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Klamath Fish Management

by Larry Toelle, Ft Jones 4/12/08

Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, have been spent on west coast salmon production with annual expenditures skyrocketing to levels exceeding many nation's entire budget. We recently estimated that “hoped for” improvements in Klamath stocks would cost over $6,500 per fish, a real bargain according to the fish managers and their environmental and tribal friends.

Most of the dollars spent, come from federal coffers. Another significant portion from state budgets. Yet another portion comes from our electric bills. Bonneville Power Authority energy is dinged about 24% in direct fish expense.  We all pay through the nose for these critters, either in the form of taxes or through more direct forms, such as our power bills.  Let's also not forget the expenses born by county and local governments in various fish mitigation programs.
Also, let's not forget the costs of regulation. City folks aren't likely to consider these costs, but those of us who ranch and farm, or work in the woods, know all too well what these costs are. Some of the costs are offset by generous subsidies in the form of agency grants to create habitat, maximize water usage, screen streams, and other less obvious projects, all to help improve the lives of these critters, many times at the expense of other critters. The regulations are tangled, conflicting and often confusing.
So, really, how valuable are these critters? About three bucks a pound at Raley's Supermarket, and thats for the “WILD” variety, presumed better than the farmed variety. Not bad actually, considering a pound of hamburger costs us about two and half bucks.
We really haven't computed the tax and energy costs of beef, but presumably it's something less than $6,500 per head, or we should hope so. Consider too, an animal weighing in at a thousand pounds versus a fish weighing in at twenty pounds.
This week, the fish managers announced that there will be no more fishing until they can figure out what is happening to these wild fish. This year's catch will go to zero, perhaps next year's as well. These fish managers are also scrambling to ask for yet more dollars, now to fund more research, and of course, to subsidize the now out-of-business commercial fishing fleets and tribes. Now, let's re-compute the costs per fish again ... staggering, isn't it?
Does shutting down fishing mean that we won't be able to buy these fish at Raley's? Of course not. Salmon will still be found where we always find them, between the cod and flounder. They may not be marked “wild” but you will still have salmon for dinner. Salmon farmers will continue raising and offering salmon to America's consumers, perhaps at a higher price because they don't have to compete against the federal/state fish managers, but salmon will remain a part of our diet.
Consider, if you will, the lunatic nature of the western salmon industry. Annually, we spend hundreds of millions on a fish that merely stock the supermarkets with fresh meat. The salmon has no other real purpose, they're food. They can be produced in marketable quantities by private producers at costs competitive to hamburger. It just doesn't make sense, unless of course, you're a fish manager.
It's time for us to set aside our emotional attachments to this critter, and begin asking some tough questions about fish management. First question: Who's in charge? Who is going to take responsibility for spending the billions, and then produce nothing?
Larry Toelle
Fort Jones
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