Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: Deschutes, Ronde, Snake, Walla Walla
King of Fish
KING OF FISH: The Thousand – Year Run of Salmon
By David R. Montgomery
We have heard a lot of noise about not knowing the cause of the decline of steelhead and salmon. This book puts that to rest, as a geologist shows how a succession of historical experience – first in the United Kingdom, then in New England, and now in the Pacific Northwest – repeat a disheartening story in which overfishing and sweeping changes to rivers and seas render the world inhospitable to salmon.
“The Thousand-year Run of Salmon illustrates how technological advances and land-use changes can magnify the effects of intensive fishing to eventually exhaust a public good. Details vary from region to region and river to river. But recurring themes run through the strikingly similar stories of salmon declines throughout the animal’s range.
Huge salmon runs initially provided an abundant food source that sustained subsistence economies in Europe, the American-Canadian Northeast, and the Pacific Northwest. In all three areas, native people relied on salmon fisheries, which they protected through cultural practices that restrained overexploitation. In the absence of technologies to preserve salmon or markets for export, fishing intensity matched the modest needs of local consumption. As long as local human populations depended on local salmon there was a built-in ecological safeguard. People who overfished, or otherwise degraded their fishery, cut off their own life support.
In the thirteenth century, Edward I of England had no scientists, no professional fisheries managers, and no industry lobbyists to contend with. Yet he could see clearly what was needed to protect his country’s salmon - access to their habitat, an open way to the sea, and fishing practices that did not overexploit individual runs. Mandates to enforce this vision worked for hundreds of years until commercial fishing and industrial interests began to influence legislation as industrialization and urbanization transformed the landscape.
The English, in transforming the economic profile of their island, sacrificed their salmon for the modern age of the industrial revolution. New Englanders, too, traded salmon for a tamed landscape better suited to support their agricultural needs and industrial aspirations. The feverish rush to extract gold from riverbeds destroyed much of California’s salmon. Even before the promise of cheap water and electricity drove the construction of dams that impeded the migration of Columbia River’s salmon between the sea and their spawning grounds, most of the Columbia River’s huge Chinook had already been canned and shipped east. At the same time, the Pacific Northwest’s ancient forests, which structured salmon habitat, were cut over and converted to timber plantations. Unscreened irrigation diversions sucked not only water from rivers but also young salmon into farmers’ fields. In each chapter of this saga salmon habitat or salmon themselves generated capital that helped finance regional development and placed further strain on wild salmon.
The end result off these recurring chapters has created a story in which once-common salmon are becoming or have already become rare. Salmon returns to Pacific Northwest rivers are just 6 to 7 percent of historic levels. Failure to learn the lessons of past experience is leading to a familiar outcome-the exhaustion of another region’s salmon runs. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, modern management of salmon and their habitat provides a superb example of maladaptive management –the failure to learn by experience.
More troubling is that elements of current salmon-recovery efforts remain at odds with basic lessons from past salmon crises. One of the most obvious lessons of past experience is that local control rarely protects salmon over the long run without direction from a higher authority, whether the king, a federal agency, or, as for Native Americans, the Creator through deeply ingrained cultural practices. Yet today, faith in local control provides the basis for salmon-recovery plans, and the federal agencies charged with enforcing the ESA are rarely aggressive in either guidelines or enforcement efforts. Another lesson is that grandfathering of existing impacts in formulating regulations will, over time, progressively deplete the capacity of rivers to support salmon. Recent efforts by some state legislatures to protect existing water uses based on questionable water rights that are threatened by ESA listings of endangered salmon show that this lesson remains unlearned.”
You will feel sad and mad, but it is well worth reading to get a view of the history of the problem for salmon.
Practice is about increasing your repertoire of ways to recover from your mistakes. Joann C. Gutin