The Observer story on the protest at the Columbia River Maritime Museum ("Fishing families rally") against the likelihood of West Coast salmon fishing closures reflected genuine hurt and concern. One's sympathy at those sad prospects gets conflicted in the welter of falsehoods and foolishness reported by those interviewed at the rally.
Hobe Kytr of Salmon For All (SFA) said fishing closure was "a smokescreen to focus on fishing restrictions and then ignore the hydropower system." The latest BPA fish mitigation expenditures report from the Northwest Power & Conservation Council tallied total costs from 1978 to 2005 at almost $8 billion. Ignored the hydropower system?
Jim Wells of SFA said "studies" show dams in the Columbia cause 80 percent of salmon mortality, habitat 15 percent and harvest 5 percent. This is not true, but Wells can't do the mortality math. His 100 percent ignores predation by pike-minnows, terns, cormorants and the like. Predators zero percent?
Zeke Grader of the Pacific Federation of Fisherman's Associations said "until we remove those four Snake River dams, things aren't going to get better." The story says that Ilwaco fisherman John Grocott agreed that dams, not harvesting, are the root cause of salmon problems.
Facts say otherwise. Gary Loomis, a Woodland fishing gear manufacturer, is founder of the Fish First activist group. In an op-ed piece in Vancouver's Columbian he wrote about possible fishing closures. First, he said, "If we continue on the current road, we will harvest these runs to extinction. If we head in a new direction, we have the opportunity to restore our native salmon runs."
Then second, about dams: "We all know that dams aren't good for fish. However, if dams cause the majority of the problem, then why do rivers without dams have the same low salmon return rates as those with dams? The answer is nonselective overharvest."
He concludes, "Reducing harvest is a bitter pill considering the economic impact on commercial fishermen, tribes and others who depend on salmon. It's a pill we need to swallow, however, if we ever are going to recover this resource."
Salmon being at the same time an exploited and recovering resource presents a conflicting complexity. What is worse, salmon populations themselves can fluctuate by many orders of magnitude, making balanced save and catch planning practically impossible. Richard White in his Columbia River book "The Organic Machine" reminds us that Native American good news celebrations of the first returning salmon were based on historical knowledge that sometimes salmon did not return.
Saving runs in many cases, particularly where timing is critical, demands harvest restrictions. It's a proven fact that escapement, as assuring enough adults get upstream to spawn, is effective, as it is in Alaska. The Klamath River, which is what the threatened closure is about, has missed escapement goals for three years. More about that situation is in Northwest Fishletter at www.newsdata.com/fishletter/.
Rallying to declaim about long-term and, as I insist, delusional nonsense like dam breaching is not even about saving Klamath Chinook. It's what a colleague called "recreational rallying." One hopes that the Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting this month will find some way to heed Gov. Ted Kulongoski and stop short of a near total shutdown off Oregon and California of sport and commercial salmon fishing.