The salmon that usually reside in the rivers on the west coast and in the Pacific Ocean have mysteriously vanished. No one knows the exact reason for the sudden downfall, but many factors are contributing to the disappearance. This has caused the department of fish and wildlife of Oregon and Washington to go as far as shutting down the fishery in its entirety. Many of the salmon stocks that are present in our world are either in danger of going extinct, or already in process. This is a large problem, as commercial and sport fishing is an industry that is vital to many cities and is one of the main areas of revenue for coastal cities in northern California and the Pacific Northwest. The main reasons for this decline is most definitely the overfishing of vital stocks, and mismanagement of fish farms and rivers concerning their dams or flow levels.
Referring to the table below, created by Justin Ewers, more than half of what salmon stocks there used to be are now extinct. This chart represents the amounts of salmon that would normally be present during any said run or season, but as result of human proliferation now are no longer present and could even in some cases considered to be extinct all together.
Winter 88% Summer 45%
Spring/Summer 63% Winter 29%
COHO 55% PINK 21%
CHUM 37% SOCKEYE 59%
As is evident by this chart, our stocks have been endangered for a long time, but just at such levels that it could not be properly calculated. "Since our society tends to push fish to the brink of extinction before beginning recovery efforts, the Endangered Species Act remains our most potent tool to protect fish," this is a dead on statement, as only now that our stocks are in failure is there a scramble to save them, where as if conservation had begun much earlier, this situation would not be present. The main problem with the system in the powers that be are only interested in a problem when it becomes a subject of massive public attention, and until that happens no matter what the issue is it will be placed on the rear burner until it becomes more visible to the majority.
One of the most devastating things to the wild salmon stocks is surprisingly captive farming of salmon. A study in Ireland found that “When the team set up spawning between the farmed salmon and the wild salmon, it had devastating effects on the hybrid generations that followed. Nearly three-quarters of the third-generation salmon embryos died within the first few weeks, the team reports in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The researchers think this is because gene-shuffling breaks up combination's of genes adapted to life in the wild.” Basically what this mean is that the genes that make the salmons survivability greater, including the trait of one returning to its own natal stream can be interrupted by interbreeding. Normally farmed salmon are not intentionally released from their rearing pens, but in many cases the pens are in terrible disrepair, when any storm comes up the netting is very likely to break and release harmful salmon into the gene pool. "Releases of fish from farms could send wild populations into terminal decline." Terminal decline is just a co-word for the downward spiral that will occur until there are no wild salmon left at all.
Another dire problem associated with fish farming is that of sea lice. As Annalisa Babieri says in her report on farmed fish, “But the cages where salmon are farmed are a heavenly breeding ground for sea-lice, the farmed fish protected by chemicals, shake them off. The problem is that the wild salmon smolts -- small and without the "privilege" of such pesticides, have to swim past these cages to get to open sea (salmon farms are placed in coastal areas often near to where wild salmon run). You can imagine what joy the sea-louse must feel at the sight of such unprotected, juvenile flesh. It must be just like String fellows. They crowd the little fish, often congregating on his head to form a "death crown", eating into him until he weakens and dies. He never gets to see the wonderful feeding grounds off Greenland where he could have grown fat on prawns. He never gets to go back to the very gravel patch in the river where he was born, to sire more salmon. He floats to the bottom of the ocean, the sea-lice tails detach, and float away to find lunch elsewhere. (Barbieri)” Basically this happens in massive quantities and in turn it can eliminate entire runs of smolts as they exit the estuaries that their rivers lead into. The sea lice form clouds that destroy literally any other non-pesticide fed fish just due to the fact that they are in groups of ten thousand or more which can consume hundreds of smolts in a very short time period.
Human incursion has also caused a lot of problems for the salmonid species, in the creation of dams and other obstacles that black the paths of the normal paths of salmon migration. “Scientists have identified more than 400 separate salmon runs -- each a genetically distinct wild stock -- in the area. The American Fisheries Society says 106 of these runs are now extinct and 214 are at moderate or high risk. (Satchell)” The many dams that have been created to power our cities have incidentally destroyed many of our salmon runs. These dams flood spawning areas, use the gravel that is needed for the salmon to create their “redds” (large dug out ovals the salmon create to lay their eggs into) and also completely blocks the path of their migratory patterns. In the study my Michael Satchel involving salmon he gathered this data about the various species that are present and are in decline.
