Fishing, Outdoor Businessesby CBB Staff
The leaders of 400 salmon- and outdoor recreation-based businesses from 35 states this week signed a letter to Congress that chastises the federal government for its approach to protecting and enhancing Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead populations and asks help in refocusing the strategy.
The letter says the federal effort is failing and as a result pulling down Northwest fishing-related businesses and local economies.
"We've been blessed with some good ocean conditions for the past couple of year and that has meant money for our industry and our communities," said Zeke Grader, executive director Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "However, we cannot just sit around and hope that Mother Nature continues the bounty. We are already seeing a turn in conditions, and we must have a salmon plan that gets us through the bad times as well. And while the last couple of years have been good, they haven't come even close to real salmon recovery."
The letter, and signators who held a teleconference Tuesday their express their concerns, says that a draft biological opinion issued early this month sets its sights too low -- aiming to reduce the chance that certain populations will go extinct rather than at a full recovery that includes strong, harvestable self-sustaining natural populations.
The letter urges Congress to support scientific information that shows that removal of four dams on the lower Snake River would "have the surest best effect on salmon populations in the region," according to a press release announcing the newly formed coalition's support for the Salmon Planning Act, HR 1097. The letter urges congressional support for the act which proposes to launch economic studies to weigh the costs and benefits of dam removal on the Northwest economy.
The letter's signators note that the draft Federal Columbia River Power System BiOp rules out dam breaching as a potential tool in the salmon recovery effort. The business leaders said this week that they feel restoration of historic mainstem habitat and migration conditions in the lower Snake River are key to restoring stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act such as the Snake River fall chinook.
"Salmon and my business have a lot in common," said Casey Sheahan, president Kelty Inc. "They both need the great outdoors, fast, cool rivers and healthy habitat and they both contribute a lot to the economy and way of life in the Northwest and beyond. The federal government's new plan refuses to recognize the great economic benefit that salmon protections have to the Northwest and to the nation."
"Our tackle shop is the second largest jobs provider in the entire rural Hood River County area," said Phil Jensen, owner and operator Luhr Jensen & Sons Tackle Co. "We have built our business on the health of these salmon and those that come to see and fish for them. If they go, so do we and our closure would mean hundreds out of jobs with no place to turn."
The press release points out that recent high returns of mostly hatchery fish have proven to be essential to help turn the Northwest economy around. In Idaho alone, salmon fishermen spent nearly $90 million in 2001. In addition the business spokesmen said the spring chinook fishery on the Columbia River generated $15.4 million dollars and that, in total, salmon fishing provides more than $3.5 billion in economic benefits per year to the Northwest.
"The Salmon Planning Act would be an outline for the future -- it would help us make responsible choices for the future of the Northwest's economy," said Menno van Wyk, chief executive officer, Montrail, Inc., a footwear company based in Seattle. Businesses signing on to the letter include outdoor gear sellers and makers such as Patagonia and GI Joes and many commercial, sport fishing outfitters and operators, commercial fishing associations, processors, distributors and retailers.
The letter to Congress points out that "The Act would initiate a series of studies that explore the economic costs and benefits associated with effective salmon and steelhead recovery, including ways to keep valuable upper basin agriculture whole in the process. While this legislation will not result in dam removal, it will place the option on a level playing field with other recovery alternatives, and allow federal agencies to plan for it if ultimately determined necessary to recover the Snake River's wild salmon and steelhead populations."
The Salmon Planning Act was first introduced in the House of Representatives in March of 2003 by Washington's Jim McDermott and Wisconsin's Thomas Petri. As of July of this year the Act has the support of 110 members of the House, according to information provided by Save Our Wild Salmon. That list does not include the names of any other lawmakers from the Idaho, Montana, Oregon or Washington congressional delegations. The bill has not yet moved to committee for discussions.
According to a Save Our Wild Salmon fact sheet, the bill proposes that the General Accounting Office be ordered to undertake a study of the effects of partial dam removal on employment, irrigation, transportation, and energy production and replacement. These studies will enable the creation of an economic transition and mitigation plan to protect rural communities if the dams are bypassed. It would also require the Secretary of the Army to conduct preliminary engineering, design, and construction studies for partial removal of the four lower Snake River dams.
The businesses' letter to Congress can be found at www.wildsalmon.org/library_files/BusinessLetterFinal9.28.pdf
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