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West Coast Rivers, Fish and Food in Peril

Fans of fresh, west coast wild-caught salmon are finding the tasty treat harder and harder to come by. On the Northwest rivers of the Klamath and the Columbia-Snake, habitat destruction and mismanagement are causing wild salmon populations to decline, but it’s the fishing communities and consumers that pay the price.

The Klamath River's populations of fall chinook salmon and coho salmon have reached such dangerously low levels that commercial fishing along 700 miles of America's west coast, from northern California to central Oregon, was nearly completely shut down in 2006. Government mismanagement of the river, a series of fish-killing dams, excessive water diversions, and poor water quality have taken a severe toll on this river system, which once supported one of the largest salmon runs on the West Coast.

It's a similar story in the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The Columbia Basin was once the home to the world's greatest salmon runs – up to 16 million fish each year. Today, just a tiny fraction of these wild populations remain. Over 200 dams damage these rivers and block access to the some of the West Coast's best salmon habitat.

Four dams in particular on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington State are primarily responsible for driving all remaining Snake River salmon toward extinction. Since the dams were completed in the 1970's, populations have plummeted by more than 90%. In response to these declines caused by habitat destruction, fishing seasons have been severely reduced -- harming fishing families and reducing the availability of fresh wild-caught salmon. The severe damage to two of the west coast's most important rivers has devastated their salmon populations. As a result, nearly the entire West Coast of the USA was closed to salmon fishing in 2006 -- and will almost certainly impact fishing seasons in the future.

Across the coast, fishermen are being forced to make big sacrifices to compensate for habitat destruction and mismanagement. These massive fishing reductions have dire consequences for commercial fishing families and the fish-eating public, as well as thousands of associated businesses, farmers markets, and restaurants.

Watching What You Eat

In order to draw national consumer attention to this important issue, we are embarking on a regional and national consumer media outreach campaign using well-known chefs as spokespeople.

We are proud to work with our campaign's primary spokeswoman, Alice Waters, the owner of Berkeley’s fine dining establishment Chez Panisse. Waters advocates farmer’s markets and sustainable agriculture, and Chez Panisse is supplied by ranchers, farmers, and fisheries who are in accord with Water’s vision. Waters is committed to supporting sustainable sources of ingredients, and wild salmon is on the menu! Read Alice Water's biography.

In Portland, Oregon, Greg Higgins, co-owner and executive chef at Higgins Restaurant and president of the Portland chapter of Chef’s Collaborative is voicing concern about plummeting salmon populations. Higgins has been a long-time advocate and voice for wild salmon in the Northwest, including one of his favorite seafoods, wild Chinook salmon. Gregg Higgins reminds consumers to "vote with your fork!"

In California, Akasha Richmond, chef/owner of Akasha’s Visionary Cuisine, a catering and event company in Los Angeles, and author of Hollywood Dish, a cookbook that includes tales of Hollywood’s 100-year passion for organic foods and healthy lifestyles is calling on people to protect salmon. Richmond is co-founding chef of Eaturna, an all-natural and organic take-out food company devoted to revolutionizing the way people eat.

Richmond lends her time and expertise to groups such as CHEC (Children’s Health Environmental Coalition), Common Threads and the Environmental Media Association. She has appeared on Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, HGTV and local Chicago, Los Angeles and New York ABC, FOX and NBC news programs. Like Higgins, Richmond is passionate about protecting habitat for wild salmon. "Wild salmon is at the heart of many of my favorite, most healthful and delicious dishes,"  she said.