Columbia River Salmon:
by Bob Rees
People like me, whose businesses depend on salmon fishing, are busy. August is the time to fish. Salmon returns have been good all year, and August is the Columbia River's peak month. It's also the best month for mothers and fathers to show their kids the value and joy of sport fishing.
I'm always amused at this time of year when the agencies that run the Columbia's dams crank up their public relations machines to take credit for better salmon numbers. I've seen it for 20 years: When salmon numbers rise, they take credit; when the numbers fall, they blame the ocean. Well, it looks different from my boat.
Ocean conditions are the biggest non-human factor in salmon numbers here. Those conditions have been friendly to salmon the last few years. But for the last five years, we've made a human change that's worked with the friendly ocean: Artificial barging and trucking of juvenile salmon has been cut by about half, and water has been spilled over the dams to get those young fish past all the concrete more safely. The salmon returning now had the benefit of more spill and less barging in 2007 and 2008 when they went to the ocean.
The basic science of dam spill is common sense: Operate the dammed river more like the river the salmon used to have. Let more salmon stay in it, and get them past dams using water rather than lots of human handling.
How did salmon get five straight years of spill? State and tribal scientists designed it. Fishermen, tribes and conservationists fought for it. And since 2006 federal District Court Judge James Redden has ordered it. The dam agencies? They've fought it every year. Full guaranteed spill has not been in any salmon plan from the Clinton, Bush or Obama administrations.
So when I read that the federal salmon plan is working, I have to laugh. The fishermen's salmon plan is working. For 15 years, we've sought three changes to the dam system: spring and summer spill, more water in the rivers in low-water years, and removal of the lower Snake River dams. Thanks to Judge Redden, we've had part one for five straight years, and we're seeing the results in more fish. Thanks to Mother Nature, we have part two in good water years -- and in high water, spill works even better.
The lower Snake dams aren't removed yet, and some claim the better returns this year mean it's not needed. But those folks aren't looking deep enough. The science supporting dam removal to restore wild salmon is not affected by a good return of hatchery salmon, which is what's happening this year in the Snake. Also, look at the harvest rules: As long as wild Snake River salmon are on the endangered species list, there won't be full implementation of our salmon fisheries downstream, even in better years like this one. If you're a fisherman, or a businessman who wins with fishing, or a citizen who wins with more jobs, think about that.
The fishermen's salmon plan is starting to work. We should implement all of it.
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