PAT NEAL: Wheels spin on replenishing our salmon

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Fund.

It’s a federal grant program that funds what is known as the salmon restoration industry.

This is an industry that has spent $1.1 billion in Washington since 1999 buying property from willing sellers, making logjams, planting native vegetation and other questionable activities in an effort to restore salmon runs.

A March 3 Seattle Times column, “Trump’s Budget Would Devastate Salmon Recovery,” describes how our iconic salmon are a “source of joy and renewal for Washingtonians,” and animals such as the orca whale who need salmon to survive.

It was written by Nancy Biery of Clallam County and Bob Bugert of Wenatchee, who are on the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

As for the human dependence on salmon for food, that is so last century.

Salmon used to be considered the poor man’s tuna.

No matter how bad things got, you could always go down to the river and catch your dinner.

Unfortunately, these days, tuna is the poor man’s tuna.

We are told that eating too much tuna is not recommended due to mercury pollution, but our iconic and endangered salmon are much too valuable for poor people to eat.

They are much more valuable to the salmon restoration industry.

According to this same article, for every million dollars spent on salmon recovery, 16.7 jobs are created, providing needed cash in the rural and distressed counties of our state, where coincidentally the salmon fishing industry has been eliminated due to mismanagement of salmon.

The article further stated that after 20 years and more than a billion dollars spent, out of 15 salmon and steelhead populations listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, two are nearing recovery and several are showing progress.

Using these figures as our guide, it’s easy to see how the salmon restoration industry would need billions and billions more dollars to restore our salmon, if that is indeed their goal.

Fortunately for the salmon restoration industry, they can use a disclaimer.

They don’t actually say they are going to bring back the salmon to any particular river but rather are going to create the conditions with heavy equipment, consultants and even helicopters to fly logs into the wilderness to make logjams for salmon if they ever happen to show up on their own.

To test the effectiveness of the salmon restoration industry, we need look no further than our own Dungeness River.

Competing groups of salmon restoration industrialists — there are over 50 of these grant-suckers competing for restoration money — call the Dungeness River the black hole of salmon recovery dollars because of the amount of money spent on this stream at the expense of other salmon restoration projects.

After 20 years of salmon recovery efforts and millions of dollars spent building new bridges, roads and logjams while demolishing structures, the Dungeness still contains threatened populations of salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

The Dungeness and a 125-square-mile swath of the Strait of Juan de Fuca out in front of the river are closed to fishing most of the year.

Undeterred by their lack of success, the salmon restoration industry is going to spend millions more taking out the flood-control dikes along the Dungeness while forgetting why they were built in the first place.

Meanwhile, there are many proven methods of restoring salmon to streams such as introducing pairs of spawning salmon to dead creeks without fish and using remote egg-hatch boxes to release baby fish from native brood stock into the ecosystem, but we’d rather spend billions hiring heavy equipment.

Albert Einstein is credited with saying that continuing a failed experiment is insanity.

Here in Washington, we call it the salmon restoration industry.


Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected]

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