Columbia River salmon: The fishermen's plan is starting to work
Oregonian Op-Ed by Bob Rees, August 16, 2010
People like me, whose businesses depend on salmon fishing, are busy. August is the time to fish. Salmon returns have been good all year, and August is the Columbia River's peak month. It's also the best month for mothers and fathers to show their kids the value and joy of sport fishing.
I'm always amused at this time of year when the agencies that run the Columbia's dams crank up their public relations machines to take credit for better salmon numbers. I've seen it for 20 years: When salmon numbers rise, they take credit; when the numbers fall, they blame the ocean. Well, it looks different from my boat.
Ocean conditions are the biggest non-human factor in salmon numbers here. Those conditions have been friendly to salmon the last few years. But for the last five years, we've made a human change that's worked with the friendly ocean: Artificial barging and trucking of juvenile salmon has been cut by about half, and water has been spilled over the dams to get those young fish past all the concrete more safely. The salmon returning now had the benefit of more spill and less barging in 2007 and 2008 when they went to the ocean.
The basic science of dam spill is common sense: Operate the dammed river more like the river the salmon used to have. Let more salmon stay in it, and get them past dams using water rather than lots of human handling.
How did salmon get five straight years of spill? State and tribal scientists designed it. Fishermen, tribes and conservationists fought for it. And since 2006 federal District Court Judge James Redden has ordered it. The dam agencies? They've fought it every year. Full guaranteed spill has not been in any salmon plan from the Clinton, Bush or Obama administrations.