Oregon Magazine
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No hatcheries, no salmon
You cannot fix a car unless you admit what's really wrong with it.

OMED: With the recent announcement that because the stocks are at record lows, our coastal waters will be shut down for commercial bottomfishing in September, the last nail is halfway hammered into the coffin lid of Oregon's inshore fishing industry.  Salmon are just about the last hope for this ancient, honorable and local profession. (Illus: Lingcod)

   What you're about to read has to do with the destruction and potential salvation of a billion dollar industry in the Pacific NW. Perhaps the most profitable one we've had from a production cost vs. profit standpoint.
   It's called salmon fishing.
   At one time it represented a lot of money and a lot of jobs to Oregon.  Now, it is almost gone.  Soon, unless we take action, the industry will be completely gone. 
   Here's the truth. (Top salmon is a Chinook. Lower one is a Coho)

                       The dirty little state budget secret

   The governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber, recently announced that one of the things he is going to do to make up for the coming budget shortfall, is cut Oregon's hatchery program.  Four major facilities will be shut down.

   There is no budget shortfall in Oregon.  The hatcheries don't have to be shut down.  The proposed Republican budget for the next biennium (two year period) is two billion dollars more than the budget for the last biennium.  Would you have to cut expenditures if you got a two billion dollar raise?
   The gigantic shortfall you have heard about is a Kitzhaber (photo) fiction to scare the hell out of you.  Make you support higher taxes.  It is based on a decade of rampant government growth, the outrageous PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) and the attempt by a failing educational system to cover their bad decisions by blaming poor results on a lack of funding.  (Oregon spends more per pupil than all but a few states.) 
    The tens of millions spent by state government for "economic development" would have generated more jobs if they had been left in your pocket to spend as you wish, and you do not want to know why the Oregon Health Plan has expanded like a hot air baloon suspended over an erupting volcano. It is sufficient to say that it is quickly becoming one of the biggest farm subsidies of all.

                  Why do we need those four hatcheries?

   Have salmon forgotten how to have sex?  Where did all the salmon go?  I hear the runs are big these days.  Don't the seals eat all the salmon?   Why don't they just farm salmon like they do wheat? 

   Two hundred years ago, the streams, rivers, bays and inshore waters of Oregon had so many salmon in them that you didn't need bridges.  If you were good at walking on slippery things, you could cross on the backs of the salmon.  The salmon season was any time they were around.  The bag limit was as many as you could lift to carry home.
   In recent years, there have been very limited seasons (in some cases a matter of a few days per year) and very limited catch allowances.  Reports of record runs are hogwash.  You will know the runs are record-sized when ten percent of the people of Oregon work on the boats and in the fish canneries that used to exist on every waterway and bay west of the Cascades.

   Well, you say, it's El Nino, and Asian fishing fleets and Sea Lions.  And the damned Indians stretch nets across the creeks.  We had nothing to do with it.
   Wrong.  We had everything to do with it.
   Before we got here, the place was chock full of Indians, seals, ocean conditions and salmon.  Since we arrived, most of the Indians are gone, the marine mammal population is no larger than it was when the streams were full of fish, ocean conditions are the same as they always were and the wild runs are hanging on by a thread.
   We did it.  We did what we naturally do.  We changed the landscape into a shape we like.  We altered it to serve our desire to make a living the way we like to make a living -- the way America has made a living for 99.999999% of its existence.
    Agriculture.

    Here's something you didn't know.
    There is no difference between a wheat field and a tree farm.  They will tell you that there are more trees in America today than when the Pilgrims got here, and that is probably true.  What they forget to mention is that the trees that were here when the Pilgrims arrived were not all exactly the same species and lined up in rows.
    (The salmon didn't evolve on a farm.  They evolved, and thrived, in a system designed and operated by good old Mother Nature.)
   I repeat, there is no difference between a wheat field and a tree farm.  The farmer does not want weeds in there.  He does not want critters chewing on his crop.  He is just Henry Ford with a green thumb.  He has a plant factory that turns out Model-T produce in big volumes.  He could favor the tomato.  He could favor the tree.  It makes no difference. 

    See for yourself.  Look at the feature articles.  Tree Farmer Magazine talks of their profession as though it was forestry.  It isn't. Their quite logical and human goal is to provide "practical how-to and hands-on information you can use to get the most out of your woodlands." .Is a farmer interested in "Timing and use of fertilizer?"  Of course he is. Does a farmer care about "Eliminating destructive forest insects?" Of course he does.  The problem with those two items, from a wild fish standpoint, is that salmonids didn't evolve in artifically fertilized streams, and they eat insects for a living. 
    A farm is a farm. 
    By definition, a farm is a place where nothing wild lives.

