The fate of the fish
Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. The crisp mornings and colorful leaves herald the change of seasons and new perspectives on life. Growing up in Southwest Washington, the coming of autumn also has meant the coming of the salmon up the river. Unfortunately, I have seen the number of salmon in the rivers dwindling, and this has been reflected in the struggles for survival of animals and humans that rely on this iconic creature.
Wild salmon have been struggling for survival for the better part of a century. Dams, habitat destruction, overfishing, and pollution have been responsible for the demise of the population. While the state has come up with a plan to bolster salmon numbers, recent events may stop any progress that has been made.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife decided this year to increase the salmon catch by commercial fishermen through allowing the use of gill nets. These nets had previously been banned, since the bycatch from gillnets is notorious. These nets have been responsible for the deaths of endangered species of salmon as well as birds and sea mammals. Fish and Wildlife claims that the holes in the nets are now larger so that the bycatch will not be so great, but the impacts of any bycatch on species that are struggling could be devastating. Furthermore, in the 20th district, sports fishing contributes more money to the economy than commercial fishing, and increasing the commercial share will decrease the amount for sports fishermen.
In addition to the nets, the state is, unbelievably, thinking of building a new dam on the Chehalis River to control flooding. Dams have proven to reduce salmon populations, and their use in flood control is often less than reliable. The Chehalis Tribe is downriver from the proposed dam. Salmon are central to the Chehalis culture, and the loss of the salmon would mean the loss of a way of life. A dam would also destroy the riparian zone along the Chehalis upriver from the dam, contributing to habitat destruction and reducing water quality and increasing water temperatures. This dam should not be constructed, and other alternatives should be sought for the flooding problem.
There are no easy solutions to the salmon population problem, but their continued existence is essential to the culture and economy of the Pacific Northwest. As the various interested parties tug the salmon this way and that, we can quickly lose ground in the battle for salmon survival. We need to base decisions on real science, and be prepared to make short term sacrifices in order to reach long term goals. Then, maybe in the future we will still be able to watch the salmon swimming up the river in the fall, determined to produce new generations of fish, a symbol of hope and regeneration for us all.