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Thriving Runs of Salmon? They Do Exist...

by Environmental Defense
Favstocks, May 7, 2010

As we all know, California's salmon runs and the fishing industry that depends on them have been hit hard the past few years. A number of factors have contributed to the significant decline of this iconic fish and as a result we are facing the third straight year of a limited, and at times, closed fishing season which has had significant economic impacts on many communities. But in the midst of this distressing situation in California, it's always nice to find a bright light somewhere. And as I recently found out, this bright light isn't too far away.

Earlier this week I was fortunate to be invited to a gathering of local chefs, Native American tribal members from the Columbia River and other salmon lovers for a night of honoring Chinook salmon, sustainability, great food and great company. We met at Italian Colors in Montclair for what has become known as "first Monday's" when 8 or 9 local chefs get together to make a communal meal and share it with friends and family. This time the chefs had particular inspiration to work from: Columbia River Spring Chinook, otherwise known as King salmon.

Nez Perce tribal members from the Columbia River were invited to the dinner and traveled from the Pacific Northwest to share their salmon with us and tell us about what is being done to protect the salmon as well as their livelihood. I dined with McCoy Oatman from the Nez Perce Tribe, who is the current Chair of the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission. The Commission is made up of four tribes (Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama) who all have a vested interest in protecting salmon and the natural resources of the region.

Oatman explained to me that this year they expect upwards of 350,000 returning salmon, which is an improvement on past years. Yet even with relatively good populations of salmon (especially compared to California!), numbers are not where they once were due to dams, diversions, poor water quality and other impacts on the Columbia River and its tributaries. At one time salmon made up almost 60% of the tribes' diet--now Oatman estimates it is less than 5% of their diet--resulting in a much higher incidence of diabetes among the tribal community. Whenever possible, the tribes incorporate salmon into their diet and today they still fish from scaffolds along the river with the use of small boards and nets. They fish for subsistence, ceremony and economy.

Today, the tribes are working to fully recover Chinook salmon populations by implementing the protective actions set out in the Columbia Basin Fish Accords, a multi-stakeholder negotiation that was signed in 2008. These actions are intended to address the major elements of the salmon lifecycle: harvest, hatchery, hydrology and habitat. As a result of the Accords, resources previously dedicated to litigation will now be used more productively for on-the-ground restoration projects. Over the next decade, the tribe will invest more than $700 million in salmon conservation measures.

We have much to learn from our neighbors to the north who found a way to manage their natural resources so that stakeholders' needs are balanced, but not at the expense of the salmon

It remains to be seen whether we can do the same in California, but I'm still holding out hope.

A big thanks to the tribes for providing the salmon, for the chefs who filleted, brined, sautéed and poached the salmon into a delicious meal and for Dee and Alan Cohen-Carlson for graciously hosting us at Italian Colors. It was a great night.

Environmental Defense
Thriving Runs of Salmon? They Do Exist...
Favstocks, May 7, 2010

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