Endangered salmon numbers hurt by
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Trying
to apply what they called a “common sense
solution’’ to saving salmon, three members of
Congress suggested Tuesday cutting back on the
numbers of fish that can be killed by fishermen.
“I have trouble, my little brain can’t understand,
how it’s OK to slaughter the fish?’’ said Rep.
Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, who was joined
by Reps. Brian Baird and Norm Dicks, both
Democrats from Washington, for the first of three
informal hearings to hear from various interest
provoked criticism from environmental groups, who
say dams are responsible for killing many more
salmon than fishing.
It also raised fears among American Indian tribes,
whose treaty rights have guaranteed that they can
fish both wild and hatchery-raised salmon. The two
types of fish can be distinguished because most
hatchery-raised salmon have had their fin clipped
— a move that was implemented two years ago
through legislation sponsored by Dicks.
“Catch-and-release is not part of our culture,’’
said Ron Suppah, the chairman of the Confederated
Tribes of the Warm Springs. “The old way is that
the Creator placed us here and the Creator also
placed our food here. What we promised the Creator
is that we would take care of our brethren fish.’’
All three congressmen stressed that dams, as well
as the habitat of the fish and hatchery practices,
cannot be ignored, but the government has spent
billions of dollars making dams safer for fish and
improving their habitat — and still salmon are
“We are increasingly hearing from those who are
paying the bills for these efforts and
experiencing the impacts of additional regulations
on their lives that they don’t understand how we
can ask them to support such costs and at the same
time continue to harvest the wild salmon we’re
trying to protect,’’ said Dicks.
The lawmakers grilled several officials with
government agencies in charge of regulating salmon
about the Endangered Species Act, asking them how
it is that salmon can be listed as protected under
the act, yet still be fished.
“Here’s my problem with the Endangered Species
Act: We don’t take any eagles. We don’t take any
wolves,’’ said Dicks. But when it comes to salmon,
he said, fishermen are still allowed to take the
“That just doesn’t make any sense to me,’’ he
Sport and commercial harvests are regulated by
state and federal agencies, and none allow
fishermen to keep wild fish that are listed as
threatened or endangered. However, fishing is
allowed on rivers and in the ocean where protected
fish are caught inadvertently, and some of them
die after they are released.
Earlier this year, the Bush administration put 131
strains of hatchery salmon under Endangered
Species Act protection along with their wild
cousins, but allowed those raised artificially to
still be harvested by fishermen.
The meetings came on the heels of an opinion by
U.S. District Judge James Redden, who blasted the
Bush administration for its proposed plan to make
hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin safe for
salmon. He has ordered NOAA Fisheries to come up
with a new plan in a year.
Salmon have been declining for more than a century
due to over-harvest, dam mortality, habitat
destruction, and misguided hatchery practices that
diluted the gene pool and flooded rivers with fish
ill-suited to survive in the wild. There are
currently 26 species of salmon and steelhead in
the Pacific Northwest and California listed as
threatened or endangered.
The idea of regulating fish harvest was welcomed
by several groups — especially commercial and
sports fishermen, many of whom say they have
already been using the catch-and-release
“Our jobs are going down the toilet and our fish
are going down the drain. The No. 1 thing we can
do is have our fishermen take only the marked
fish,’’ said Liz Hamilton, executive director of
the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.
“Mass marking is a tool for us to fish. If we
don’t know what we’re seeing, how do we know what
It was also applauded by government agencies and
by groups representing Northwest utilities.
“Northwest families and businesses are funding the
world’s most expensive salmon recovery effort,’’
said Terry Flores, director of a group
representing farmers, irrigators and electric
utilities and the former director of hydroelectric
licensing for PacifiCorp.