Buoy 10 salmon season is usually slow to gain momentum. But with incredibly positive preseason publicity and lots of limits being taken in the ocean, every boat slip is booked for miles around and this summer may be an exception to Buoy 10s gradual-start pattern.
This is great news for our local economy. The approximately 2,000 slips in the lower Columbia region represent 2,000 recreational vessels with several people apiece all buying groceries, tackle, fuel, motel rooms and RV spaces. These boaters are sometimes accompanied by spouses and children who stay ashore spending money. Until the fall storms arrive, this will inject a lot of welcome financial energy into our ports and towns.
Some out-of-area activists have falsely claimed that the lower Columbias skepticism about a main stem gillnetting ban means we are anti-sports fishing. This is the kind of ridiculous charge that exemplifies some of the extremists in this debate. We love sport fishing, both by private citizens and charter operations. We just love commercial fishing, too.
Now is a perfect time for the kind of emphasis patrol announced last week by Coast Guard Sector Columbia River and other agencies. The USCG and its partners provide education for safe operations on the water, checking for required safety equipment and compliance with federal and state fishery regulations. But as denoted by its name, Operation Make Way, the pivotal reason for these efforts is to keep small fishing boats out of the way of enormous ocean-going vessels that enter and exit the Columbia each day.
Recreational boaters must be wide awake to the fact the estuary is a busy commercial shipping corridor. Large vessels have little if any ability to turn or stop very quickly. They must be given right-of-way by fishing vessels of all kinds. This danger is made worse by fast-developing fogs that develop because of sharp temperature differences between the ocean and inland areas.
These same temperature differentials have been producing gusty winds, producing choppy seas. Winds and chop create life-threatening conditions for smaller boats. All our waters are extremely changeable. It can be flat as a mirror and a half-hour later be rough enough to raise anxiety levels. This fact argues against taking smaller open boats into open waters.
The start of Buoy 10 season nearly always brings a spate of close calls, as the sheer volume of marine traffic picks up and the number of relatively inexperienced boaters swells dramatically.
Flotation devices consistently make a big difference in survivability when boats sink or become swamped. Newer types that are widely available from local suppliers are not bulky, hot or inconvenient. Buy them and wear them. If you think you cant tolerate or afford life vests, you shouldnt be on the water.
Cellphones are better than nothing to call for aid, but its best to have a VHF radio, especially if going into the ocean. Boating safety courses are offered throughout our area and are a good investment of time for anyone not abundantly experienced in local conditions and circumstances.
Have fun, but please take every step to make sure you come home safe. No fish is worth your life.