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Saving salmon means setting aside romantic notions about "wild fish," and instead marshaling resources to address natural ocean cycles, to control exploding populations of birds and mammals that eat salmon, and to improve hatcheries by incorporating tribal practices that mimic Mother Nature.
That's the gist of new report released Tuesday by Save the Salmon Coalition, a new regional group with its sights on protecting fish as well as the public interest.
So-called wild fish and hatchery fish are genetically indistinguishable
"The idea that only 'wild salmon' are important for healthy, bountiful fish runs is unsubstantiated," said Coalition member Valerie Johnson-Eves. "Federal officials have admitted hatchery fish are genetically identical to so-called wild fish.
"This is important," Eves said, "because if National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had counted hatchery fish, a threatened listing for salmon could never have been justified. In fact, NMFS did count hatchery fish when deciding not to list Atlantic salmon.
"There's a troublesome disconnect here," Eves said. "The 'wild fish' premise used to justify the listings does not hold up under scientific scrutiny, and yet it is the driving force behind costly land-use restrictions and multi-million dollar recovery efforts.
"Is it acceptable public policy to base listings on a premise that is not scientifically defensible?" she said.
Warm ocean waters, exploding predator populations mean fewer fish
Coalition members are critical of the salmon recovery programs developed by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), charging that the agency solution is inadequate and inappropriately focused on minor aspects of the problem.
"Federal officials have virtually ignored major problems related to ocean conditions and predators," said Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, who joined Coalition members Tuesday in their Portland presentations.
"It's well known that, out of every 100 young salmon that travel from their home streams to the ocean, only one or two typically return at spawning time," Ferrioli said, referring to fish counts largely accepted by state and federal officials. "What happens to the other 98 or 99 fish? The government experts seem to consider this question irrelevant.
"If we were talking about 100 cows going out to pasture, with only 1 or 2 coming back to the barn at nightfall, you can bet the rancher would be out looking for the other 99 cows, and quick," said Ferrioli, who co-chairs the Joint Senate and House Committee for Stream Restoration and Species Recovery. "Why aren't federal scientists trying to answer this question?"
Information released by the Coalition calls for new research into oceanic cycles, particularly warming trends that appear to make fish food scarce and thus trigger high salmon fatalities in the ocean.
Coalition leaders also called for immediate predator controls to reduce salmon fatalities at the hands of birds and mammals whose populations are surging because they are protected by law or treaty.
"Today there are more than 650,000 hungry seals and sea lions eating salmon every day along the Pacific Coast," Ferrioli said. "Populations of Caspian Terns and cormorants have exploded, and these birds love lunching on baby salmon."
New land-use regulations will not save salmon and steelhead
"Any farmer will tell you not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket," said Jeff Kropf, R-Halsey, "but that's what NMFS is doing with the new fish protection rules. They've put all their eggs in one basket, and it's the wrong basket," Kropf said, chastising federal 4(d) rules that disregard ocean conditions and predator problems while imposing expensive, arbitrary land-use regulations.
"Federal officials are forcing costly and elaborate regulations on landowners and local governments even though land-use and river conditions have relatively little impact on salmon and steelhead populations," said Kropf, who joined Coalition leaders in Portland Tuesday.
Kropf called the federal 4(d) rules a "straight jacket approach" that lacks scientific demonstration showing the rules will benefit fish.
"The new rules mean full employment for Sierra Club lawyers," he said, "but will they help fish? In fact, they carry an economic incentive for endless legal challenges because attorney fees must be paid by the landowner if he is found to have harmed a threatened fish.
"We need to move beyond the toolbox of the overzealous urban planners and go full circle in our commitment to save salmon," said Kropf, who co-chairs the Joint House and Senate Committee for Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources.
"We need to recognize that land uses have very little impact on salmon, and begin to focus on the bigger picture," he said. "We need to get serious about addressing ocean conditions and the predator problem right now."
-- For a copy of the media briefing outline used by Coalition leaders
Tuesday, contact Jackie Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-292-8141.
-- B-roll of hatchery fish being clubbed to death by government employees
and of salmon being eaten by predators is available in different
formats. Please call Jackie Lang at 503-292-8141 for information.
-- Coalition members include: Oregon Lands Coalition, Oregonians In
Action, Oregon Cattlemen's Association, Oregon Farm Bureau Federation,
Washington State Farm Bureau, Oregon Realtors Association, Oregon State
Grange, Water For Life, Citizens for a Sound Economy and Oregon Wheat