Salmon harvest is still held to a higher standard than habitat

This morning the Everett Herald published a letter to the editor erroneously comparing the failure to restore and protect salmon habitat with fisheries management.

Because tribes fish for salmon, the letter writer posits, restoring and protecting habitat is pointless. Why save the fish if they’re only getting caught?

Despite the fact that some salmon actually can swim through gillnets the letter includes some serious errors about salmon management. The video also points out that since tribes fish almost exclusively in so-called terminal areas (in bays and at mouths of rivers) there are many other fisheries catching salmon in front of them.

Since the listing of salmon under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1999, harvest managers have responded while habitat protections have not improved.

Two passages in a 2011 review of ESA salmon listings in western Washington bear this out:

The Co-Managers (the WDFW and Puget Sound Treaty Tribes, collectively) met or exceeded the harvest management performance measures required in the 2004 Harvest Management Plan.

Habitat is still Declining. Key indicators addressed by the PSP’s 2009 State of the Sound Report tell us that important habitat for Chinook salmon is still declining, despite the ESA listing over 10 years ago. As such, the region needs to increase its scrutiny of the sources of habitat decline, and the tools we use to protect habitat sites and ecosystem processes.

“Met or exceeded” vs. “still Declining.”

The reason for this? Over the past 17 years salmon harvest has been held to a much higher standard than protecting and restoring salmon habitat. Every year the salmon harvest co-managers have been asked to submit fishing plans that meet standards that protect salmon.

Not once have local or state governments or developers been made to show that their actions don’t continue to hurt salmon.

Simply put, if a fishery might hurt a salmon run, the fishery can be closed.

Billy Frank Jr. said it best in 2010:

Every single year since then we’ve been refining our fisheries management approach. Our goal is to return all salmon stocks to sustainable harvest levels because we believe that is the true measuring stick for salmon recovery.


I wonder what it would be like if habitat protection were managed to the same standard?


The state co-managers joined some tribes, such as Muckleshoot, Nisqually and Puyallup, in closing coho fisheries this fall because returns were too low to support harvest.


No one suggested that we also tear out the river’s dikes or fix the other habitat problems that are the root cause of the low runs. We stop fishing, but habitat loss and damage goes on every hour of every day.


Why are fishermen always the first—and often only—people asked to sacrifice for the resource? Why must fishermen feel the pain for everyone else?

Another important point is that just closing fisheries won’t restore salmon. This post from Treaty Rights at Risk shows how the harvest rate on Stillaguamish chinook has been going down for years, but because of limited habitat, those chinook still aren’t coming back.