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Tight lines, my friend!: Remembering Jim Welter

Jim Welter, who lost his battle with cancer last week at the age of 85, is a legend in the Oregon fishing community for his tenascious work and wonderful character.

It comes with great sorrow that I bid a poignant farewell to one of the most respected members of the Brookings fishing community. Long-time resident and friend to both commercial and sport fishermen, Jim Welter, lost his battle with cancer last week at the age of 85.

I cannot find enough superlatives to appropriately describe the qualities that Jim possessed. He was not only a true friend to the commercial and sport fishing community, but he was represented, was respected by, and was extremely influential to the Port of Brookings Harbor, NOAA Fisheries, various other governmental bodies and a plethora of biologists in the fish and wildlife agencies of California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

If you are enjoying the marvelous salmon fishing this season, and the fantastic rockfish and lingcod fishing this area has to offer, in large part, you have Mr. Welter to thank for it. He negotiated and fought for many, many salmon seasons for several decades, representing the Port of Brookings Harbor at the PFMC meetings that sets all of the regulations.

“I don’t know a more influential guy in terms of representing the general public and the general issues,” said Russ Stauff, Rogue Watershed Manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “I don’t know anybody who can even measure close in terms of that. He was the first guy I ever heard talk about the importance of looking at forage-fish species and other indexes of ocean productivity.  He was talking about that 20 years ago. He was the guy I first heard champion that in front of NOAA Fisheries.”

I can remember often talking with Jim on the phone or sitting next to him at his house on numerous occasions, while patiently teaching me the underlying principles that drive our salmon seasons.  After a few decades, I finally started “getting it” on a small scale.

On numerous occasions, Jim patiently talked to me about the importance of having and supporting the Pacific Whiting fishery, fish commonly known as hake. Salmon were often caught in this fishery’s nets as bycatch, and according to Jim, there was a direct relationship between the Chinook bycatch in this fishery, and how good the following salmon season was going to be.

He also made me aware of the importance of high-water years in rivers, and how their resulting blowouts contributed to the following years’ salmon fisheries. Jim often said that the resulting silica accumulations deposited in the ocean became the prime starter in the formula for maintaining a healthy ocean nutrient food cycle. Silica was eaten in copious quantities by plankton, which in turn provided fodder for baitfish, the food for salmon.

After the Chetco and other rivers experienced high-water situations, Jim always looked at these high-water years as positive experiences for salmon fishing. He always said to wait three years after a blowout for the great salmon fishing to start.  The results three years down the road always proved him right.

I was in awe of the amount of information that he stored in his computer — the computer being nature’s greatest computer — the human brain.

He was therefore a walking encyclopedia of knowledge of every fishery in the Pacific Northwest. He could quote fish numbers in the ocean or on any river in any given year with abandon, and he would then reference specific reasons as to why those numbers were either high or low.  He forgot nothing, remembered everything, and always presented scrupulous data during ODFW or PFMC meetings at the most appropriate times that would benefit his fellow fisherman.

“He was a great guy and quite a character,” said his PFMC colleague Wayne Butler of Prowler Charters. “We all loved Jim.”

“He was very knowledgeable, straightforward and outspoken, and he could back up everything he said,” recalled Butler about the many meetings that the two had attended together. “And he didn’t pull any punches.”

On that note, I would also like to add the word “tenacious” to Jim’s lifetime resume. I recall Jim addressing the subject of flawed stock assessments at innumerable ODFW meetings. His steadfast persistence and determination eventually persuaded the agency to alter the questions and format in which anglers are addressed regarding their catch at the end of the day.

I could write volumes regarding Mr. Welter’s accomplishments, with all of the interviews that he had graciously granted me throughout the years as a writer for the Curry Coastal Pilot and with various outdoors magazines in the Pacific Northwest. I am a better man because of having known him, and a sadder person because of his loss.

I extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends and members of his church.

Tight lines, my friend! 

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