The photo at the left  is a link to its source -- the Happy Valley tree farm, where according to the owners, "the closer the trees grow to each other, the less canopy each tree will have. As the trees sprout upward, their lower limbs will fall off, called self-pruning. The Udells will cut out the dominant tree in each group, in what they call "top thinning," leaving the rest to mature." 
    Count the number of species in the photo above. It has exactly the number a good farmer wants -- one.  Look at the bare ground between the identically-sized trees.  If that's a forest, my Aunt Mabel is the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  

Now look at the photo to the right.  Different kinds of trees, broken standing trunks that support insect life, deep shade for the fallen dead trees, moss, bushes and ferns that store and release clean water to nearby streams  like a reservoir. That is a forest.

    I will not here go into the technical reasons why agriculture killed the wild salmon runs -- other than to say that it did, and that it is easy to prove..In fact, I'll prove it with one sentence.  It we packed up and left, in 20 years the woods would look like the photo on the right, and the wild fish would be back.  (Somewhere inside, you know that's true. You've seen national parks. You've seen television programs about Alaska.  You know the difference between a wilderness and a farm. You may be many things, but you're not stupid.)

   Things used to be one way, and there were lots of wild fish.  We came and changed things, and now there are hardly any wild fish.  Many people think it was the dams that killed all the wild runs.  The problem with that line of reasoning is that rivers that are not dammed are also almost empty of wild fish -- even local wild fish, like trout.  You hardly ever see Asian fishing fleets, ocean conditions or Sea Lions on the East Fork of Dairy Creek, which is where I live.  The wild trout population, the coastal cutthroat, is barely hanging on. The owners of the nurseries, farms, private residences and summer cabins along this creek constantly modify the streambed and banks, and remove natural bank foliage and trees that fall into the creek. That ain't how a stream works, and is the reason why the fish aren't there. There isn't an Indian in sight, folks.  The residents of this valley are all white, just like me.

     The salmon were here in abundance before we got here.  We came to farm.  The salmon are gone because we changed all the forests into farms. When you change things, things change.  I'm not saying we shouldn't have come and I'm not saying we should turn the place back into a giant national park.  What I am saying is that we should face the truth. You cannot fix a car if you refuse to admit what's really wrong with it.
   We have killed the native runs..
   That's why we need hatcheries. 

    Hatcheries are salmon farms. (We're damn good at farming.)

    In the opinion of those who are in charge of this publication, if $500 million in federal funds can be set aside to subsidize the farmers of the Klamath Basin (and that's exactly what the new farm bill does), then $100 million must be set aside for the other farms in Oregon.  The ones that grow salmon. 
    We have spent $1-3 billion in Bonneville Power Administration funds in the past few decades, the bulk of it supposedly dedicated to enhancement of the fish runs, and we have to close down four of the most important hatcheries in the state?
    If that isn't malfeasance, it's misfeasance.
    Whoever has been spending that money should be tarred and feathered and run out of Oregon on a rail. I'd like a tally on how much of that has been sucked up by university studies.  (Every dime of that money should have been given to, are you ready for this? -- Oregon Indian tribes.  As the Umatilla Indians have proven in recent years, they're naturally brilliant at this sort of thing.  When they set up a hatchery program, it works.)

    It's simple, folks.
    Salmon taste better than any radish, and are a damn sight more fun to catch.  To the best of our knowledge, not one tourist has ever come to Oregon to catch radishes. 
    Fund the hatcheries.  Double the number of them at the river mouths, so the fish don't have to climb over dams and swim through sewage to get back.

    It ain't the same as wild rivers full of bright fish, and it does come with a risk of mass fishkills by way of diseases.  The fish farms of northern Europe, Scotland and Scandinavia lost billions of dollars worth of salmon last year from just such a sudden plague.  But, they didn't lose all of their fish, and are rebuilding their stocks, again.  In the final analysis it's a lot better than no fish at all -- and that's what we're going to get if we close those hatcheries.
    It is not, as you have heard, a choice between fish and farmers.  It's a choice between having fish to catch or not having fish to catch. 
    Having hatcheries doesn't affect the farmers one bit.
    Why don't some of you tell your representatives and your candidates that Oregon should be planting fish as well as trees?

    The guy down there on the coast whose boat is tied to the dock has a right to make a living, too.  He's been left out of the equation for decades.
    Let's do something for him for a change.  (LL)

Hatchery location maps

KEY NOTE ADDRESS TO THE NATIVE FISH SOCIETY
APRIL 6, 2002 - by Jeff Dose 
(OMED: I do not agree with Mr. Dose's view that the answer is restoration of habitat to original status.  It is politically impossible to accomplish that in the PACNW.  At best, we could select two or three coastal rivers and turn them into wilderness areas, but the local reaction would be something to behold.  And the cost? Skyhigh.  Mr. Dose doesn't have much faith in hatcheries, but he's wrong.  River mouth hatcheries are the only practical solution to the problem at this time. He is right about the need for genetic diversity, but it doesn't matter that he is right.  Hatcheries are the only game in town. The rest is fantasy.)

© 2002 Oregon Magazine.  Images are links to their source. Trout illus by OMED PhotoIllustration, "money field) by Kim Lamb of the  Wallowa  County Chieftain  (C) 2001

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