This Week's View

by Frank Amato
September 8th, 2008


"The arrival of the national Coastal Conservation Organization (CCA) in the Northwest promises to awake political activity by anglers angered by continual overfishing of wild and hatchery stocks by commercial and sport interests from California to Alaska. Whatever fisheries groups you belong to, demand that they take action to fight for salmon and steelhead in the political arena."

Sport anglers and wild and hatchery salmo-nids in the Northwest are always getting the shaft from Northwest politicians and state and federal fisheries officials because WE DON'T SPEAK UP WITH A UNIFIED POLITICAL VOICE!

Each summer season Northwest-origin wild (and hatchery) chinook and coho are massacred in the millions in the ocean from California to Alaska by indiscriminate commercial trolling in mixed-stock fisheries. This has done immense harm to many wild stocks of chinook and coho salmon.

Smart salmon management dictates that salmon should be caught as adults either close to, or once in, their home spawning streams. This simple management action would provide maximum protection for weak runs–and virtually every river has some weak wild runs. Why don't the fisheries conservation organizations we financially support speak up for point-of-origin salmon harvest?

Politics is the BEST way to address the problem. Existing conservation organizations such as as TU, FFF, NSIA, Oregon Trout, Cal Trout, Native Fish Society, Washington Trout, Wild Steelhead Society, Northwest Steelheaders, Wildlife Federation, and dozens of other clubs are all good to wonderful organizations, BUT…

BUT mostly they address FRESHWATER ISSUES and avoid hand-to-hand political battle with ocean commercial (and sport) over-harvest of wild AND hatchery salmon originating in the four-state area of California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington.

One of the most effective political lobbies/organizations that usually GETS ITS WAY is the NRA (National Rifle Association). If we want salmon to exist in the future WE NEED TO ORGANIZE AND USE THIS SUCCESSFUL ASSOCIATION AS A MODEL FOR ACTION!

Let's select a few salmon-friendly politicians, then with our very large numbers, organize and effect some elections on both the state and national stage. We need representatives, we need senators. The swing votes of unified sport anglers and conservationists, talking to their immediate families, friends and co-workers, can be the difference. We can certainly do that on the state level if directed to the right politicians! And we can do that on the national level as well! Let's just do it for the salmon!

The success of the Obama political campaign was in part due to their email presence through which they received millions in campaign contributions and sent out their action messages. The tools are there to be used. Only our will is lacking.

The fisheries conservation organizations we support financially through memberships, auctions, and donations need to FIGHT POLITICALLY to reduce indiscriminate ocean commercial and sport harvest of chinook and coho. We would be beneficial witnesses to miraculous improvements in salmon-run returns in tidewater and freshwater portions of over a thousand rivers and streams along the entire Pacific Coast. Returning runs could be increased in one season by up to 200%, even more for some rivers, by simply cutting indiscriminate ocean harvest. Instead of the Columbia and Sacramento rivers struggling to get back minimum adult salmon runs each year, the adult runs would increase dramatically, with the Columbia alone seeing two to four million adult salmon or more each season. Coastal rivers would look like Alaskan chinook streams again.

There is a scarcity of chinook salmon BECAUSE OF ocean commercial harvest! All the organizations I have mentioned primarily attempt to improve freshwater habitat. That is important work, but even if you fix the habitat there is still not enough for baby salmon to eat because our streams are food-poor after 100 years of salmon over-harvest.

There are few ocean-returning salmon carcasses in our rivers, thus over 90% of wild fingerlings and smolts die before they ever get a chance to enter the ocean. We need to immediately artificially FERTILIZE freshwater streams (as we do land crops) to provide plentiful food for baby salmon–and we need to STOP indiscriminate ocean harvest of wild and hatchery chinook (and coho). THEN WE WILL HAVE WILD SALMON BACK TO OUR RIVERS IN BIG NUMBERS! The science has been done!

Our fisheries conservation organizations need to present a united front and DEMAND that state and federal officials act on behalf of wild salmon. Habitat restoration is important, however improving the stream food supply increases salmon and steelhead smolt production by up to 200% or more in one year! More wild smolts mean more wild salmon.

Stream fertilization is cheap and easy when considering the great benefits of doubled or tripled adult wild-fish runs. All that is needed is a car, a person who knows the stream and a few sacks of fish food in pellet form delivered on a scheduled basis to specific areas. Clubs could adopt streams to fertilize. Instead of spending more millions on redundant studies, our tax monies should be spent on FOOD DISTRIBUTION IN STREAMS. This could also create local river-keeper type jobs as well.

And it can be done for a fraction of the cost of the hundreds (thousands?) of government tax-supported studies that continually tell us how bad things are, but do absolutely nothing to FIX the problem. They only add to the morass of confusion and hopelessness, leaving sport anglers feeling frustrated and angry.

BUT what good is that habitat if few wild chinook are allowed to escape intense commercial (and in some places sport) ocean fisheries?

In addition, ocean salmon need to eat herring, smelt, anchovies, shrimp and a myriad of other food sources. For almost 100 years state and federal authorities have continually allowed destruction of many of these fish! Commercial sardine, anchovy, herring and other valuable salmon-food fisheries should be substantially reduced along the entire Pacific Coast to allow millions more salmon and steel-head to survive and provide healthy runs once again.

Healthy salmon runs need lots of forage fish and our fisheries "managers" allow too much commercial harvest on their base food supply! Until our fishery organizations DEMAND our political representatives CHANGE commercial-fishing quotas our wild salmon will only continue to disappear!

We need large numbers of healthy wild fish to go unmolested in the ocean, return to spawn, and their fingerlings to be assisted with organized stream feeding to quadruple the number of wild smolts leaving the streams each year! That is an ACTION plan that would SOLVE the salmon problem. We can get to Mars, so why is this so tough? Because we lack leadership and resolve.

Furthermore, we need to build up organizational backbone, legal and political skills, and strong public spokespersons when it comes to predators. We kill rats, mice, and anything else that gets in the way of our food supply. But heaven forbid eliminating wild-salmon-killing animals and birds that we have allowed to become artificially over-populated by feeding on hatchery smolts or adults!

Seals and sea lions are left to attack wild salmon at falls and the bases of dams where they are ensured to do the worst damage imaginable. And now we stand by while they start attacking the one wild-fish population in the Columbia that has been doing well–the venerable spawning-size, all-wild, productive sturgeon! We should demand support for predator control from our national conservation organizations, and support those that lead and speak out.

We have become afraid to speak our mind and forcefully point out the absurdities that exist in our fisheries management (actually horrible mis-management).

Those of you who, like me, are tired of rolling over and playing dead need to support organizations (financially and verbally) that have the perseverance, know-how, and commitment to politically fight for strong runs of wild and hatchery salmon.

Support strong organizations; demand that the ones you're a member of join the fight for chinook and coho salmon, reduced ocean commercial harvest, stream enrichment, less ocean harvest of salmon forage fishes and crustaceans; and GET ACTIVE! Fishermen united CAN make the difference! ~ Frank Amato

Credit: This Editorial first appeared in the August 2008 issue of Salmon-Trout-Steelhead and is used with permission.

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