|Quinault fishing (Edward Curtis, 1913)
I’d been thinking about then-Governor Locke’s dramatic oratory (it’s a good speech— you ought to read it) this week while scanning the news and lamenting the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run, cheering the anticipated arrival of the Puget Sound humpy (pink salmon) run, and learning from Bill Sheets in The Herald that “Snohomish County waters still rich with salmon, trout.”
So, glass half empty or glass half full? On the road to recovery or on the road to extinction?
Of course, what Governor Locke was referring to was recovery of wild Puget Sound Chinook. And there’s been a lot of money, time and effort spent on restoration projects large and small. We’ve been guided by a Statewide Strategy to Recover Salmon and, in Puget Sound, by an Action Agenda.
The Puget Sound Partnership’s Vital Signs Indicator for Wild Chinook Salmon reports that “Chinook salmon in the Sound now are about one-third as abundant as they were in 1908” and “For the 22 remaining populations of Puget Sound Chinook salmon, one increased and one declined in abundance from 2006 to 2010... The total number of Chinook salmon has not increased, and most populations remain well short of their recovery goals.”
The best that can be said? “Nonetheless, the fact that we have any natural-origin Chinook left is testament to the success of our restoration and harvest reduction work so far.”
Do we know what we’re doing, what we’re supposed to be doing to recover our salmon? Maybe not.
This Wednesday there’s a ceremony at the Seattle Aquarium launching a Washington-British Columbia effort called The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project spearheaded by Long Live the Kings and the Pacific Salmon Foundation bringing together “US and Canadian federal, provincial, state, tribal and academic scientists and managers for an ambitious, precedent-setting new initiative to improve understanding of salmon and steelhead survival in the Salish Sea.”
Why? Because, as their media advisory says, “Something alarming is happening in the shared inland marine waters of the Salish Sea: salmon and steelhead are dying. What's the cause of this mortality? We don't know. The research hasn't been done. Without that knowledge, our substantial efforts to recover these populations and provide sustainable fishing may be for nothing.”
Honestly, I don’t know what I don’t know. What I do know is that Washington state propaganda about salmon recovery can be found in a very polished, 10-minute film, State of Salmon: Restoring a Washington Icon, produced for the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office.
I know there must be more to salmon recovery than what’s shown in the film, although there is some reference to “making the tough decisions every day,” whatever those decisions are supposed to be. The words “regulation” and “growth” and “pollution” are never mentioned. Even Governor Locke and the state Joint Natural Resources Cabinet knew in 1999 that tough decisions would have to be made and carried out regarding hydroelectric dams, fish hatcheries, reduced harvest, and protection and restoration of critical spawning and rearing habitats. And the real big ticket item would be reducing the flow of toxic chemicals from our homes and businesses into the estuaries of the Sound.
Regarding salmon recovery, your lifestyle most likely isn’t much different than it was in 1999 when extinction was not an option. Maybe we’re living like how we lived in the madness of an Iraq War that never touched our daily lives unless our family was serving our country there. What was the point of that awful war anyway, what was accomplished for the good? When it’s business as usual while we go about saving our iconic wild Pacific salmon, when there’s no sacrifice required, what can you expect to be really accomplished? That salmon populations may not get better but hopefully they won’t get any worse?
C’mon, we can do better than that.