Salmon Story Goes on Foreverby Editor
Albany Democrat-Herald, August 16, 2006
The Bush administration wants to take a new approach to restoring runs of wild Pacific Northwest salmon that are threatened or endangered. It wants to quit killing them intentionally, by cutting back on the fishing harvest.
It wouldn't work, but it's logical. We don't "harvest" other creatures threatened with extinction. We don't have hunting seasons for eagles, for example. So why kill large numbers of salmon by fishing for them? Fishing interests, of course, have a different view. They say they take only a small percentage of annual salmon runs while dams and other facts of modern life have a much bigger effect.
They may be right about the numbers, but dams kill fish unintentionally and are needed on the Columbia system for a number of powerful reasons, mainly generating power and flood control, but also navigation, recreation and water storage for agriculture. It sounds cruel to the fishing interests, but society can give up fresh-caught salmon; it can't give up electricity, and we don't want cities swamped by yearly floods.
It's unlikely, though, that cutting back on fishing will restore wild salmon in the Northwest, even combined with changes in hatchery practices as the administration also proposes. That's because, as fish scientist Bob Lackey of Corvallis and others have concluded, salmon are declining because of four major trends: a market economy that doesn't much care about wild fish, population growth, greater competition for water and people's lifestyle choices.
In the Salmon 2100 Project, scientists have proposed a range of other alternatives, most of them far out.
They range from trying to reduce the population and changing the lifestyle of the Northwest to setting up artificial streams. Among the more feasible ideas is to designate salmon sanctuaries in selected coastal river basins while essentially letting other runs fend for themselves.
One of these days another alternative may emerge. That is to quit worrying about the salmon because of the cost of trying to restore all those runs. Recovery measures in the Pacific Northwest are said to have cost $6 billion in the last 10 years alone.
Voters may say: "We are having trouble paying for fuel and heat, not to to mention housing, so why add to our cost of living, directly or indirectly, by showering money on a species of fish? Sure, the salmon is supposed to be hugely symbolic of this region, but how about we pick another icon? In an economy where the rich get richer and the rest of us struggle to get by, the fate of a bunch of wild fish is not exactly at the top of our minds."
Instead, though, we'll probably continue to muddle along, neither failing nor succeeding, but ensuring that salmon recovery stays on the agenda for the next 100 years.
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