With Salmon Vanishing, Will Anything Be Done?

Elissa V.

The writing is on the wall for the Chinook

The dire state of our planet's fisheries is well known and often ignored, but recent events may force everyone – the United States, in particular – to sit up and finally take action. Salmon fishing, both commercial and recreational, may be banned this year off the coasts of Oregon and California as a result of a complete collapse in the fish's population. The most important fact about this devastation? The area is the largest salmon run in the largest estuary on this hemisphere's Pacific Coast.

The collapse is affecting all aspects of our daily life. Salmon are not only a major staple in the global diet, but also play a pivotal role in the success of various aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Pacific salmon in particular are at the center of a $150 million industry in the Northwest (U.S. seafood is a $52 billion industry overall) that has already required the financial aid of Congress to stay afloat. The environment and economy are both suffering as a result and there will be a steady increase of hungry mouths to feed if pollution, predators and increased water exports continue. The Sacramento River, the most plentiful run for Chinook salmon, has also endured a complete collapse in population. Known more commonly on restaurant menus as king salmon, Chinook salmon will be an expensive and rare dish for seafood lovers until the Alaskan fishing season begins in July. In the meantime, scientists and fishermen are anxiously trying to solve the crisis.

Fishermen think the Sacramento River was mismanaged in 2005, when this year's fish first migrated downriver. Perhaps, they say, federal and state water managers drained too much water or drained at the wrong time to serve the state's powerful agricultural interests and cities in arid Southern California. The fishermen think the fish were left susceptible to disease, or to predators, or to being sucked into diversion pumps and left to die in irrigation canals. But federal and state fishery managers and biologists point to the highly unusual ocean conditions in 2005, which may have left the fingerling salmon with little or none of the rich nourishment provided by the normal upwelling currents near the shore. – The New York Times

The rapid rate in which we consume seafood combined with the lack of nutrients available to dying fish has led to a situation with limited options. The seasonal fishing suspension in Oregon and California would mark the first time salmon fishing has been banned in the area since the first commercial fishermen arrived in 1848. But perhaps the most disconcerting measure is the National Marine Fisheries Service decision to permit Washington and Oregon to start killing sea lions that feed on migrating salmon.

A male sea lion, which can reach 1,000 pounds (454 kg), consumes about 30 pounds (13.6 kg) or five to seven fish a day. The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that the sea lions ate nearly 4,000 salmon last year, which accounted for about 5 percent of the spring salmon run. About one-third of the salmon eaten are endangered, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. – Reuters UK
Culprit, or scapegoat?

After attempts to thwart the sea lions failed – noisemakers, rubber bullets, the installation of physical barriers – the two states are now allowed to kill as many as 85 sea lions a year near the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. The measure doesn't come without stipulations though. Only sea lions seen feasting on salmon between January 1 and May 31 are allowed to be killed, and before that can happen, the sea lions must be trapped and held for 48 hours while managers of the fisheries try to find them a home at a zoo or aquarium. But, there is a small loophole where sea lions can be shot in the water if they cannot be easily captured. Make sense? Of course not. The killing of sea lions will do nothing to repair the damaged state of our fisheries because the real culprits are pollution and overfishing. Until those two issues are addressed, they could kill every sea lion in the area without success. I am not without blame – as an avid sushi lover, I realize the role my diet plays in this situation (sadly, salmon is my favorite), which is why it's important for people to make a conscious effort to do their part to help the cause. As previously discussed on Celsias, fish farms are not without their own share of problems. Even though one-third of fish consumed worldwide come from farms, the fish are often nutrient deficient and prone to disease. So what's an environmentalist to do? There are several options:

  • EcoFish: Launched in 1999, EcoFish only sells seafood that is grown or caught in eco-friendly ways. None of the suppliers have caused harm to the environment or taken more fish out of the ocean than are born each year.
  • Seafood Selector: Created by the Environmental Defense Fund, users can research which fish are healthy for both them and the environment. They also offer a printable pocket guide for when you're on the go.
  • FishPhone: Blue Ocean Institute's sustainable fish text messaging service offers information about the environmental status of the fish you want to eat and its tasty alternatives. To find out about your seafood choice, text 30644 with the message FISH and the name of the fish in question.

Scientists estimate that there will be no more seafood by 2048 unless sustainable fishing methods are adopted and widely used throughout the world's fisheries. We can do our part, and then it's up to government leaders and business owners to do the same.

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  • Posted on March 25, 2008. Listed in:

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