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Salmon Commission Delivers Rare Bargain

by Staff
Tri-City Herald, September 2, 2003

Sometimes, a congressional action is so perplexing that it's impossible to imagine what lawmakers are thinking.

A case in point is the decision hold up $1.1 million needed to pay America's share of the Pacific Salmon Commission.

The commission is funded equally by the United States and Canada under a 1985 treaty. Our northern neighbor already is paying its half.

If the commission had been less successful or if the costs were higher, then this rare example of congressional stinginess might be easier to understand.

Neither is the case, however.

In fact, the commission is a rare example of success in the world of salmon recovery, where exorbitant costs and questionable results are the norm.

Last year, for instance, the congressional General Accounting Office complained that since 1982, federal agencies had spent $3.3 billion on Columbia Basin salmon recovery -- enough to fund the commission for 3,000 years -- with no evidence the money actually helped fish.

This summer, the Bonneville Power Administration estimated that for every endangered fish saved by spilling extra water over the dams, Northwest ratepayers lose $7.6 million worth of electricity.

In other words, each endangered salmon the BPA program saves cost enough to fund the Pacific Salmon Commission for nearly seven years.

The commission's value is much more certain by comparison. In a deal negotiated in 1999, the catch off the coast of Canada was sharply reduced, and the upshot is salmon runs have since climbed to record levels.

Of course, the improved numbers have more to do with changing ocean conditions that favor fish than the commission's limits. Even so, if restrictions on harvest save just one endangered salmon from the cannery each year -- an exceedingly safe assumption -- that's seven times more cost-effective than summer spills at the dams.

Actually more cost effective, because setting catch levels is only half the commission's job. The group also is paid to prevent international disputes over salmon.

Before the treaty, oceangoing confrontations regularly occurred. In 1997, as the dispute escalated, Canadian fishing boats blocked an Alaska state ferry from leaving Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Delaying funding any longer could permanently damage the negotiated harmony as well as endangered salmon. The commission is on the verge of dismissing its 22-member staff and expects to cancel a meeting next month in Oregon.

Congress needs to act now.

Salmon Commission Delivers Rare Bargain
Tri-City Herald, September 2, 2003

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