to roost, I think the last nail in the coffin was stream channel alterations from flood control projects on the Puyallup and Carbon Rivers over the last fifty years.
 
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