Overfished West Coast Salmon May Have Shallow Future

March 25, 2008

An important piece of Northwest culture may have a bleak looking future. Both the New York Times and NPR reported today on the potential collapse of the salmon fishing industry along the west coast. Phil Anderson with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife told NPR the current level of salmon is the worst he’s seen in 35 years. Scientists are blaming lower salmon counts on dead zones throughout the ocean which have been deprived of nutrients. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time history has seen an ocean species struggle…..

atlantic_cod_catch.jpg

Before supermarket salmon fillets and sushi crazes, most of the world’s seafood came from the Atlantic cod. And it was everywhere. The fish in “fish ‘n chips”. Salted snacks on long sea voyages. Cod was responsible for the frozen fish stick craze of the 50’s and 60’s. The fish was even the inspiration for nations to expand their borders into the ocean to protect fishing rights.

Cod has been the central part of a lot of cultures – but don’t bother trying to find it in your supermarket today. Atlantic cod was fished nearly to extinction years ago, and it has yet to make any comeback. Current counts show the Atlantic cod population is 1% of what it was in 1977.

Blaming fingers point the cod’s near-extinction in many different directions, but there’s one that most seem to agree upon. The modern fishing trawler.

trawler.jpg

For a moment, imagine raking your front yard in the fall. Your rake picks up most of the leaves, but also grabs pinecones, seeds, and any toys not already chopped up by the lawnmower. If you rake hard enough, you may even pull up some live grass, leaving a thin patch in the yard. The same happens in the ocean with large fishing trawlers. Fish are picked up in trawler nets, but so is the rest of the ecosystem. After years and years trawling, we begin to see dead-zones in the ocean…just like we see dead patches in our front lawn.

Fishing with trawlers yields high amounts of fish, but also leads to overfishing. If nothing stops the ocean trawling, the fish become near-extinct. For now, the Federal government has decided to limit the amount of trawlers fishing for salmon this season. But a one season limit is just a drop in a very big, empty bucket. If the Northwest truly wants to keep salmon from disappearing, fisherman are going to have to change their open water habits.

Images from: http://www.mongabay.com & http://www.greenpeace.org

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2 Responses to “Overfished West Coast Salmon May Have Shallow Future”

  1. twodux said

    Your headline is misleading. You point to overfishing as the culprit, when it is mostly a habitat issue. Between the dams on the Columbia and other rivers, housing and urban sprawl, logging practices which warm streams and leave them choked in sediment and the practice of spraying large areas with the equivalent of Round Up to suppress growth of unwanted trees and brush and planting monoculture forests, farming practices which pollute streams, run off from roads which pollute streams, competition with hatchery fish which are produced to try to hide all the other problems in the rivers, and the fight over water usage, salmon on the west coast have a hard row to hoe. Fix those problems and there will be no overfishing issue.

  2. Nicko said

    Thanks for the great comment, and thanks for stopping by! I think you make an interesting point, and a good one at that. The Atlantic Cod faced near-extinction because their habitat became inhabitable.

    As you pointed out, habitat destruction can come from a myriad of actions. But many of those issues have solutions: dams are being built with fish ladders, the BLM is regulating the sediment and other materials dumped into rivers, and eco-groups are fighting hard to protect water rights for salmon.

    News sources like the NYT and NPR seem to believe that the biggest, most destructive culprit of salmon habitat destruction is overfishing. State and Federal governments seem to buy into the same premise – which is why fishing is being limited but housing sprawl isn’t.

    That isn’t to say those other issues aren’t valid nor important. I believe the environment is interdependently linked – for example there’s no way to allow monoculture forests and maintain sustainable soil nutrients. But at the same time, fighting “habitat destruction” is complicated and hard. Fighting “overfishing” is much more black and white, and will lead toward the same result.

    Smart Sense

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