By Douglas Scott
In the muddy, murky Wishkah River, hundreds of coho salmon work their way upriver, exhausted from years of swimming the Pacific Ocean. Many of these salmon return to a hatchery that, for the last 7 years, has been operated by the Grays Harbor Poggies. Reaching the Mayr Brothers Hatchery at Buzzard Creek, the salmon encounter something they haven’t seen before: the hands of volunteers of the Poggie Club, capturing them and collecting hundreds of thousands of eggs to help ensure a healthy salmon run in the future.
The Poggie Club has been involved in Grays Harbor since 1934, when the cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam were experiencing labor strikes and residents were coping with the harsh realities of the Great Depression. Created as a sportsmen’s organization, the Poggie Club of Grays Harbor strives to bring together like-minded individuals who enjoy hunting, fishing and being responsible stewards of the land. From fishing tournaments to volunteering long hours to help ensure a healthy salmon run on the Wishkah River, the Grays Harbor Poggie Club embodies the community spirit that defines our region.
It isn’t just fishing and hunting that the Poggies care about as Jack Waite, Secretary of the Poggie Club, explained, “The club works on many projects (around the hatchery) – from mowing lawns and cleaning our ponds and streams to painting buildings.”
Organizations like the Poggie Club speak to our duty as members of the community and preach civic responsibility and involvement. Groups like this are occasionally viewed by the younger generation as outdated or antiquated, but the work the Grays Harbor Poggie Club is doing on the Wishkah River is for the future; and they hope to help reenergize a river that used to be much stronger.
The Wishkah River, like most of the rivers around Grays Harbor, used to have salmon runs so thick, old-timers tell tales of their fathers being able to walk on the backs of the fish to cross the rivers. While that may be hyperbole, the fact of the matter is that rivers like the Wishkah have seen much better, and healthier, days.
From 1986 until 2007, a group known as Long Live the Kings worked with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and was responsible for the Wishkah River Salmon Hatchery, also known as the Mayr Brothers Hatchery. For 21 years, they worked to rear healthy populations of Chinook and Coho, trying to help rebuild the once-huge salmon runs that filled the Wishkah River. Working with the community, including members of the Poggie Club, the Wishkah River salmon population increased steadily.
In 2007, Long Live the Kings discontinued their operation along the Wishkah River for a few reasons, with the main reason being a lack of funding due to problems identifying actual hatchery numbers. Long Live the Kings had to walk away, hoping that the Department of Fish and Wildlife would move forward positively for the salmon population of the Wishkah. It was in that leadership void that the Grays Harbor Poggie Club took over the duties to save the salmon runs on the Wishkah River.
In the last seven years, the Poggie Club has collected millions of eggs from returning salmon, rearing them into a healthy, stable population of coho for years to come. It hasn’t come without challenges, as this summer’s heat has been incredibly rough on the salmon rearing process.
According to Waite, “This year hasn’t been as good as previous years because of our hot summer. We have lost nearly 130,000 salmon because of it.”
Despite the heat and the low salmon numbers on numerous streams and rivers across the Pacific Northwest, the outlook for the Wishkah River salmon looks good for future generations, all thanks to the Grays Harbor Poggie Club. With community groups like this fighting for the natural areas and our future generations, the health of our environment and our community is increasing. Sustainability and community groups go hand in hand, and the work the Poggie Club is doing on the WIshkah River epitomizes the relationship all residents of Grays Harbor have with their natural environment.
Because of the hard work by the Poggie Club, future generations of Grays Harbor residents will be able to enjoy successful salmon runs up the WIshkah, drawing tourists and local outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world. Grays Harbor is a fishing destination for countless anglers, and having a healthy population of salmon is vital to our economy and our way of life. The Poggie Club wants to ensure that for the future of not just our fisheries, but our way of life, the salmon of the Wishkah represent that commitment.
For more information on the Grays Harbor Poggies, please contact them at: (360) 532-2052