Declining Concern Threatened Endangered Extinct
Chinook 11,290,000 17,570,000 11,331,000 11,547,000 40,919,000
Coho 4,497,000 3,479,000 13,859,000 8,797,000 38,140,000
Chum 3,320,000 1,618,000 1,991,000 2,362,000 5,458,000
Pink 6,639,000 31,000 44,000 448,000 1,903,000
Sockeye 366,000 395,000 60,000 156,000 1,416,000
As is very evident from this compilation of information, there are no actually stable stocks of salmon left in the Pacific Northwest. This is just a small indicator of the big problem that is actually present. There are five separate species of salmon which include the Chinook or king salmon, which is the largest and most sought after of all species, the Coho which is a smaller fish that fights a lot more erratically yet is quite smaller, and its flesh is much sweeter than that of the Chinook, then the Chum or “dog” salmon which is all quite similar to the Pink and the Sockeye salmons. One of the best indicators of duress of all of the salmon are that of the Sockeyes, in that the they are nearly extinct in over half of their normal areas of habitation. What this tells is that the habitat is being extremely degraded or in some cases completely eliminated, not only by dams but also by runoff from cities, and especially fertilizer leeching into the rivers through the ground water and the introduction of bovine and even human waste. “Like overharvesting, habitat degradation has been a problem since the late 1800s. By extracting ore with high-pressure hoses, miners drew water away from streams and returned a flow of sediment, burying the gravel needed for spawning. Sometimes they mined the stream itself, extracting gravel, sand, and The All-H strategy calls for continuing these low rates, while tagging most hatchery fish to enable fishers to tell them apart.(Hattam)” The mining previously stated completely engulfs the spawning areas that would normally be used by the salmon, and therefore limits the territory that was originally used for spawning. This not only diverts the salmon, but it can eliminate the runs because the fish have nowhere in particular to lay their eggs, so they just release their eggs and die, and then eventually the eggs suffocate in the silt that has been previously deposited. A great example of extreme habitat destruction takes place in our very own down town Salem Oregon, it’s none other than Mill Creek. When Salem was a small town even back in the 30’s and 40’s Mill Creek had a very prestigious run of Chinook salmon, even within about 10 years the run was still very strong, then over the course of about 3 years the salmon just stopped coming. The main reason for this can be divided into two categories, pollution and mismanagement. Mill Creek evidently runs through the heart of downtown Salem, and with that it takes the brunt of the cities pollution, which is mainly collected through the accumulation of the groundwater throughout the year. The majority of the pollutants include fertilizers, but more than anything else in the ground water was the overwhelming presence of petroleum products which include but weren’t limited to refined gasoline, diesel fuel, crude oil and also chemical emulsifiers from the Boise paper plant. The main mismanagement that can be noted is the many dams that have been placed upon the creek, such as that of the flood control dam that is located near cordon road, this dam blocked off prime salmon habitat and has been viewed as one of the main contributors, though the pollution has been much more detrimental.
“Salmon runs in the Northwest have been shrinking since the late 19th century, reduced by cannery operations, mining, and logging. But the most severe impact has come from dams, some of which entirely closed rivers, eliminating upstream habitat. (Grand Coulee Dam by itself blocked fish from more than 1500 kilometers of the Columbia.) Beginning in 1877, federal and state agencies tried to counter the fall in salmon and steelhead populations by setting up fish hatcheries. "Hatcheries provided a very popular answer to all these problems," says Joseph Taylor III, an environmental historian at Iowa State University in Ames. "The promise of fish culture tells everyone, 'You can continue what you're doing. But the hatcheries were not a cure-all, and the populations continued to dwindle.” Dams have been absolutely detrimental to many different salmon runs across the Pacific Northwest. The fish hatcheries are what the department of fish of wildlife use as a supplement for the stocks that were eliminated by the multiple dams that are located throughout our many rivers and streams, but this has more disadvantages than advantages. While the dams can regulate the amount and temperature of the water that is released into the rivers, either inhibit or facilitate the migration of fish. The hatcheries produce what can be called second rate salmon. These fish are usually extremely susceptible to disease, and the main problem with this is the fact that they will intermingle with the wild species of salmon and transfer the diseases that they posses. That in turn counteracts the good that might have been done by killing the wild species that the hatchery salmon were bred to supplement. “People began breeding and releasing salmon in the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th Century to boost commercial fishing. Hatcheries took off in the 1960s when dam construction on the Snake and Columbia Rivers in Washington State decimated salmon populations. Some scientists have alleged that hatchery salmon—which account for up to 95% of some species of adult salmon in the Columbia River basin—hurt populations of wild salmon. But previous studies have been small and controversial. (Shouse) Some of the studies that support this fact, that hatchery salmon hurt native salmon are very shocking. The hatchery salmon have been noted to grow at the rate of as much as 4 inches for every one inch that the wild salmon grows. Also, the competition between the two is very high. It has been noted that the hatchery salmon will travel much farther for a meal than the natives i.e. - a hatchery salmon holding behind a rock in swift current will swim out of its place to eat an object that is entirely across the river, while native stock is an opportunistic feeder, and will usually just wait for a meal to come directly to it. This not only makes a food source less abundant for the less aggressive native, but the food source that is available is further competed with by many other species that use the same methods in the river. This in turn contributes to what are called “fish kills,” which are just mass die offs of a certain fish in a river at a period of time.
“The status of Northwest salmonids is bleak. Out of an estimated 1,000 stocks of native salmon and steelhead (sea-ran rainbow trout are now considered salmon) in California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, 106 are extinct and 314 more are at risk of extinction. In the mid-1800s, up to 16 million wild salmon and steelhead returned to the Columbia River system annually; today, despite a $1 billion salmon recovery program, fewer than 2.5 million return--2 million hatchery fish, 500,000 wild--and the numbers continue to plummet. Wild Chinook that run in the spring and summer are extinct in 63 percent of their range, and endangered, threatened, or of special concern in 31 percent. Native fall-run Chinook salmon are extinct in 19 percent of their range; in peril in 61 percent. Coho are extinct in 55 percent and endangered or threatened in 33 percent; chums are extinct in 37 percent, pink in 21 percent, and sockeye in 59 percent. In only 6 percent to 24 percent of their original streams are the five Pacific Northwest species holding their own. (Maxwell)” This piece out of Jessica Maxwell’s investigative report tells just how dire the situation our salmon are in truly is. Without proper attention within a few very short years our salmon will be gone all together. The main problem that has allowed this decline is just the ignorance of the authority in the fact that the issue is only addressed once it becomes a very big problem.
All in all our salmon are not a renewable resource. As the sun sets and the sky fades to black, so will the empty rivers that were once filled with silver flash and life. If the dire situation that these species are in is not properly addressed and quickly at that, they will be gone forever. When the salmon are gone, there is no going back. Humans are the main problem; the salmon were here first and should be treated that way. The environment can either get better or worse. It all depends on us.