Protect fish to protect fisheries

Management plan, spills necessary to sustain runs, family-wage jobs

Op-Ed by Dan Grogan, April 11th, 2010

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Here in the Northwest, salmon fishermen are used to uncertainty. Climate change, cyclical ocean conditions and low rainfall years such as the one we're in now make it more challenging than ever to accurately predict how weak or strong salmon returns will be. This uncertainty directly impacts the sportfishing industry. But for all the ocean and atmospheric variables beyond our control, we have an opportunity - and a responsibility - to fix a broken system that has pummeled our fishing economy and presented us with a false choice between abundant fish and cheap energy.

For the past four years, U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland has ordered the Bonneville Power Administration to spill more water over dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers rather than through turbines to help juvenile salmon migrate safely to the ocean. The benefits of increased spill to salmon are well documented. Federal agencies, however, have fiercely opposed the court's increased spill requirements in the last four years, favoring hydropower production at the expense of fish.

The Obama Administration is still clinging to the legally and scientifically flawed 2008 federal salmon plan, which is in the midst of a court-ordered rewrite. Now, federal scientists also are proposing to dramatically roll back spill needed for the salmon migration this spring and summer. Such a move lacks the support of by the region's top independent salmon biologists and should be rejected.

Providing a permanent spill program for the juvenile fish is the first priority of what we need to bring the salmon back and stem the loss of fishing jobs.

Foundation, not ceiling

The court-ordered spill of recent years is not a recovery plan, but its benefits are sustaining fish and our industry. Despite catchy headlines predicting record returns, the reality is that this year's prediction of a return of 25,000 wild spring chinook to Idaho is just one-third of what scientists tell us we need for eight consecutive years before we can consider the species recovered. And our industry needs this recovery. So, in addition to a reliable spill regime, let's get real about what high returns are and what is required of our rivers' managers.

The 2010 projected returns, if they pan out, will not erase 25 years of salmon poverty or reflect a problem solved. We need this year's returns to be the foundation, not the ceiling, for recovery. Northwest communities need dependable returns of healthy stocks well beyond the reach of extinction. If we can do that, we'll have the certainty needed to sustain salmon fishing jobs into the future.

The sad truth is that as long as we are forced to fight federal agencies for fundamental court-ordered emergency measures, salmon will never recover.

But we believe there is a way forward, and it begins with putting sportfishing interests at the table with other stakeholders and the Obama Administration to collaborate on a salmon plan that will bring the fish back, pay attention to the science and uphold laws protecting salmon.

With the most recent - and likely last - court-ordered review process under way, the federal government and members of Congress such as Sen. Patty Murray have a new opportunity to take this key step. By convening stakeholder negotiations based in science and law, and focused on meeting the needs of all of the people of the region, we can make better choices about managing our river systems and diversifying energy production. Finding this balance will put us on a path that leads to the long-term recovery of salmon and steelhead, and renewed certainty for family-wage fishing jobs.

Dan Grogan of Vancouver is a co-owner of Fisherman's Marine & Outdoor. Founded in 1975, Fisherman's Marine & Outdoor is a family owned and operated sporting goods retailer specializing in fishing, hunting and camping gear with locations in Portland and Oregon City, Ore.

Save Our wild Salmon is a diverse, nationwide coalition working together to restore wild salmon and steelhead to the rivers, streams and marine waters of the Pacific Northwest for the benefit of our region's ecology, economy and culture.

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