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  • A Salmon's State of Affairs (Part 1)

    In the Pacific northwest each year there is a migration of anadromous fish that is unrivaled, in size and scope, by any other on the coast. Each year the Pacific salmon move from their ocean environments and return back to their home river spawning grounds. Yet, the salmon do not always find a hospitable environment upon return to these spawning grounds. They, in general, have not found ideal conditions for survival anywhere in their life's cycle. Many reasons contribute and create inhospitable environments for the salmons life journey, but nothing comes close to the negative effects and impacts of human affairs upon that journey. Salmon struggle with problems that have come with expanding human populations. In our State of California we have almost 40 million residents that all, in some way or another, impact a salmon s journey. A number of reports have chronicled the large declines and localized extinctions of many of our California Salmon.
    The people in California, whose jobs and communities depend on fish to sustain themselves have taken a beating. Resources departments and communities have been totally inundated and overwhelmed by the intricacies and magnitude of the problem facing our salmon sticks.
    In my own lifetime I have season shutdowns, season closures, local extinction, and experienced a sense of hopelessness in the outlook for the future of California salmon runs.
    Questions come to mind:
    Why are salmon declines going unnoticed by most California residents?
    Who or what agencies are responsible for finding solutions to this unprecedented state of salmon affairs?
    What, at this point, can be done to reverse the recent trends in salmon numbers?
    I am keenly aware of the plight these fish face, and as a California fisherman I am deeply disturbed and frustrated by policies being implemented to "save our salnon". I have come to no direct opinions as to who is at fault, nor will I intend to point fingers at people or agencies. That rhetoric has kept the wheels spinning in courts around our State meanwhile our fish continue to disappear. By the way, these are OUR fish..in a sense of stewardship and responsibility of caretaking of our State resources. Who else is going to do it? What are we waiting for to happen? The complete extinction of our State salmon fisheries, like the once famed Coast Atlantic salmon stocks now gone? There is only one thing I am certain that is the case and that is the fish themselves are the only innocents in this fight. The responsibility for California salmon runs rests on US - Fishermen, Resource management agencies, residents, and local governments. We must fight, and win, this battle to save our fisheries and give the salmon s fighting chance to survive their incredible life cycle. We must ensure that our children will be able to enjoy the quality of our California fisheries we once had. We cannot take for granted that we will always have this opportunity to do something great. To be the stewards of California fisheries is a monumental challenge that will require sacrifices, comprising, and a ton of understanding. We must overcome this paralysis we have been stuck in to do something now to save our fisheries before it's simply too late. We, Californians, all have a stake in the salmon fishery resource of our beautiful State and of the great Pacific northwest. We all mutually share in the successful restoration and habilitation of this precious resource. The salmon and their ultimate fate are tied to our ability to gather the needed human movement for sustainability of these fish. The answer to the problem, of a lack of fish returning to spawn each year, seems to be deceptively simple: put more fish into the rivers. Yet, to determine how to reach this goal is a much more complex and broad issue. This effort has also perplexed many talented and dedicated people whose past efforts have met community expectations and make it hard to calculate the success rates of our efforts in restoring salmon returns today. However, we have some incredible success stories like the Moukuleme river and the amazingly successful efforts that have produced great returns the past few years. Having these successes within the State has given a glimmer of hope such that the belief is that, even as monumental as they are, the difficulties facing California salmon runs can be overcome. This belief exists because we know what salmon require to persist and succeed in their journey. We also know, at any given point in their life cycle, precisely what conditions are beneficial for salmon. For example, we have over a century of viable experiences in hatchery production that we know they can create special problems. We also know with improved practices and new developments in technology these same production facilities will have fewer risks to salmon sticks and can actually stabilize the salmon fishery economies well into the future. The overall effects of biodiversity loss and habitat destruction, as well as, ocean conditions needed for survival are curecently understood better than ever before. The value of wild fish stocks and their place in maintaining the genetic diversity of local runs has now been fully appreciated and respected. Yet, we have some incredible evidence that shows that artificially raised salmon, when done with care and new practices, does not destroy wild fish stocks even when these "inferior" hatchery salmon spawn with "wild" fish. There have been some truly well written articles that have dispelled the myths that a salmon raised in a raceway is not as much of a survivor as a gravel bed born salmon, both of which survived their journeys to make it home to spawn despite all the obstacles they faced along the way. One issue that is constantly creating a rift between varied special interests is who is responsible for the management of our State salmon fisheries. I propose we all share a mutually exclusive interest to see the salmon survive and that we all have an interest to see the best management in place and best practices implemented to manage this resource. Good science mixed with healthy practices with a heaping serving of proper habitats to grow, raise, and spawn in are essential for the future of our California salmon fisheries. If the knowledge required is adequate and people are dedicated to do something about the problems salmon face, why are our runs continuing to decline?why if we have all this data are Salmon stocks still continuing their downward spiral? I believe the problem is not so much with the procedures that we have for the management of our State salmon fisheries. I believe the problem is with humans having different sets of wants, needs, institutions, laws, morals, special interests, and a general history of waiting too long to change these sets of human affairs before total loss of a natural resource is gone. The problems California fisheries face are essentially social issues in nature. The concept of carrying capacity comes to my mind. Once exceeded populations of species grow beyond the capability of the natural resources to support them ecosystems go haywire. In this case, or at least in the history of salmon fisheries, it wasn't so much populations demands upon the salmon themselves but rather upon the resources in which the salmon themselves demand for survival. We find find that humans share "common" resources with all other species in an ecosystem. The pressures humans have put on the California salmon stocks needed resources for survival come from common river systems where they spawn and rear, Pacific ocean where they grow to adulthood, and terrestrial lands which have great impacts on the aquatic systems as a whole. The incredible diversity of governing bodies and management agencies of these "commons" vary from native tribal people's, big corporate giants in farming, metropolis and state water boards, commercial fishing industry, and a mix of local, state, and federal agencies. The differing interests and pressures at each micro-level create a macro-problem for our State salmon populations that are seemingly insurmoutable. Every group has its spokesman, it's lawyers, it's influential desires for these common resources. Like I said, this is truly and most clearly a social issue. The overuse of each part of the system and the desire to gain the greatest immediate profits (Not just financial) has devastated our natural ecosystems ability to support healthy populations of naturally propagating Salmonids. We humans want to use the lands, the ocean, and the rivers to give ourselves the best quality of life possible. Yet, the problem generally lies with what "lifestyles" must we live to do that and how do we balance the true needs of human affairs now with the idea that we MUST save our fisheries and ecosystems so that our grandchildren's children still have the same beauty and natural resources we have now. In fact, it would be in the best interests of all the group's I mention to do so for long term sustainability. In California, Our fisheries are an important factor of the quality of life for millions of people . Well what has happened up to this point? We have had lots of rhetoric and so many opinions. We have biological opinions and scientific data to support them. We have corporate opinions and the profit and loss statements to support them. We have city, county, state, and federal laws written and signed by our representatives. We have proponents and opponents with their beliefs sounding loudly. We have group's within the fishing community infighting with words and contradictions. We have history speaking for itself. So many words; more so, in fact, than fish! We continue to have studies, we continue to have lawsuits, we have charges and countersuits, cons and counterfeit interests.
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