Food Fight: Chefs Fight
Approximately 200 chefs from restaurants in 33 states have signed a letter that was delivered to legislators in Washington DC today, asking Congress to pass laws that will restore healthy habitats for the decimated wild salmon species along the Pacific coast. The letter was inspired by last year's federal shutdown of 88% of the commercial salmon fishing along 700 miles of coastline in California and Oregon and is led by renowned chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in San Francisco.
Marine scientists said the closure was necessary to allow chinook, or king salmon, to spawn in the 260-mile Klamath River where drought conditions have caused intense competition for water among farmers, utility companies, Indian tribes and commercial fishermen and has led to confrontations. This led to a 90 percent reduction of commercial salmon fishing along 700 miles of coastline from Monterey, California to just south of the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. Additionally, federal mismanagement of Columbia and Snake River salmon stocks has led to restrictions on salmon fishing off the coast of Washington. All of these restrtictions have resulted in commercial shortages of wild salmon.
"Wild salmon is one of the few wild foods we still regularly see on the dinner table," said Waters. "They have an exquisite, delicate flavor and eating wild salmon can connect you in a beautiful way to the sea. But only a long-term commitment to protecting and restoring salmon habitat will ensure that Pacific wild salmon remains a natural resource."
The long-term outlook for salmon and salmon fishermen is uncertain.
In addition to delivering their letter to congress, certain chefs also are promoting the issue in their local communities and encouraging consumers to show legislators that this issue is important by creating increased demand for the fish. In an effort to build support for wild salmon, there will be a large salmon feast tonight in Washington DC.
"The foodies are recognizing this is important.... Wild-caught salmon are better for you than farmed salmon," said Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena). Thompson's North Coast district lost more than $60 million during last year's fishery shutdown. "Real fish don't eat pellets, and they don't need antibiotics. They are just natural."
Not only are wild salmon good to eat, they are important bioindicators of the quality of their environment.
"As a proponent of local, seasonal and sustainable foods, I view wild salmon as the canary in our coal mine," said Greg Higgins, owner of Higgin's Restaurant and Bar in Portland and recognized among the city's top chefs. "They portray our ability to support bio-diversity and live in harmony with nature. Our communities and their economic and environmental health hinge on sustaining the viability of these amazing creatures."
There currently is a campaign to remove four dams on the Lower Klamath River and four on the Snake River in Washington state. In fact, the licenses for the four Klamath dams have already expired and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is considering whether to renew them. But this campaign faces keen opposition from farmers who depend on irrigation water and barge transportation, and from electric companies and industries such as aluminum plants that depend on low-cost power.
"We have 1.7 million customers getting electricity that produces no emissions," said David Kvamme, a spokesman for PacifiCorp of Portland, Oregon, which owns the dams. "States want to cap greenhouse gases, and they want renewable resources. Hydropower from Klamath dams is a renewable resource."
However, dams along the Columbia River and its tributary, the Snake, "have turned the river into a series of warm, stagnant lakes, blocking natural migration and devastating critical habitat," said Therese Wells of Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition of conservation and fishing groups.
In Alaska, where there is a still-plentiful fishery in Bristol Bay, a proposed giant gold and copper mine threatens those salmon runs.
Even though 80% of salmon consumed in the USA is farmed, this is apparently not the answer: penned salmon live at such high population densities that they can infect nearby wild salmon with parasitic lice and various diseases, and they also cause high levels of pollution and antibiotics to enter the wastershed.
Various articles on salmon farms and sea lice.
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