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Commentaries and editorials

Breaching Dams Won't Solve
Problems of Overfishing

by Dean Finch
The Idaho Statesman, August 9, 1997

To the casual reader of The Statesman's recent editorial series, breaching the four lower dams on the Snake River would solve the salmon and steelhead problems for Idaho. This is a gross oversimplification of the problems facing salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest.

Asian trawlers are still operating in the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea with their huge nets. Supposedly they are being monitored to catch and keep only allowed species. Actually it is very nearly impossible to keep track of their catch. Legal catches of U.S. and Canadian commercial fishermen at times will net some salmon destined for the Snake River.

During the salmon and steelhead runs, sea lions and seals are allowed to feed at will at the mouths of our rivers as well as at sea. Commercial fishermen are no longer allowed to control their numbers as they once did.

The Judge George Boldt decision allows tribes indigenous to the Pacific Northwest to take up to one-half of the total runs of salmon from the streams of the Northwest for sustenance and ceremonial purposes.

The Indian people have been asked (or told) to give ever since we Europeans set foot on this continent. Now you would have them give up their salmon for five years in the improbable chance that breaching the dams "might" help the salmon -- for Idahoans.

As long as there is commercial harvesting of salmon along our Pacific Coast, the tribes are not likely to go along with giving up their lawful catch. The tribes have learned that the federal courts will back up their treaty rights, and the salmon are a treaty right.

As always, dollar figures serve those who compile them. Dependent on which group of "economists" compile the figures, the implied gain in dollars by breaching could likely be cut by one-half and the costs to breach increase two-fold.

To compare the breaching of the Sunbeam Dam near Stanley to breaching of the four major dams on the Snake River below Lewiston is ludicrous at best. Your own article indicates the fish ladder on the Sunbeam Dam was a total failure and the picture of the old dam totally repudiates any attempt at comparing the dams as making any sense. The only similarity is that they are all dams on rivers of our areas.

To suggest shutting down the fish hatcheries ignores the increased runs of hatchery fish to many of the rivers of Oregon, Washington and now Idaho. Recent releases of "excess" salmon in the Boise River by Idaho Fish and Game fly in the face of your gloom-and-doom statements.

Most fish biologists admit they cannot tell wild salmon from hatchery fish. There is no doubt we must preserve as many wild salmon as reasonably feasible to maintain a diverse population of the species, but the hatchery salmon fight as well on a rod and reel and eat as well as the wild fish.

During the drought years, the young fish going down the Snake and Columbia rivers had inadequate water to move them through and past the dams. Now the returning hatchery salmon, from the first wet year following the drought, have shown that in years of good water supplies we can expect more young to complete their journey and return to Idaho waters.

The increased availability of water will also aid the wild salmon in their return, although in lesser numbers than the hatchery fish.

Dean Finch, is a Caldwell resident.
Breaching Dams Won't Solve Problems of Overfishing
The Idaho Statesman, August 9, 1997

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