Saving Wild Salmon: A 165 Year Policy Conundrum: Bob Lackey

Massive Adams River Sockeye Salmon Migration

Here’s a paper that in which Bob Lackey talks about salmon policy 165 Year Salmon Policy Conundrum – R T Lackey, which Bob asked me to review before it was published (full disclosure).

Scientists tend to depict the policy debate as a scientific or ecological challenge and the “solutions” they offer are usually focused on aspects of salmon ecology (Naiman et al 2012). There is an extensive scientific literature about salmon (Quinn 2005, Lackey et al 2006a), but the reality is that the future of wild salmon largely will be determined by factors outside the scope of science (Montgomery 2003, Lackey et al 2006b). More specifically, to effect a long-term reversal of the downward trajectory of wild salmon, a broad suite of related public policy issues must be considered:

 Hydroelectric energy — how costly and reliable does society want energy to be given that wild salmon ultimately will be affected by providing the relatively cheap, carbon-free, and reliable energy produced by hydropower?

 Land use — where will people be able to live, how much living space will they be permitted, what activities will they be able to do on their own land, and what personal choices will they have in deciding how land is used?

 Property rights — will the acceptable use of private land be altered and who or what institutions will decide what constitutes acceptable use?

 Food cost and choice — will food continue to be subsidized by taxpayers (e.g., publicly funded irrigation, crop subsidies) or will the price of food be solely determined by a free market?

 Economic opportunities — how will high-paying jobs be created and sustained for this and subsequent generations?

 Individual freedoms — which, if any, personal rights or behavioral choices will be compromised or sacrificed if society is genuinely committed to restoring wild salmon?

 Evolving priorities — is society willing to substitute hatchery-produced salmon for wild salmon and, if so, will the ESA permit this?

 Political realities — will society support modifying the ESA such that salmon recovery expenditures can be shifted to those watersheds offering the best chance of success?

 Cultural legacies — which individuals and groups, if any, will be granted the right to fish and who or what institutions will decide?

 Indian treaties — will treaties between the United States and various tribes, negotiated over 150+ years ago, be modified to reflect today’s dramatically different biological, economic, and demographic realities?

 Population policy — what, if anything, will society do to influence or control the level of the human population in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho or indeed the U.S. as a whole?

 Ecological realties — given likely future conditions (i.e., an apparently warming climate), what wild salmon recovery goals are biologically realistic?

 Budgetary realities — will the fact that the annual cost of sustaining both hatchery and wild salmon runs in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho exceeds the overall market value of the harvest eventually mean that such a level of budgetary expenditure will become less politically viable?

These are a few of the key policy questions that are germane to the public debate over wild salmon policy. Scientific information, while at some level relevant and necessary, is clearly not at the crux of the wild salmon policy debate. Scientists can provide useful technical insight and ecological reality checks to help the public and decision makers answer these policy questions, but science

There are three interesting subtopics to me in this paper.

First, he tackles how ESA is not working for salmon in his view.. worth looking at.

Second, he describes the dynamics that keep scientists working and funded yet not producing information that leads to the desired outcome.. because..

(Third,) the desired outcome is very very hard or impossible to achieve politically when it goes toward a kind of a political “undiscussable” (I first heard this term used by folks from Dialogos, but they probably did not coin it); population growth. Now those of us old enough to be retired may remember when population stabilizing and reduction was an important part of the environmental NGO agenda. Perhaps Andy’s post about the Old Times started me thinking about this aspect of the environmental movement of the past.

I think we’ve discussed enough topics on this blog so that we can even tackle this one without name-calling.

Here’s a a quote from the Dalai Lama:

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 14th leader of Tibetan Buddhists.

One of the great challenges today is the population explosion. Unless we area able to tackle this issue effectively we will be confronted with the problem of the natural resources being inadequate for all the human beings on this earth.

So now the question is…the population of the human being…So the only choice…limited number…happy life…meaningful life. Too many population…miserable life and always
bullying one another, exploiting one another…there’s no use.

Note that he talks about natural resources being inadequate.

Well, back to Bob Lackey. Actually, he hits on three pretty- much undiscussables (not that you can’t discuss them, but in many fora you will be called names if you do); problems with ESA, how science really works, and population. I think it’s worth bringing these to the attention of folks on the blog; one of the things I hope to do is share views of people who aren’t heard from through the standard media or academic channels. Possibly because their worldview does not fit their paradigms or structures.


