A History of the Northwest Salmon Crisis


The management and allocation of salmon in the Northwest, and more recently, the recovery of salmon runs has always been a political problem. The struggle over who got to catch the few remaining salmon in a given fishery pitted groups, regions, and even countries against one another. The salmon blame game has now entered a new phase where each group or region or country is trying to shift as much of the cost of salmon recovery away from themselves and onto another group. Contrary to special interest public relations, everyone is and has been responsible for the decline in salmon runs, everyone in the Northwest who uses electricity, who uses paper, who eats Northwest farm products, who works in Northwest industry. What wild salmon need to survive is not hard to figure out: they need habitat to reproduce, and they need enough adults returning from the sea to produce the next generation of salmon. We have made the commitment under the Endangered Species Act not to let salmon go the way of the passenger pigeon, but no one seems to know how to get a handle on salmon recovery, and politicians are notoriously bad at saying no to their constituents. Salmon occupy diverse human habitats, they support a large fishing and hatchery industry, not to mention their attendant government bureaucra-cies; they penetetrate most of the Northwest landscape and economy. It has been said that salmon recovery would make the spotted owl struggle of the 1980s look like a picnic. We need to find an equitable solution to the salmon problem. Every region involved in the salmon crisis is going to have to do something positive to contribute to their recovery. We need to learn how to solve complex, multi-jurisdictional prob-lems, because there are even larger, more complicated problems on the horizon: climate change, the next energy crisis, the collapse of marine ecosystems, population and poverty. We spoke with Joseph Taylor III, professor of environmental history at Iowa State University , and author of Making Salmon: An Environmental History of the Northwest Fisheries Crisis, which won the George Perkins Marsh award for best book in environ-mental history in 1999.

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