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Commentaries and editorials

Salmon Crisis a Long Time Coming

by Editors
Portland Business Journal, April 14, 2006

Oregon's already shaky economy is about to take another hit, and many of us are blaming a seagoing mammal.

It's probable the commercial salmon fishing season will be sharply curtailed, or decimated, as one respondent to last week's Business Pulse survey put it.

The season could be cut to as few as 36 days, down from 208 last year, due to a declining stock of fish. That will undoubtedly put many fishermen out of business and hammer already unstable coastal communities.

But this turn of events isn't exactly unforeseen. It's not as if a tsunami ripped across the Pacific or a drought dried up inland rivers, dealing a staggering blow out of the blue.

The world's fishing stocks have been in peril for decades. Oceans of ink have been spent describing the problems caused by overfishing and explaining in meticulous detail that this is a global issue. Ocean destruction does not stop at national borders; weak fishing runs don't suddenly revive at the mouth of rivers; and water used for irrigation doesn't magically come from some extra supply.

Science, that subject we all studied in school and frequently studiously ignore in adulthood, warned that you can't screw up one part of an ecosystem and not see damage spread in broadening ripples.

Now the ripples are here and we can blame the commercial fisherman, or blame the sport fisherman, or the tribal fisherman, or the farmers, or the loggers, or even the sea lions. And while we point fingers, salmon slip into oblivion.

So, what's the answer -- besides declaring a bounty on sea lions? We don't know, but our guess is that the same scientists who alerted us to the problem -- years ago, remember -- just might be our best bet to get us out of this jam.

But let's be realistic -- that would mean thinking long term, not our policy-makers' strongest attribute. That's why it makes sense to turn the issue over to those who can bring a needed sense of objectivity, not emotion.

Salmon Crisis a Long Time Coming
The Plainsman, April 14, 2006

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