“A world where the salmon cannot live may be a world in which man cannot live either.”
— Anthony Netboy, The Salmon: Their Fight for Survival
The epic journey of some wild salmon species, from homebred gravel beds in Montana, to the Pacific through veins of rivers and streams that hit desert in Oregon and Washington that then empty into estuaries along Northwest coastal waters, and remarkably their ocean vigil of up to seven years traveling thousands of miles, has been honored with tribal passion, spiritual artistry and a sustainable harvest for thousands of years.
The First Salmon ceremony carried out by dozens of native peoples in the Pacific Northwest celebrate salmon people, Chinook, Sockeye, Kings, who come back to home waters to sustain lives through winter and summer. It’s not just some postmodern trip to lure tourists. The Nez Perce, Yakima, and Spokane peoples are just three of many tribal groups who still connect to the force of the salmon, albeit a dying force thanks to modern man’s industrial and agricultural whims.
The wild salmon story has generated a coalition of groups, both native and non-native, in the Pacific Northwest fighting for the salmon’s imperiled existence against the imbalanced needs of humans that require too much ecologically sensitive land for development; that seek to irrigate deserts to grow non-native crops reliant on river water and petrochemicals; and who want hydroelectricity to grow human settlements which hold to an out-of-whack perception of economic growth as an unending cycle.
The Bush administration, some of whom are laser-guided Christian zealots that talk the talk of Jesus but walk the walk of a corporate liturgy of greed and profit at the expense of sane human-scaled living, considers the science of wild salmon protection and recovery as unnecessary or evil, even in the face of billions of dollars already spent over decades of sound scientific pursuit to deal with the quickly vanishing wild salmon stocks. He and his henchmen mock sound science, denigrate native tribes’ treaties calling for salmon fishing rights, and fail to abide by economic principles that say breeching dams can restore salmon habitat to some sustainable level.
NOAA-Fisheries wants millions of hatchery-bred salmon to be included in the total count of Northwest runs. Timber, mining, agriculture, building and hydropower stakeholders (stockholders as well) are high-fiving each other because of this proposal to ease Endangered Species Act protection for native salmon species.
However, we need to be dealing seriously with: the impounded slack-waters behind the four lower Snake River dams; with the rising summer water temperatures of waterways choked by dams; all the sewage and chemical dumping in these rivers; the over-development of human activity such as unwise housing development and under-regulated agricultural and industrial activity; the storm water surges caused by Pavement City USA; and, maybe most importantly, the death of wetlands and estuaries.
The destruction of the associated habitats that make up the natural drainages and river systems should be this country’s first course of renewal. Wild salmon are this region’s birthright, and twisting science to meet current needs with disregard for future carrying capacities of our environment is the true sledgehammer that will destroy the native species. Politicians, especially those who suck on the crack pipe of economic indicators over the wise necessity of preserving the environment, have no concept of what hatchery and aqua-farmed salmon mutants mean to the vitality of a true wild salmon sustainable population.
Additionally, this myopia will certainly destroy the hatchery fish, eventually, sooner than most technocrats will want to admit.
Hatcheries dilute the gene pool of the native stocks and are certainly in many cases a stopgap measure that enables politicians to shrug off their duty to protect this heritage species, and which further fuels resource extractors spreading their dirty deeds in our last reaches of natural habitats in this region.
Scientists and researchers currently have doubts about “hatchery supplementation” as a course of bringing back salmon runs, “[A] hypothesis which is being tested, but which is not yet scientifically proved or disproved.”
Millions of fingerlings from hatcheries compete for food with the few native species during their life cycle in freshwater streams and during the journey to sea. Hatchery fish that interbreed with wild fish create all sorts of problems that have been brought up time and time again in news articles, editorials and scientific reports. Just reading Jim Lichatowich’s book, Salmon Without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis, written by a fisheries scientist in the field for three decades, can illuminate for those who know little about the wild salmon their biological reality.
The interconnectedness of wild salmon with the robust preservation of habitats that sustain them and the mutualistic human endeavors are what is missing from Bush’s bonehead anti-science school of illogic. The mentality that advocates “new advanced management techniques that would soon result in salmon without a river” (Washington Department of Fisheries) is the sort of thinking that will move us closer to the complete crash of both wild and hatchery fisheries.
The public — statewide and transnational, connected to shared watershed and biological regions — needs to have greater input on the strategic plans for saving salmon and returning the native habitats to a level that will bring economic advantages to recreation and fishing enterprises and sustainable cohabitation of managed hatchery salmon and robust wild runs.
Sustainability is not a new concept for planning our future, but if we allow policy to be designed and promulgated by the powerful timber, agricultural, hydroelectric, and development lobbies — who do not see the vital interplay and connectivity of this triumvirate of Culture, Economy and Environment that is the superstructure for what some call an Earth Charter — then the Northwest faces losing a truly important link in its distinct environmental, cultural and economic heritage.
An indiscriminate hatchery program treats fish like interchangeable parts in a large machine. The first precaution of intelligent tinkering, counseled conservationist Aldo Leopold, is to save all the parts. Neglecting this precaution, we have unbalanced an intricate system and placed the salmon in danger, Lichatowich states.
Washington Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray joined Representative Norm Dicks and weighed in on the argument at the beginning of May 2004 by sending a letter to the Bush EPA addressing many concerns they and their constituents have about this new unscientific counting system’s implications for salmon and steelhead recovery.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for a timely and ecologically sound response to the Washington politicians’ demands because the Bush administration’s goal is to de-list as many endangered salmon species as possible.