Salmon are still too few
Monday, April 18, 2011
Tracy Warner’s recent editorial on Columbia River salmon (“Salmon can spoil an argument,” March 30) claims that the salmon are fine, the federal plan to save them is strong, and we should all just move on. We in the fishing industry see things differently. Though we wish it were so, salmon aren’t returning in record numbers. While recent returns have indeed increased since the dark days the 1990s, they are still just a tiny fraction of the robust numbers that our region once enjoyed. Additionally, most of these fish today — 80 percent — begin their lives in hatcheries. The wild salmon stocks that are the actual target of federal recovery efforts still remain far below the levels needed to sustain them for the long haul.
The salmon population uptick in the past decade has not come because of a good federal plan — but rather in spite of it. The recently increased returns are largely the result of the court declaring the government’s plan inadequate and mandating additional steps, like water spills over the dams, to protect the fish. Despite strong support among fishermen and scientists, the federal agencies have consistently opposed court-ordered spill in each of these last five years. In their latest plan, they refused to include spill as a permanent, guaranteed measure. Our industry has suffered under a federal pray-for-rain strategy before. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.
Favorable ocean conditions in recent years have also helped boost salmon numbers. But these have nothing to do with the federal salmon plan. While we are relieved that current ocean conditions have been favorable, these conditions always fluctuate. We are concerned that the current plan fails to adequately address or compensate for such downturns.
The editorial also claims that the current recovery plan has strong backing by scientists and the states, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The state of Oregon is challenging this plan and seeking improvements. The American Fisheries Society — the nation’s oldest and well-respected association of fisheries scientists — continues to openly question the adequacy of the current salmon plan and asks that removal of the four lower Snake River be examined now — not later — as part of a wider solution to the salmon crisis.
The current federal plan to restore Columbia River salmon has serious flaws that concern our industry. The plan lacks the full support of scientists and the states, leaves multiple salmon stocks at risk, and gives us little confidence that when ocean conditions turn unfavorable that salmon will recover.
That is why we are asking for a regional dialogue that brings all of the stakeholders — including farmers, fishermen, utilities and others — together and puts all of the issues, including removal of the four lower Snake River dams, on the table. We must come together to craft a better salmon plan that will restore healthy salmon and create more jobs.
We in the commercial and sport fishing industry don’t buy in to the argument that everything is just fine and we should all just go home. We are the ones still out there on the rivers and the ocean trying to make a living. Regardless of what the federal court decides, we are going to continue to work for a better recovery plan for Columbia and Snake River salmon. Our families, our livelihoods and our communities depend on it.
Buzz Ramsey of Klickitat is recognized as a cold-water sport fishing authority. He writes a regularly for several Northwest newspapers and magazines, including Salmon Trout Steelheader and Northwest Sportsman. Ron Richards fishes for salmon commercially off the coasts of Washington and Alaska. He lives on a small tree farm near Port Angeles.
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