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Save Our Wild Salmon

By Zeke Grader in a Special to The Bee

A term has emerged over the past decade describing our part of America. The "Pacific Salmon States" are a network of rivers, streams and creeks that stitch together a diverse, sprawling landscape of forested mountains, rich bottomlands and productive ocean resources. It describes the West Coast of our continent – California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska – rather loosely defined as anywhere Pacific salmon exist.

The people of these states are linked together both by a shared natural legacy and by our mutual regard for wild salmon and the cultures and economies they sustain. We are bound by the knowledge that what happens in any one of our salmon watersheds can affect the fate and future of communities all across the coast.

That's why we were greatly encouraged to learn that Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has weighed in, giving his full support to a new approach for protecting and restoring Columbia Basin salmon – and the jobs and heritage those fish represent.

After two decades of Washington, D.C.-driven, top-down regulation, and years of litigation and billions of dollars in ill-conceived mitigation spending, Kitzhaber is now urging representatives of the federal agencies, states, tribes and salmon stakeholders (including fishermen, farmers and energy producers) to begin working together to craft a durable, legal and scientifically sound – but regionally produced and stakeholder-driven – plan for restoring Columbia and Snake River salmon.

Oregon's governor realizes that the time has come to finally get this right. Thousands of West Coast salmon fishing families wholeheartedly agree.

Restoring healthy, abundant populations of salmon to the Columbia-Snake Basin will restore tens of thousands of fishing jobs and rebuild businesses in communities up and down the coast, including California. As big as Texas, the Columbia basin touches two countries, two provinces, six states and more than a dozen American Indian tribes. The Columbia and Snake rivers lie at the heart of what was once the most productive salmon landscape on the planet – once producing millions of fish annually that helped sustain salmon-dependent communities from Monterey to Petersburg, Alaska.

Salmon from everywhere intermingle in coastal ocean fisheries. Thus, salmon declines in the Columbia basin affect port towns all along the coast. California coastal salmon harvests frequently have been constrained by weak stocks in the Columbia-Snake basin. Which brings us right back to the shared fate of the Pacific Salmon States: When any one of our salmon rivers is in trouble, we all feel the impact. Thankfully, the reverse is just as true: When our rivers are healthy and salmon thrive, all the salmon states benefit from job growth, economic stability, food production; and recreation.

That's why Kitzhaber's recent support for a Columbia basin stakeholder-driven negotiations process is welcome news. The Pacific Salmon States need this kind of leadership. As important as the courts have been – and will continue to be – to protect endangered salmon, let's not miss this tremendous opportunity to sit down together and find workable grass-roots and bottom-up solutions that recover salmon, create good jobs and protect our coastal and river communities.

On behalf of working fishing men and women, and fishing communities along the coast, I urge California's decision-makers – Gov. Jerry Brown and our congressional delegation – to stand with Kitzhaber in his call for collaborative Columbia River solutions and to ensure that Californians have a seat at that table.

We are all in this together. Zeke Grader is executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the West Coast's largest organization of commercial fishing families.

Zeke Grader is the executive director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. He works in San Francisco.

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