8 Years And Counting: Columbia-Snake
by Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition
Fishermen Struggle to Stay Afloat in Face of Declining Runs
The book officially closed on the 2007 spring and summer salmon season on the Columbia and Snake Rivers on Friday, and the bottom line was even worse than fisheries managers predicted.
Returns of spring and summer chinook to the Columbia-Snake basin fell far below the level needed for recovery for the eighth consecutive year. For fishermen and northwest communities, it was another year of reduced seasons and economic insecurity, and put an exclamation point on the continuing failure of federal salmon recovery efforts.
"The federal agencies can slice the numbers and spin the data any way they want, but the real bottom line is clear: fewer and fewer fish are returning each year, and this administration has no intention of doing anything new or serious to actually help us," said Jeremy Brown, a commercial salmon fishermen and member of the Washington Trollers Association. "We've had to spend as much time tied to the dock this year as we have fishing, and nothing the federal government is proposing suggests they intend to improve the situation."
Recreational, commercial and tribal fishermen in Washington, Oregon and Idaho all experienced cutbacks and closures in 2007 that gutted fishing seasons to just half of what they were last year. Those who fish Washington's waters, in particular, faced quotas as low as they've been since 1994, threatening the economic stability of already struggling coastal and river communities in the state.
"This year was another body blow to fishermen who are struggling to survive from one poor season to the next," said Joel Kawahara, a member of the board of the Washington Trollers Association based in Quilcene, Washington. "Year after year in Washington, we have cut our seasons to accommodate the shrinking limits, just to try to keep our jobs, support our families, and keep fishing in the future. But our backs are against the wall for the third year in a row."
"This continuing decline has economic consequences," said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "Our fishing seasons have been shut down or drastically reduced this year, hurting the business of fishing guides and equipment suppliers. In many places, fishing was closed almost as soon as it opened. Boats remained in dock, guides were idle and millions of dollars destined for thousands of miles of river communities in Oregon, Washington and Idaho won't be realized this year."
Anglers made 175,000 trips in pursuit of spring chinook on the Columbia River in 2001 but only 70,000 this year, Hamilton said. This hurts not only fishing guides, but trickles down to motels, eateries, equipment suppliers and retailers throughout the region.
Inland in fishing towns like Riggins, Idaho, the situation was just as bleak. The salmon fishing season in Idaho closed on some rivers in late May, while fishing continued on the Lower Salmon near Riggins through June 2. The closings came much sooner than the anticipated date of June 25th.
Gary Lane with Wapiti River Guides in Riggins says so few fish returned that the subsequent fishing restrictions kept anglers away. "Usually, there's elbow-to-elbow fishing on the little river, and fairly crowded on the big river," he said. "But we've had pretty good elbow room for the most part this year."
Lane blames the four lower Snake River dams, and he says every year the dams are in place is another year of struggle for small river towns.
BY THE NUMBERS
Fewer than 67,000 adult spring Chinook crossed Bonneville Dam this year, the first of eight dams salmon must navigate during their upstream migration to Idaho through the Columbia-Snake river system. That's 30% below last year's number (itself a dismal year), significantly below the 10-year average, and only a fraction of the 400,000-plus fish needed for sustained recovery. Summer chinook returns at Bonneville registered less than half of the 2006 count, and only about two-thirds of the 10-year average.
Returns of combined wild and hatchery Snake River spring/summer chinook were virtually identical to last year's poor numbers, with wild Snake River spring/summer chinook in no better shape than they were in when they were first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1992. As of Friday, a combined 30,184 of these fish had passed Lower Granite Dam. In a typical year, only about 20% of these fish are of wild origin.
"We're unlikely to see more than 10,000 wild spring/summer chinook returning to the Snake River basin this year," said Rhett Lawrence of Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition of conservation organizations, commercial and sport fishing associations, and taxpayer and clean energy advocates working to restore wild salmon to rivers, streams and oceans of the Pacific Salmon states. "Biologists have consistently said that you need at least four times that many fish spread throughout Snake River tributaries to achieve recovery. In other words, we're not even close."
Historically, about 1.5 million Snake River spring/summer chinook returned each year
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs