Monday, April 21, 2008

Missing salmon, where have they gone?

There's no mystery in this year's salmon collapse. We killed our salmon many years ago, and we just failed to notice.

Why do others see a mystery? Because they weren't paying attention.

This year's salmon crash was inevitable, now that we've reduced our salmon portfolio to just a few stocks. Lacking a diverse portfolio, a bad year for one stock is a very bad year overall.

Think of this like a financial investment porfolio that consists of only one stock. If that company does well, you win. But if that company goes bankrupt, you lose. Who would be stupid enough to invest their life's savings in just one stock?

But that's what we've done with salmon. After a century of salmon abuse, we've reduced the diversity of our salmon portfolio to just a few stocks. And diversity is important for salmon, it's the foundation of productivity. It's no surprise that we finally had a bad couple of years. It was bound to happen, since we failed to put a value on diveristy.


And for those naysayers who want to blame water withdrawals in the Sacramento River delta...

This year's crash isn't just in California, things are bad in Oregon rivers too. So the crash can't just be caused by water diversion in California rivers. There is very clear evidence that ocean conditions played a major role in the salmon collapse. For a glimpse of the role of diversity in productivity, check out this description of how some Columbia salmon are doing fairly well, compared to others that are in trouble. Even now, we can see the value of diversity. But will we pay attention?

Will we begin to protect diversity and resilience, the foundations of salmon productivity? Or will we count noses and hope for the best?

Go ahead, put your retirement money in Enron stock.


Chrissy said...

We are having this same problem in BC. The salmon stocks are very low. Over fishing is now making an impact in a HUGE way.

Anonymous said...

Until we really take a good look at the more difficult water quality problems, in both freshwater and marine habitats, we are going to see continued declines. We stick our heads in the sand instead of looking at critical issues that are not politically supportive. If galvanized culverts placed in the headwaters of almost all freshwater habitat, are slowly dissolving and contaminating coolwater refugia, and allow lost lead fishing sinkers to be accumulating in acidic low-calcium waters, we are going to have ongoing subtle metal toxic effects that reduce fitness and ultimately
bring additional fishery decline.
Only politically-supportive water quality monitoring is encouraged. Just try to write a proposal for any of the tough issues such as culvert corrosion contaminants, and see massive denial of the science in water quality monitoring for the coastal salmon restoration effort.

Anonymous said...

The Precautionary Principle, that is being instituted in European fisheries restoration, is a response to this 'head in sand' attitude by the status quo myopia of political arms of natural restoration agencies that are mandated to implement the Clean Water Act here in the US or the European equivalent over there. We should push the PP as a critical issue for NW coast salmon.
Ray Kinney

Anonymous said...

I agree the collapse of Sacramento River salmon is due in large part to poor ocean conditions in 2005 and 2006. But equally to blame is federal and state water policy which encourages waste - we are simply taking too much water from the delta. Four of the last six years have seen the greatest export ever. Scientists have documented a complete collapse of the food web starting at the planktonic level in the Delta. Starving smolts leaving the delta encountered barren ocean conditions. If the delta was healthy we would have seen low to moderate but sustainable returns.

Mark Powell said...

Thanks for the comments, you all make good points. I agree that these issues matter, the delta in particular does matter this year. I also hope everyone thinks about how the loss of life history diversity is worsening the effects of specific habitat problems.

Anthony Creswell said...

As you know, here in Ireland we have had years of declining stocks of wild atlantic salmon; last year, the government eventually woke up and halted the commercial drift net fishery.
Already the numbers of salmon in the rivers have increased - and why not of course, with no nets to stop them. However, this is not to say that there are many other causes for the decline, but by stopping fishing, that at least is simple and very visible.
One can talk about water quality,both fresh and marine,and food supply, but those problems are going to take time to fix; by banning fishing now that will let more fish through and will give the species a chance to survive while man takes its time to resolve the longer term issues.
Makes sense doesn't it?
I think that it's working in Ireland.

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