EarthTalk: West Coast Salmon Threatenedby Staff
Contra Costa Times, December 25, 2009
Q: What is the story with West Coast salmon runs? I've heard conflicting reports in regard to whether the fish are abundant or going extinct.
A: West Coast salmon runs have been in decline for decades, stemming largely from the damming of rivers and the pollution throughout the fish's extensive range from freshwater mountain streams to deep offshore ocean currents.
Analysts estimate that only 0.1 percent of the tens of millions of salmon that used to darken rivers every summer and fall up and down the West Coast before white settlement still exist.
Particularly worrisome is the accelerated downward trend in the last few years, signaling that some populations just may not be able to cope with fast-changing climatic conditions heaped on top of other existing pressures.
Others suggest that the health of some of the region's salmon populations -- such as bountiful pink salmon off Oregon and Washington and still-thriving Alaskan runs -- shows that with proper management we may be able to retain lively populations of both wild salmon and fishers.
Perhaps the hardest hit and most talked about salmon fishery in the world -- California's Sacramento River Chinook run -- has been off-limits to fishers for two years because of the low volume of wild fish returning to spawn.
Glimmers of hope do exist. Salmon fisheries in Washington and many parts of Oregon had a big year in 2009 and groups are lobbying for changes.
With 13 salmon populations in the region already teetering on the brink and the climate only getting hotter, time is surely of the essence.
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