Friday, October 23, 2009
The Late, Great Fall Chinook Salmon
I don't think a word like abysmal can adequately describes the status of the west coast fall Chinook salmon runs the last couple of years. I suppose there are other adjectives that may be better but I was thinking of something so downward and fathomless and filled with gloom to really project how much in trouble these fish are in.
Whether it be the legendary runs of the Smith River in Northern California or the "pigs" of the Tillamook watershed there are none that deny that these fish are disappearing at an alarming rate.
It's downright scary and no one seems to be able to put a finger on the exact culprit in the fall Chinook's demise. There are probably many reasons and the cumulative effect of all of those reasons are probably why we are where we are today.
So let's look at a few...
Loss of habitat in critical spawning areas might be the largest reason. Siltation, loss of riparian buffer zones, poor logging practices have all play a role. The powers that be have finally recognized this and are trying to do something about it but it may be too late. Good positive strides in proper logging practices have been implemented and we are seeing some progress. Obviously there is more work to be done though.
Of course the numerous hydro-electric dams along the Columbia river and it's tributaries were and are a huge part of the problem. These man made barriers have destroyed countless millions of down river juveniles and have impeded the returning adults. The dams have also provided a smorgasbord of easy pickings for predators of all kinds.
Over harvest by everyone from sportsmen to commercial interests have added to the Chinook's woes over the years and while state agencies have reduced bag limits and catch allocations they ignored the warning signs for way too long.
The greedy sports anglers, armed with the latest internet fishing report, have long sought the coveted Chinook salmon roe to use as bait and while some may call this insignificant it is just wishful thinking to say this has not had some impact. The Tillamook region is still famous for it's "hen hunters" who stripped ripe females solely for their eggs and I would be willing to bet you could use fresh Chinook salmon roe as some form of currency for barter in that area of Oregon. Many salmon "celebrities" have made their living selling the latest and greatest salmon egg cure in order to facilitate those egg hunters.
Foreign troll fleets and Columbia river gill netters decimated these salmon for decades to feed the ever increasing demand from the non-fishing public for salmon to eat. In the past entire coastal economies were built around the Chinook and coho salmon returns of the fall.
Then of course is mismanagement by state fishery agencies. The tales of these bungling managers of these important resource could fill a massive volume. I have posted my criticism of these agencies many times on this blog and will not rehash old rants but I will say this much and I mean this with all of my heart. I firmly believe our state fish and wild life agencies must be reorganized and reformed from top to bottom. It's time for the bureaucrats, save asses and politicians to be prevented from pulling the strings and mismanaging our wild salmonids. Along with all of this is the archaic hatchery policies and practices that have changed little in decades and the effect of hatchery fish on wild fish is well documented. The old saying of "Throw the Scoundrels Out" certainly would apply here.
Finally there is that great unknown called ocean conditions. We are not real sure what goes on out in the salt but we do know that pollution and, yes, global warming have an effect and will continue to do so until some enlightened people who can make a difference will step up and do it.
I would really like my grand children to be able to watch in wonder the ritual of spawning salmon or witness a massive Chinook plow it's way through a shallow riffle on it's way to it's ultimate destiny and fate.
We will be a poorer world without the Chinook salmon and indeed any wild salmon or trout to enjoy and cherish for future generations.