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'Unbelievable results' shouldn't be believed

We all have at least one Facebook friend who is “taking control of their financial future” by becoming involved in “direct sales.” Whether it’s through LuLaRoe, doTerra, Le-Vel/Thrive, Rodan + Fields, Herbalife, or any of the other dozens of companies that utilize Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) strategies, none of us can hide from the friends and acquaintances who suddenly have a garage full of product to push.

It’s not difficult to recognize the copy-and-paste Facebook posts and messages touting the “unbelievable results!” that they have seen from whichever weight loss shakes, eye creams, or vitamin patches that this particular person has (literally and figuratively) bought into.

But, although I find these marketing strategies to be particularly annoying, I don’t think that the majority of the blame should fall on these low-level salespeople. Most of these consultants (or representatives, or whatever language their particular company uses) are looking to gain what virtually all of these companies promise: financial freedom, independence, stability, and flexible work hours. These companies identify, target, and tailor their sell for potential recruits (rather than potential consumers), when they know full well that 99 percent of MLM sellers actually end up losing money and 95 percent quit within 10 years, according to a report by the Federal Trade Commission.

Luckily, there are a few tell-tale signs that we can all look out for when considering whether or not to join XYZ’s company “team” to make a little extra money each month.

1. Prioritizing recruitment over selling product.

While MLM companies actually do sell products and “true” Pyramid Schemes do not, both focus much more heavily on recruitment of new reps than on sales. Most MLM companies offer discount on product to new sellers, so if you plan on regularly buying a product it only makes sense to sign on. Much more importantly though is that whoever recruited you will now get a cut of all of your sales profit. Obviously with this kind of set-up, the further down the line you are, the more difficult it is to make any money at all.

2. Requiring upfront payment for things like “start-up kits.”

Most of these companies require sellers to stock inventory before they actually begin to sell it, rather than ordering it as-needed. For example, the LuLaRoe start-up cost is around $6,000. Sellers then have trouble even getting rid of their stocked product in order to break even, and many end up stuck with these excess products and the debt that bought them.

3. Claims that are just too good to be true.

This applies to the products that consultants are peddling (“lose 40 lbs in just 15 days!”) as well as promises of magnificent riches and perks galore for successful sellers. As my mom always told me: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

4. Deception and company opaqueness.

If you can’t get straight answers from company representatives, there is a reason why. Whether you’re asking about how the products work (or whether they do), how much money someone can expect to make by selling the product, or any other question that a potential employee would ask, you shouldn’t feel like you’re getting the runaround or made to feel like you’re being unreasonable.

MLM companies may just be pesky social media posts to many of us, but for some people they represent hope and potential financial independence. In reality, if you’re trying to sell face creams to Facebook friends that you haven’t seen since high school, you’re much more likely to accrue major debt, stress, and a closet full of unused product than any type of riches.

If you’re one of the successful pushers, congrats. You’re in the 1 percent. But by promoting these companies to friends and family members who trust you, by making insincere claims about how so-and-so company has changed your life for the better, you’re actively exploiting your relationships and putting other people’s well-being at risk. I guess if you’re okay with that, you’re in the right business.

Rebuild partnerships on behalf of salmon

It is in these early months each year when a sense begins to emerge about the condition of forthcoming salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest. Mysterious to the uninitiated, the North of Falcon season-setting process is of prime importance not only to fishermen but to all who care about the struggles of iconic regional species.

This year’s tentative seasons are a mixed bag. (The plan will be finalized at a meeting in Northern California in April.) Coho returns to the Columbia River system are the best news. Roughly a million are expected. Since coho form the backbone of popular recreational fisheries in the late summer and early fall, this relatively positive forecast bodes well for anglers and the many local businesses that depend on them.

Summer and fall returns of Chinook salmon — still the prestige species of the Pacific Northwest — aren’t predicted to be very good in comparison to the recent average. But the sport season will be about on par with last year, which produced some good fish and economic benefits. Chinook fishing in the second half of 2019 is expected to be significantly better than this spring, when the season was truncated.

The status of the Columbia’s fisheries — both in the river system and the nearby ocean — is crucial to the survival of estuary-based charter businesses. Their plight was recently detailed in news coverage that highlighted the few surviving operations still plying an industry that was many times larger a few decades ago. Although many factors are to blame, ample availability of salmon is the obviously fundamental attraction for charter customers. A quarter-century ago, it was possible to encounter celebrities like Mel Gibson breakfasting before predawn departures onto the water from local ports. Nowadays, the Columbia is seldom on the top of wish lists for “bucket list” fishing adventures.

Commercial salmon fishermen are on the cusp of a reprieve from extinction of their industry on the main stem of the Columbia. The appointed fisheries commissioners in both Washington and Oregon have acknowledged the failure — thus far anyway — of former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s abrupt and unilateral decision to severely marginalize an already-struggling industry. Kitzhaber, to give him his due, believed it would be possible to keep commercial gillnetters economically whole by developing new off-channel fishing zones and harvest methods. This assumption proved inaccurate, and the states’ salmon managers appear likely to allow gillnetting in the Columbia this fall. Gillnetters will, at most, be permitted to harvest a minuscule percentage of returning salmon on behalf of consumers.

Despite fairly good predicted coho returns, there isn’t a straight line between more coho and great fishing. Some salmon runs continue to struggle, and will be intermingled with abundant returning hatchery coho. This mandates caution in scheduling and managing seasons. Columbia River treaty tribes are entitled to half of catchable salmon. New this year, endangered Washington state orcas must be considered. Columbia spring Chinook are especially vital to orca survival, a factor that was largely unrecognized until satellite tracking of orca hunting patterns a decade ago.

All salmon and steelhead — plus other locally important seagoing species including shad and smelt — are at the mercy of Pacific Ocean conditions, loss of fresh-water habitat, hydropower operations and other factors. It’s great news that scientists see a return in the ocean to more normal temperatures, since these are key to the health of the marine food web, starting with nutrition-rich microorganisms. It is difficult, however, to maintain much optimism about the ocean’s longer-term health in the face of news that it is soaking up a large percentage of the carbon dioxide we’re injecting into the atmosphere.

For the sake of salmon — plus Native Americans, local economies, orcas and all the other creatures that rely on them — we have to do a better job managing the factors over which we can exert significant control. It is pie-in-the-sky to hope — as some continue to do — that natural salmon runs can replace hatcheries. It wasn’t possible to depend on naturally spawning fish nearly a century ago when Astoria-based Columbia River Packers/Bumble Bee led the way in advocating for hatcheries. It is far less possible to depend on natural spawning today. Adequate state and federal funding for hatcheries is essential.

Many strides have been made in the past 25 years in saving and restoring fresh and brackish water habitat. These efforts must continue — perhaps a tall order in a time of exploding federal budget deficits and proposed cutbacks in domestic spending. Even so, the states can and must continue funding restoration projects, while ensuring sensible land-use policies in riparian areas. Tribes, including the Cowlitz in our area, make important contributions to these efforts.

Of all that could and should be done to protect salmon and those who rely upon them, perhaps the most important is to work together. Although the 1990s and 2000s certainly were not glory days for salmon, at least that period was marked by robust cooperation between disparate fishing groups, government entities and even some conservationists. They all understood the benefits of presenting a united front on behalf of salmon fisheries — all for one, and one for all. There are some indications of a renewed understanding that there is strength in numbers, which brings an ability to exercise political muscle at all levels.

This year, with its old struggles and new complexities, is a perfect impetus to begin reaching out and forging stronger partnerships on behalf of fish most of us still regard as essential to our Pacific Northwest heritage.