Who would eat dog? Perhaps many more of us should, though not in the form of Rover but rather dog, chum or keta salmon, as they have variously been known over the years.

On the U.S. West Coast as a whole, commercial landings of chum were 149.9 million pounds in 2012, 46 percent over 2011. But these catches certainly weren’t made in the Columbia River, where only two residual populations remain after decades of deliberate extermination efforts and habitat losses.

Some chum also still survive in Willapa Bay, where an earlier generation of state fish managers were less than completely successful in destroying chum runs in a misguided effort to open up rivers for more commercially valuable species. The loss of robust Willapa chum runs has, however, had a number of impossible-to-quantify side effects, possibly including an explosion in mud shrimp populations.

The humble chum was the subject of a lengthy story in the online news source Crosscut last week, that makes the argument it is under-appreciated as a human menu item at about $7.50 a pound for fresh fillets, as opposed to something like $30 for Chinook. It smokes well, but also is delicious with various sauces.

Although obviously nothing holds a candle to fresh spring Chinook, chum were also spurned by our ancestors in part because salmon was viewed as a substitute for beef on meat-free Fridays. This meant that “the redder, the better,” and pale-fleshed chum were regarded as too bland, pale and dry. Nowadays, when consumers often prefer fish like albacore that don’t have a strong taste, chum may gain much broader acceptance.

Considering how few there are in local waters, why would we want to consider eating more of them? The permanent subtraction of any species from the food web has untold impacts on the health of the whole system. Restoring Columbia chum runs is a priority — though it’s hard to say how high of one — for NOAA Fisheries. It should be a priority for all of us.

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