From Our Friends at United Electric

Jo Elg, General Manager of United Electric Co-op, Inc., in Heyburn, Idaho, penned this excellent commentary about salmon that I would like to share with you this month.

Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer

There has been much in the media on salmon survival and the four lower Snake River dams following the Andrus Center Environmental Conference “Energy, Salmon, Agriculture and Community: Can We Come Together?” Congressman Mike Simpson was the keynote speaker, and the intent of the conference was to bring together policymakers, experts, stake- holders and concerned citizens to discuss the interconnected topics. It appears the only media takeaway from the discussion is that the four lower Snake River dams must be removed.

A slightly different takeaway is that there is much misinformation regarding wild salmon. Overfishing began in the late 1800s, and min- ing, logging, agriculture, unfavorable ocean conditions and dams have led to the decline in fish populations. Information from the University of Washington libraries paints an interesting history of the early fishing industry in Washington state.

The first fish cannery was established on the Columbia River in 1866. It packed 272,000 pounds of salmon. By 1881, there were approximately 30 canneries in the Northwest. Competition was stiff. Fishermen added more layers to their gillnets and introduced traps, pound nets and fishwheels. In 1883 and 1884, the catch totaled more than 42 million pounds each year.

The concern of overfishing and salmon declines garnered enough attention for Congress to direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to investigate the causes of declining salmon runs in 1887. About the same time, Washington and Oregon enacted harvest restrictions, but they were weak and poorly enforced. The takeaway here: Salmon populations were declining before you and I were born.

Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy eating salmon. Marine mammals, including both California and Steller sea lions and harbor seals, prey on adult fish as they enter the Columbia River from the ocean to spawn upstream. Many sea lions have become permanent residents of the Columbia River and follow the salmon more than 140 miles to Bonneville Dam to continue the feed. The number of sea lions in the lower Columbia River increases every year.

Juvenile salmon and steelhead also face pre- dation from birds and fish. Caspian terns, double-breasted cormorants and California gulls eat juvenile fish as they migrate downriver to the ocean each spring. Scientists estimate that fish- eating birds consume 35% of juvenile spring Chinook. Northern pikeminnow also prey on juvenile salmon and steelhead.

The most obvious takeaway: A combination of factors has contributed to the decline in salmon populations the past 150 years. Only a comprehensive approach to salmon recovery that addresses all factors affecting salmon— including habitat degradation, hatchery impacts, overharvest of returning adults, and assessing the impact of ocean conditions and climate change—can put salmon on the path to recovery. Recovery of salmon will not be achieved with a shortsighted goal of dam removal.