According to a comprehensive study by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, wild salmon populations in Washington continue to decline because of culverts, which block fish migration; shoreline modifications, which affect nearshore habitat; impervious road surfaces, which result in more polluted stormwater runoff; loss of forestland cover that provides nutrients and shade for streams; and an increase in the number of wells, which use water needed to recharge aquifers and streams.
The result: according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, between 75 and 90 percent of salmon caught in Washington are hatchery-bred.
And now, another threat is in the mix: Tens of thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon escaped from a collapsed fish pen off Cypress Island, free to compete against native salmon for food and spawning habitat and to spread whatever diseases and parasites they may have obtained from having lived in a confined environment.
To the State of Washington, we say: Enough.
The state should ban commercial marine finfish net pens containing Atlantic salmon raised for market. The conditions in which they are raised are not good for the Atlantic salmon; their escape is not good for our native salmon, for the aforementioned reasons.
The state must also live up to its commitment to replace its culverts that block fish passage. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on Aug. 17, challenging a lower court ruling that the state must replace more than 800 state-owned culverts.
In 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez gave the state 17 years to replace its most troublesome culverts. Doing so is expected to cost the state as much as $2 billion — that’s an investment of $117 million a year for 17 years. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Martinez’s ruling.
Tribes, as co-managers of the state’s salmon population, are doing their part — restoring and improving salmon habitat, studying and monitoring marine health, and managing salmon hatcheries to bolster the availability of salmon for Native, recreational and commercial fisheries.
Private landowners are doing their part. State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz reported in May that 43 large forest landowners — among them corporations, two cities and a Native corporation — upgraded 25,000 miles of forest roads and removed 6,000 fish-passage barriers to re-open about 3,500 miles of upstream habitat to migrating fish. And they did it before the state Forest Practices Board deadline of 2021. In addition, more than 50 other large forest landowners are in the midst of making required improvements, Franz reported.
“Their efforts are worthy of special recognition because they completed their work on time, and despite the many challenges of a major economic recession,” Franz wrote.
The State of Washington, as a co-manager of the salmon population, must do its part too.
Online: Read the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s “State of Our Watersheds” report at https://nwifc.org/publications/state-of-our-watersheds.