Saturday, March 25, 2006

Wu Backs Fishing Industry against Administration in Astoria

Growing up in Oregon, one of the things my parents did not instill in me was an appreciation for salmon--although maybe I refused it as a kid. Salmon is about as far away from a fish stick as you can get. But my mom was a vegetarian and my dad not a fisherman, so the abundance and importance of the salmon to Oregon's character and bounty did not stick with me until I returned home a few years ago.

My interest is merely gustatory and historic-aesthetic, but there are also quite a few Oregonians whose livelihoods depend on the gallant swimmers with the highly prized flesh. Sportfishers. Commercial fishers. Guides. Tackle shops. Outdoor outfitters. Boating stores. Motels. Restaurants--great ones and otherwise. Convenience stores (ever fish without beer and snacks?) and fuel stations. Fish processors and packers--and I mean the people hunched over a table doing it. And those are just the non-Native peoples.

Things are tense among those people right now; the 2006 runs are showing early signs of a significantly poor harvest:
Through Monday, only two spring chinook had passed through the ladders at Bonneville Dam. That's comparable to the extremely low runs of the mid-1990s.

Through Sunday, only five spring chinook had been counted at Willamette Falls.

"I sincerely hope it's not as ugly as it looks right now,'' said Bill Tweit, Columbia River policy lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Washington and Oregon officials agreed Wednesday to conduct test netting on Sunday and to meet Monday afternoon to reassess the spring run and prospects for additional gillnetting in the lower Columbia.

A run of 88,400 spring chinook is forecast to enter the Columbia headed for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam. That would be the worst in six years.

A return of 46,500 spring chinook is predicted back to the Willamette, the worst in seven years.
That's not good. Something's gotta be done to rebuild the harvest, right? So to my untrained eye, a federal injunction against harvesting of salmon along Northwest rivers makes sense--less fish taken out means more fish left, right?

Well, yes--but it turns out the typical river harvest takes at most less than 10% of the population (pdf). What's holding back the salmon population in the Northwest? Dams. Three, four, five--even as many as nine out of 10 fish on the Snake River are killed not by a fisherman but by a power turbine. Here's a rather amazing endorsement list of newspapers, organizations, cities, tribes, fishermen, etc who support retiring four Lower Snake dams. When you compare Snake salmon who must pass eight dams, to the Columbia's four, logically and truthfully the Columbia salmon do better.

So the Bush administration's plan to stop fishing harvest does little to impact the salmon condition, ignores the science behind retiring the dams, and cripples industries and towns throughout the Northwest. It isn't Katrina, but it's pretty freaking inept. Or rather, pretty craven--the people who make money off the turbines' spinning are generous with their largesse to the administration. If there's one group still standing by George Bush it's the utility industry, because he rarely disappoints them. Very, very, rarely.

Thus a reason to protest, and we come finally to the lede: Dave Wu has the sense to recognize the importance of this issue to a good chunk of his district, and the awkward savvy to win those votes for him in the perennially tough 1st CD. He's clearly never going to play the captain in the House musical of Jaws, but he's earnest enough:
“What we don’t need is some pencil-necked presidential science advisor come in here to build a wall between us and our river, between us and our fish,” Wu said.

The salmon crisis is the result of the administration’s mismanagement of upriver water resources, Wu said, but the response to fishermen has been “a sharp stick in the eye.”

“We are not going to take this, we are not going to accept this,” he said.

He said that if the fisheries managers close the salmon season, fishermen should come back in August with a couple tons of dead salmon to dump at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regional headquarters in Seattle.

“If they dare to close our salmon season, we will lay the dead fish where they belong, at the doors of the people who made the bad water policy that caused the problem in the first place,” Wu said.
Ewwww. There goes the marine biologist vote. And why are they getting our precious salmon on their doorstep instead of in my frying pan?

I think Wu is booked for an easy ride this November, actually--the vote against the Iraq War now looks like a golden ticket, and Wu's got one:
"Make no mistake about it," he told the House. "With this first strike, with this first war, we will lose the high moral ground that has taken Americans 200 years to build."
So as you relax with your favored other in the Pearl, cutting up a flaky river coho this year, remember where it came from.