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Commentaries and editorials

Pointing Fingers Won't Save Any Fish

by Steve Fick
The Oregonian, April 23, 2008

The March 27 op-ed piece in The Oregonian by Terry Flores of Northwest River Partners unfairly attempts to divert blame for the troubles facing Columbia River salmon away from the most serious cause of their decline: the numerous dams on the Columbia and its tributaries.

These concrete barriers forever changed the ecology of our river systems, and no reasonable scientist disputes that the dam network has been the primary factor in the decline of Columbia River salmon runs. Before the dams, Native Americans harvested salmon for eons and non-Indian fishers harvested salmon for decades, in a sustainable way.

Flores suggests that commercial salmon fishers harvest salmon indiscriminately. That's simply false.

Under the Endangered Species Act, state and federal fish managers regulate both sport and commercial fisheries to safeguard endangered fish while harvesting other healthy salmon stocks. Flores also fails to mention that gill-netters fought for fish ladders on the Columbia's dams and lobbied for passage of the Northwest Power Planning Act, which is meant to balance hydroelectric operations with salmon runs.

The treaty tribes and sport and commercial harvesters all want sustainable salmon runs to benefit future generations. And healthy, harvestable stocks of salmon continue to exist in the Columbia River.

Flores wrongly suggests that Columbia River gill-net fishing is not selective while the recreational fisheries are. The fact is that sport and commercial fishing both can have lethal impacts on protected fish. That's why both are regulated to protect against such impacts. Indeed, commercial fishermen use tangle nets and resuscitation boxes for the spring salmon harvest to selectively release untargeted species. That's why the commercial fishery's mortality rates are similar to the sport fishery's mortality rates.

This year, Columbia and Willamette River sport fishermen are allowed to kill up to 15 percent of wild Willamette spring salmon while trying to catch hatchery fish. The commercial fishery will kill less than 1 percent.

Also, commercial fishermen and processors voluntarily put 5 percent of the value of their catch into a fund that supports growing salmon for harvest in select areas. In short, we're paying to mitigate damage to salmon and other wildlife from hydro and irrigation projects. This is real money, not the $8 million that hydro interests claim they spend on salmon but is really a paper calculation of forgone power sales.

The dam system on the Columbia River basin is the primary obstacle to salmon recovery. Hydro operations are responsible for up to 88 percent of the mortality of wild spring salmon that originate above the Lower Granite Dam. Timely water flows to assist out-migrating smolts and returning adult salmon have a direct correlation to salmon recovery.

As a lifelong sport fisherman who has worked in the consumer seafood industry for 34 years, I believe that all user groups -- utilities, dam owners, irrigators, treaty tribes, sport and commercial harvesters -- should work together to address the dominant threats to salmon. Instead of pointing fingers at select groups with untrue allegations, we all need to work together to find a solution to the dam issue.

That "we" should include the utilities that Terry Flores represents.

Steve Fick is the owner of Fishhawk Fisheries in Astoria.
Pointing Fingers Won't Save Any Fish
The Oregonian, April 23, 2008

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