All the Right People
by Patrick McGann
Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited resumed breathing maybe for the first time in weeks the other day. Federal fisheries officials announced that a new salmon hatchery policy will not result in the wholesale delisting of endangered wild salmon and steelhead.
He had it just right when he said, "I think we've got a complicated process that is fraught with peril here. It's not going to be easy." Amen.
If the federal fisheries managers can be believed, this new hatchery policy is a chance -- nothing more -- for hatcheries to play a genuinely positive, rather than a decisively destructive role in the restoration of wild salmon and steelhead.
A few weeks ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries division announced that genetically diverse hatchery stocks may be considered in the total population counts of endangered and threatened wild fish. That would, of course, dramatically change the total population counts on which the endangered species listings are based.
The concern among fish advocates, sportsmen, commercial fishers and environmentalists was that the policy shift would gut fish protections.
These people are suspicious of the Bush administration, dubious of the notion that hatcheries can be improved to the point of helping and not hurting fish runs, and convinced that agriculture and land development interests will quite happily allow salmon and steelhead to become extinct.
Their concerns are justified.
At the Lewiston Tribune this fall, Washington state Sen. Larry Sheahan, who is running for U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt's seat in Congress, said he would rather see extinction than dam removal. "Whatever it takes," he said.
In a reverse sort of way, the reaction from lawyer Russell Brooks of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative law firm trying to remove salmon from federal protection, is a good sign. "I think the Bush administration is pandering to environmentalists that would not vote for him no matter what he did," he said.
There's a clip-and-save quote for you.
That is an attitude guaranteed to fail and take much of the inland Northwest economy with it. A few -- a tiny few -- people are willing to see salmon and steelhead become extinct. The vast majority across the Northwest and the nation are not.
The intelligent operation of the hatcheries -- a policy now wholeheartedly embraced by the Columbia Intertribal Fisheries Commission -- and reasonable management by NOAA Fisheries, which this announcement indicates, is the only way to save the dams. First fish. Then dams.
Extinction is not an option.
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