Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tribes recall a dam closure that ended a way of life

The story at the end of my article is about the demise of Celilo Falls on the Columbia River. The lesson for Alaska is obvious when you read it.

I took this picture pulling into the float at Port Alexander in 1981. I was going around S.E. lecturing on fish quality for the U.of A. (Note all the trolling poles.)

I thought I was seeing where residents of the villages near the proposed Pebble Mine on the Alaska Peninsula were frustrated with the fishing industry to the point they would support a big mine in their back yard. I'm here to tell you that two wrongs don't make a right.

Residents out there in Bristol Bay need to get behind their Regional Seafood Development Association to give voice to the smallest fishing family and to get back to the things they know and love. To get together on a grass roots level to effect change. Villagers and fishermen have a chance to mold a fishing industry out there in the way THEY want. In the rest of Alaska too, for that matter.

As they were given this opportunity, and they might not even know they were given it, other people want to ban any new seafood processing along the rivers there. The proposed legislation this language is in is benign enough; protection of the watershed. But just something the processors would try slip in there to keep the RSDA down on the farm.

Speaking of "midnight riders" look at this site that tracks the destination of over 1700 riders on one appropriations bill. There's even a competition among programmers for a prize to make the best website, called "mashing," that tracks Congress. Maybe we need a program to allow stakeholders to interface with bill writers so these explosive devices don't get attached all the time.

And to top it off, political forces, that have nothing to do with rank and file fishermen, want to end the sustainability protections salmon streams have in Alaska. That wouldn't do much to help "MSC Sustainable" and "Eco-Friendly" certification efforts in the fisheries. It is sponsored by the United Fishermen of Alaska, a shell made of special interests. The shell is in Juneau and painted blue and has "Alaska Fishermen's Building" written on the side. It should say "Shell Games Played Here."

UFA says the current laws open the state up to lawsuits and court control, but they really want more latitude to influence local Fish and Game managers. The processors have been doing that forever and look at what they did to Bristol Bay, S.E. and Kodiak red king crab, many, many salmon runs, and even the smelt in Petersburg. The examples go on and on. That's why laws making managing fish a uniform thing across the state were enacted. And to keep exclusive commercial fishing club interests from hijacking the runs. Those runs belong to the public, not some "rightful use" as the Southeast Alaska Seiners say. Fishermen have hour-by-hour fishing privileges, that's all.

Well, no lawsuits in seven years, and if it ever gets like the Lower 48 up there the courts come in mighty handy. Federal judges are calling the shots now on the Columbia and the San Joachin Rivers because dominant special interests wiped out the salmon and nobody would agree on a solution. I won't go further into the low regard UFA management has had for the concept of sustainable fisheries except to say read Victor Smith's article again on

The better proposal that should be passed is that any proposals coming out of fishermen's organizations have the signatures of a majority of their entire membership. Unless you could get some anti-gullibility legislation through that applies to decision makers.

Here's what I found out regarding the 50th anniversary of the flooding of the key fishing hole for the Umatilla Nation on the Columbia River. Seems that they had been fishing there for 10,000 years, give or take a few years. And the spot became the trading hub for the whole Pacific Northwest. Those guys that had the good platforms at the falls were like the Bill Gates of the American Indians.

Fishing wasn't rubbed out only by the dams on the Columbia. The big canneries at the mouth of the Columbia used fish traps, beach seines, gillnets, etc, to get in as much of a pack as possible. They even built a rail line out there to bring the pack to market. So when the Dalles Dam flooded the Falls in 1957, there wasn't a lot left anyway. But the big selling point for the dam was that it was going to inundate the area with new industry and jobs from the cheap power. Didn't happen.

Boeing got a good source of aluminum, for awhile, that's about all. There were other sources in the Northwest, so it's not like it was a national security thing. The locals at Celilo were promised new housing, and got recycled lumber and no water pressure. But don't forget, they were paid $3,700 each, to leave as a legacy for their children and their children's children, ad infinitum.

Most of the pictures that remain of the fishing activity at the falls are in black and white, but the old-timers remember those times in vivid color. The mist from the falls made the surrounding area green and lush. Now it's desert like the rest of Eastern Oregon.