Location of the Tokul Creek hatchery.
  • WA Dept of Fish and Wildlife
  • Location of the Tokul Creek hatchery.

A few nights ago, somebody broke into a fish hatchery east of Seattle—cut through the chains, evaded the barbed wire—and raised the screens blocking a pond full of juvenile steelhead, liberating around 25,000 of them into Tokul Creek, a tributary of the Snoqualmie River.

Was this some kind of radical ecology/Animal Liberation Front gesture? Probably not. Instead, it looks like some pissed-off anglers want more steelhead in the water to fish for. They're upset because conservationists have sued state hatcheries, arguing that their fish are choking out attempts to restore "wild" salmon runs:

Washington's Department of Fish and Wildlife announced last month that it would not release hatchery steelhead into any Puget Sound rivers but one this spring, after a conservation group sued over the hatchery program.

While many anglers are happy to catch hatchery-raised steelhead, the Duvall-based Wild Fish Conservancy argued in U.S. District Court that the hatchery fish program had not been approved by federal officials under the Endangered Species Act, and that the hatchery fish hinder the recovery of wild steelhead... The state had been planning to release 900,000 steelhead from nine hatcheries into Puget Sound rivers this spring. After migrating out to sea, they would have returned to spawn—or be caught—in 2016 and 2017...

In a settlement in late March, the state agreed that it would not release any of the steelhead in Puget Sound rivers except for 185,000 on the Skykomish River. Instead, some of the fish were to be trucked to inland lakes in eastern Washington where they would not be able to reach Puget Sound rivers.

So someone decided to go for a little vigilante action and free the fish anyway.

I adore events like this for their pure distillation of the of cultural impulses (every-one-for-himself libertarianism and we're-all-in-this-together socialism) that have marked the Northwest and its self-made iconography for the past 150 years: the lone gold prospector vs. timber-camp Wobblies ("an injury to one is an injury to all"); the vigilantes of boom-town Tacoma vs. the anarchists of Home; the burly loggers vs. the tree-sitting protesters; the tech nouveau riche vs. the post-WTO anti-capitalists; the indignant business owner vs. the indignant $15 Now activist.

If you're curious about how this peculiar culture evolved—especially among the loggers, who've crisscrossed that divide—I strongly recommend Wildmen, Wobblies & Whistle Punks. It's a roller coaster collection of essays about the logging camps, waterfront bars, and early radicals/anarchists of the area by high-school dropout, logger, and journalist Stewart Holbrook (1893-1964). It's a great bedside-table book for a few exuberant pages before lights out.