Whether or not you are a religious person, I hope that we can all agree that we need to take care of the of the world’s resources. We should use them in a sustainable way so they will be available for future generations.
Human history is strewn with examples of what happens when we forget that. From passenger pigeons to dodo birds and American ginseng to New Zealand mistletoe, humans continue to overuse plants and animals until they are gone. The knowledge that some of wild plants should always we left to ensure further plants is disregarded. The short-term economic value of plants and animals seems to override common sense.
In the Pacific Northwest currently there is a situation that illustrates how our priorities get confused. For over one hundred years people have been aware that salmon numbers were in decline. Fish ladders were built to help them go upstream to spawn, and many other measures have been undertaken to ensure their survival. That is great up to a point.
The next step was to begin taking action against the creatures that are the natural predators of salmon. Sea lions that go to the Columbia River to eat salmon are harassed or captured and taken elsewhere. If one becomes a repeat offender the Federal government has given the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho permission to kill up to 92 sea lions a year through 2016. Beginning in 2002, the Federal government has been keeping track at Bonneville; fishermen take approximately 37,000 salmon per year, sea lions about 3,200.
This summer (2012) the Army Corps of Engineers initiated a program to control the numbers of Double-crested cormorants. This is a little tricky since they are a protected species. Flashing green lights were used to try to keep the birds away from the salmon smolts; however the birds became accustomed to them and returned to eating salmon. Next an eight foot high fence was built cutting off more than half the birds’ nesting area. It is estimated that the cormorants eat about 22.6 million juvenile salmon per year.
Power companies in the Pacific Northwest spend about 30% of wholesale rates they charge lessoning the impact of their operations on salmon and wildlife. It is estimated that $1 billion is spent each year to protect salmon. People have begun demanding that the Federal government take action to control the birds. Remembering that cormorants are a protected species, the state of Oregon has requested that we be able to destroy cormorant eggs and kill adult birds.
Officials are also looking at ways to control protected Caspian terns. Even though the terns did not manage to fledge a single nestling this year, plans are being developed to reduce the population of terns to one-third of the current population. It is estimated that terns eat 4.8 million smolts per year.
Meanwhile, efforts continue to be made to protect the endangered birds. Fireworks for the city of Depoe Bay were canceled this year to protect several species of birds such as Brandt’s cormorants after two years of research showed that fireworks disrupted the birds that nest near the fireworks site.
The largest consumers of salmon, next to humans, are orca. Roughly 96% of an orca’s diet is made up of Chinook and Chum salmon. Each adult orca eats about 500 pounds of salmon each day. They also eat cod, herring, and occasionally even other mammals. In 2010, it was estimated that 90 orcas lived off the Pacific Coast. That means that orca eat about 16,425,000 pounds of salmon each year. Commercial fishermen off the Pacific Coast of North America harvest an estimated 750 million pounds of salmon each year.
It seems to me, that a more rational way of dealing with the decreasing salmon population, is to suspend the harvest of salmon by humans for three to five years. The money saved could be used to reimburse established commercial fishermen and Native Americans for the losses during the recovery period. After that, with limits on the annual harvests, hopefully, salmon would be able to survive on their own. Humans should be responsible and repair the damage we cause whenever possible.