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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.
 

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I live very close to, and have fished in, the Merrimack river. One of those New England rivers that was thick with Salmon before the industrial revolution. I remember going on a tour of the mills and hearing how they used to feed the workers Salmon and not much else because it was the cheapest food available. The river was practically overflowing with Salmon. They are coming back to the river but IIRC you still can't keep it if you catch one.

Up near where I live the Merrimack is a pretty good place to catch smallmouth bass.
 

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An excellent book isn't it Ted? A year or so back the Wild Steelhead Coallition gave copies to each of the members of tyhe Washington Wildlife Commission in hopes they would read it and learn.
 

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Geoff -

The Connecticut River run dwarfed the Merrimac's and has been completely driven to extinction by dams from the Canadian border to the sea not far from New York city. Sad what we've done to the American atlantic salmon, tragic really.

Ted, thanks I will pick this book up from Sean's little book shop and give it a read.
 

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juro said:
The Connecticut River run dwarfed the Merrimac's and has been completely driven to extinction by dams from the Canadian border to the sea not far from New York city. Sad what we've done to the American atlantic salmon, tragic really.
Yup.

Think of all the fun we'd be having Spey casting for salmon practically right outside our back door. :(
 

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Jolly Buddha
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David R. Montgomery book KING OF FISH: The Thousand – Year Run of Salmon is a most read
 

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Yeah that was a great book. It was a real eye opener. However, it left me angry and depressed about the past and not too hopeful for the future of Steelhead and Salmon. Also if you are interested in that kinda thing (and if you are a Salmon Steelhead angler you should be) then read Jim Lichatowich's Salmon Without Rivers. It's another great book that is similar to King of Fish and which is written by a fisheries biologist. It's main focus chronicals the decline of the Pacific Salmon. Excerpts from it appear in some of the old issues of Wild Steelhead and Salmon. Both these books were written by scientists on the front lines...men that generate the data and know the real deal. And the story that they tell is in stark contrast to what you will typically hear coming from the fishery bureaucrats.

Tight Lines
 
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