  1. In 1970, the US had a population of roughly 160 Million and today, 44 years latter, it has almost doubled.

    Nine Billion by 2050.

    There is much grist for pessimism unless some great technologies arise– like beam us up Scottie.

    • US population in 1970 was 203 million, now at 313 million.

      And yes, the thing driving the increase in recent decades as been immigration and children of immigrants but in the state of CA with one of the largest increases, those people settle primarily in urban and suburban areas, I don;t see them having much direct impact on salmon habitat in rural areas.

      But who am I to complain about immigrants, my people were dirt poor Irish.

  2. Last week I read about the proposed listing for yellow billed cuckoos west of the Rockies. The intent is to save habitat and bird populations at the absolute fringe of their suitable habitat. The bird is abundant in the developed primarily private landscapes east of the Rockies to the Atlantic, from the Gulf to the Canadian Prairies, and most fall migrate to Central and South America, making them neo-tropical migrants. The species is in no danger at all. Pioneer or local western populations might or might not be. The determination will be costly, and probably an exercise in litigation with dubious measurable positive results for the cuckoo.

    This warning about salmon is essentially the same kind of deal. The North Pacific commercial take of “salmon”(five distinct species) in 2013 is estimated at 889,000 tons, and does not include coho or sockeye. 568,263 tons of pink salmon, 166,515 tons of chum salmon and 2,366 tons of king salmon. The OR, WA, CA king salmon catch is not included, nor was there any mention of the AK or Western Pacific sockeye or coho harvests (Jan 2014 www,Fishermens I am guessing lower 48 king catch to be in the neighborhood of 3,575 tons. Cohos probably were about 3,000 tons coast wide in the Eastern Pacific. The AK and Canada sockeye catch at 120,000 tons. The Western Pacific Russian, Korean and Japanese caught 64% of the total of the king, pink and chum catch. The Eastern Pacific, US and Canada, caught 36%.

    The species of concern is kings, and that concern is being focused on Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch in the pollock and cod fisheries. King numbers are down in the wild from above the Arctic Circle to the far southern reaches of the San Joaquin river in California, and troll caught fish are all examined for snout coded wires inserted in the fish in their natal streams. Coded snout wires in Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska incidental trawl catch kings are being recovered for Sacramento and Columbia River origin king salmon. At sea conditions for out migrating smolts is of primary concern and it is thought that abundance is more than somewhat determined by ocean conditions as those ebb and flow from El Nino to La Nina. Obviously, to have the high pink and chum numbers, both of short ocean duration living and plankton feeders, krill and plankton abundance is good. As for kings, or chinook, the relative abundance level was skewed to the Central CA coast this last summer, where fishing was fantastic. Most of the fish are net penned raised Sacramento and San Joaquin hatchery chinooks. The whole of the wild stocks were down in all areas, dammed or not dammed, wilderness or industrial forestland or rangelands. Short rivers or long. Interior rivers or coastal rivers. And on both sides of the Pacific. That is what is being reported in the fishing trade magazines. Their readership is the folks who fish for a living. There will be meetings of the Pacific Marine Fisheries Council in the coming months to set seasons. The downward trend in halibut is also being addressed. The Pew Oceans folks are on a fish food fisheries campaign (herring, anchovies, pilchards, squid) to limit those fisheries to balance the food chain more in favor larger predators like salmon, halibut and sharks. The collapse in 2013 of the pilchard (sardine) biomass, which happens cyclically and takes years to recover, will reduce the availability of large size feed for west coast salmon, halibut, sharks, pinipeds and pelicans.

    My point: salmon are far from endangered, with stringent catch and habitat protections in place. The ocean is an ever changing environment in some ways, and productivity is random, always.

  3. John Thomas Jr. is incorrect to say that there aren’t major problems with Pacific salmon, as hatchery fish aren’t properly adapted for local (freshwater/estuarine) and oceanic conditions unlike wild salmon are. Indeed, such worse survival of hatchery fish is why we still have some wild salmon around. But Thomas does bring up a good point about overexploitation of forage fishes that Pacific salmon require for growth and survival. Moreover, overharvesting of Chinook in Puget Sound is a major reason that southern-resident orca whales (which need these large-bodied salmon as prey) are imperiled. So let’s respect the circle of life by taking a more ecosystem-oriented perspective for fisheries management.

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