On Friday December 17, fishing groups turned to their last resort to protect Columbia and Snake river salmon, fish on which their businesses and livelihoods depend. They announced that they will sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and National Marine Fisheries Service for their failure to protect and restore imperiled wild salmon and steelhead. On November 30, the government finalized its so-called Federal Salmon Plan, which dictates how the federal government is supposed to operate dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in ways that minimize harm to salmon. This followed a court-ordered rewrite of a similar plan that the court in 2003 said was illegal. In filing their intent to sue, fishermen found the government’s new dam operation plan a huge step backward from even the previous illegal plan because it’s more likely to harm salmon.
“The plan is a six billion dollar roadmap to extinction, and for the sportfishing community, extinction means financial ruin,” said Trey Carskadon, president of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “The Endangered Species Act protects thousands of sportfishing jobs in the Northwest. Full implementation of the act ensures the longevity of wild salmon and steelhead that this industry needs. We have called on the administration and now we call on the courts to ensure the implementation of this act in order to protect our jobs and the dozens of rural and coastal communities that benefit from these runs.”
In a break from all past federal dam operation plans, this new one embraces the idea of extinction and abandons salmon recovery as the objective. At its best, the plan promises to lock in the current rate of salmon decline. The government’s new approach takes the burden of recovery off the federal dams, which are responsible for up to 92 per cent of salmon mortality, and puts yet another burden on the shoulders of rural and coastal fishing communities.
“We need abundant, harvestable populations of salmon for long term economic stability and for our future generations of fishermen,” said Glen Spain, northwest regional director, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.” The government’s approach will be devastating to coastal commercial fishermen from California to Alaska. It is illegal and illogical; it is based neither on sound science nor sound economics; it is bad for salmon and bad for business.”
Science has shown that the most effective method of restoring wild salmon in the Columbia Basin is to remove the four Lower Snake River dams, or, alternatively, keep as much water in the river for salmon as possible with tried and true recovery measures like releasing water past the dams to help baby salmon get to the ocean quickly and in good health. Rather than follow the science that shows these actions work, the government has put forth a plan that eliminates the option of dam removal and provides a loophole that allows dam operators to commandeer water needed during low flow summer months to safely carry baby salmon to sea, and relies heavily on experimental, expensive, high tech measures that cost taxpayers billions without restoring salmon.
“This plan, at best, will keep salmon, and the communities that depend on them, on perpetual life support while flushing billions of dollars down the dam drain. At worst, it ensures Columbia salmon will go extinct. The plan is a cynical shell game,” said Jan Hasselman, of the National Wildlife Federation. “We have a vision for restoring salmon and reviving the Pacific Northwest economy. The Bush administration’s vision is one of taxpayer waste, withering communities and dead salmon.”