Salmon Are Killed By More Than Just Fishing

OLYMPIA (April 5, 2005) – Did you take a shower this morning? Eat a bowl of cereal? Drive to work? If you did any of those things, you killed wild salmon.

You see, millions of other folks did the same thing. Together, these and other everyday activities take a toll on salmon and the habitat they need to survive.

No one is telling you to stop showering, eating, driving to work or any of the other things you do each day. So why do some people keep saying that the tribes should stop fishing?

Because of declining wild salmon runs – including the listing of three western Washington salmon stocks as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act – the tribal and state co-managers have changed the way we approach fisheries management. We know that our fisheries can harm wild salmon stocks. That’s why we focus our extremely limited harvest on strong, healthy runs of mostly hatchery salmon. The result has been a drastic reduction in our fisheries, up to 80 percent in some cases, as well as some outright closures.

This is important, so I’m going to say it again: fishing alone does not kill salmon.

When you’re driving on a highway, you’re driving on the backs of salmon. The highway is paved with salmon carcasses. Sadly, most salmon are killed before they hatch from eggs. They die because their parents didn’t have spawning habitat to return to. They die every time a river is diked, a housing development is built in a floodplain, or a watershed is paved. They are killed just the same as if they were caught in a net or on a hook.

But we don’t see the salmon die when habitat is destroyed. How many folks would sit by and accept habitat destruction if thousands of chinook carcasses were piled in their supermarket parking lot? Not many. But that’s what’s happening every time a wetland is filled. Parking lots and urban sprawl are catching and killing more salmon that any fisherman ever could.

The tribes are working to restore salmon habitat. A few years ago we sued the State of Washington to open up hundreds of miles of salmon habitat blocked by failing culverts under state roads. That suit is still winding its way through the legal system.

We are out there in the watersheds, joining our neighbors to repair salmon habitat. My tribe, the Nisqually, is restoring 100 acres of estuary habitat this summer. Estuaries are important – and rapidly disappearing – places where young salmon grow and feed before heading out to sea. The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe is reconnecting the mouth of the Dungeness River with its original floodplain, preventing flooding and helping salmon.

When talk turns to restoring wild salmon runs, sooner or later the finger gets pointed at fishermen: ‘If they would just stop fishing, wild salmon would recover.’ The truth is, tribal and non-tribal fisherman could pull every net and release every hooked salmon from here to eternity, but those weak runs of wild salmon would never recover because their spawning and rearing habitat just isn’t there. We have lost most of the natural salmon production in our rivers and streams because we have lost most of the habitat that supports those fish. It’s really simple. If you put more fish into less habitat, or habitat that is degraded, you end up with fewer fish.

The tribal and state co-managers are able to focus harvest on healthy runs of hatchery fish while minimizing impacts to weak wild stocks. But habitat loss and degradation doesn’t discriminate. Every hour of every day it kills weak wild stocks of salmon. Trouble is, most folks don’t see it – and won’t see it – until it’s too late.

Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.


For more information, contact: Steve Robinson or Tony Meyer, (360) 438-1180.