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Ecology and salmon related articles

Disturbingly, Good Numbers may Deceive

by Rich Landers
Spokesman Review, May 31, 2000

Spring chinooks on the up-and-up, Rich Landers writes.

Spring chinooks are no accident.

The man-made versions of these prized salmon are returning in big numbers to hatcheries on some Columbia and Snake river tributaries this week. But their spring-running lifestyle evolved long before humans were on the scene.

Spring chinooks are in firm, bright condition as they move upstream because they are nowhere near their spawning mode.

Spring chinooks originally took hold in certain river systems because the season of high flows was the only period in which they could reliably get above some natural barrier, such as falls or high water temperatures.

Fall chinooks move upstream from the ocean in late summer and fall and proceed directly to spawning grounds. Spring chinooks enter the rivers in May. They have more precise water and habitat requirements than fall chinooks, since the springers must remain in the rivers and tributaries until they are ready to spawn in August and September.

These two versions of the same species take advantage of the river systems at different times of the year.

Fall and spring chinook are the original models for a good investment portfolio. They demonstrate nature's amazing penchant for diversification to prevent a total loss of fisheries from any single natural disaster.

This plan has provided a trust to sustain countless generations of man and beast over the millennia.

No less than 137 wildlife species in Washington and Oregon -- from killer whales to giant salamanders -- depend one way or another on Pacific salmon for part of their diet, according to a recently released report by a consortium of state agencies.

Yet this investment strategy, remarkable as it has been, is having trouble coping with the year-round unnatural disaster created by man.

Giant mutated beavers would require millions of years to wreak the havoc the Corps of Engineers inflicted on the Columbia River system in just a few decades.

Short-term success: Fishing has been excellent for hatchery-raised spring chinook salmon heading for a few hatcheries in Columbia and Snake River tributaries.

Next year, the fishing could be phenomenal.

Preliminary indicators suggest hatchery runs entering the Columbia River could be nearly twice as big next spring.

The number of adult chinook salmon passing over Bonneville Dam as of today is almost identical to the 1972 tally of 178,000. But there's a big difference, fish managers point out.

In 1972, significant commercial and sport fisheries were conducted on those salmon BEFORE they reached the dam. This year, no commercial fisheries were allowed, and sport fishing was restricted.

Rich Landers
Disturbingly, Good Numbers may Deceive
Spokesman Review, May 31, 2000

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