Your report of Barry Thom’s (regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service) directive on “what steps can be taken to stop or slow the slide” of listed steelhead numbers brings to mind a statement I heard my dad make to fellow fish hatchery managers. I don’t recall the situation, but he said some day those people will get control of the salmon program and there won’t be a fish left in the river. Fortunately, for them, none of them are alive to see what has happened to their legacy.
The report reiterated some of those things that have been done and for this they should be commended. It also listed some of the steps they could take if the ESA-listed steelhead and by extension ESA-listed salmon were to slide. In the Columbia River there are five ESA distinct steelhead, six ESA distinct Chinook salmon, one ESA distinct sockeye salmon and one ESA distinct chum salmon listed for endangered species protection. This means they cannot be allowed to go extinct.
The report did not mention the Northwest Power and Conservation Council has been spending over $200 million annually on these ESA-listed fish, but it doesn’t look like they are making much headway. There is one area of management the old managers would have all agreed on. Why are you not controlling the predators?
They all would have confirmed that allowing predators to increase their carrying capacity would be foolish. It would end commercial fishing on the river. Through the use of bounties and the Fish Commission hiring a seal hunter they were able to keep the California sea lions and the harbor seals out of the Columbia River. Cormorants were to be shot on site. They knew that there were 10,000 California sea lions and 3,000 harbor seals on the West Coast. Some other things they knew were that seals and sea lions consume three to five fish a day and they like salmon if they can get them. They knew that cormorants needed six to eight smolt-sized fish to sate their appetite. These men were not highly educated, but they could multiply numbers. Using the three fish per day figure for seals and sea lions meant that they were loosing at least 39,000 fish per day, and half of them were females headed to the spawning grounds. That was too many in their minds, but they were willing to keep that number stable.
If they knew there are now 300,000 California sea lions and 40,000 harbor seals, and at times there are as many as 10,000 cormorants using the Astoria bridge and practically every piling up the river, they would have begged the question, what are you thinking?
California sea lions, harbor seals and cormorants have never been in danger of going extinct, but 11 distinct populations of salmon and steelhead are. Common sense should tell us we need to control the number of predators through lethal means. A professed sense of helping undernourished countries tells us we should not waste the meat. Canneries for centuries have been processing all kinds of high protein meat. I am quite sure the canneries would be willing to employ additional help at a lot less than is now being spent for all of our ESA efforts. Some of my native friends tell me they would be willing to use their boats for the cause, and I suspect a number of conscientious hunters would do likewise.