Larger Returns Don’t Equal Salmon Recovery

August 7, 2002 Here we go again. A second year of big returns of hatchery chinook returning to the Columbia River – coupled with more good returns of coho to Puget Sound – and some folks already are talking loudly again about easing salmon habitat protection measures. Unfortunately, what these returns really amount to are two small spikes on the overall downward trend of the salmon resource. Two years of good returns do not amount to salmon recovery. In fact, these larger returns actually may cause more harm than good. They encourage shortsighted thinking and even a little amnesia. They cause people to think that these larger returns mean that our salmon recovery efforts are beginning to pay off. They cause folks to forget that the bulk of these fish are from hatcheries, and that many of our wild chinook stocks continue to struggle to rebuild their populations. These past two years of good returns are mostly the result of favorable ocean conditions, and little else. El Nino, that weather phenomenon that occurs every four or five years and lasts for about 18 months each time, was absent when the past two years’ worth of returns went out to sea as youngsters. El Nino brings higher ocean temperatures that cap the colder, nutrient-rich waters off our coast, resulting in less food for growing salmon. On top of that, the...

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