Wednesday, May 02, 2007

News from around the spawning grounds

"We hear all the time from our fathers and grandfathers how great the fishing used to be, and how schools of salmon and steelhead used to choke our waterways, before headwater forests were logged or roads were constructed along fragile coastal streams.

Now you gotta drift for miles looking for winter steelies on the Rogue River. But what better way to spend a sunny weekend.

Today it’s heartbreaking to see those schools of ocean-going fish hanging on by a thread." This excerpt from a guest opinion to support a wilderness area on a remaining good fish creek in Oregon says it all.

The Librarian at the Southern Oregon Historical Center summarized it this way: "The Indians said that you used to be able to almost walk across the creeks on the backs of salmon." Some folks think that the 30,000 fish king salmon run the Rogue River had a few years ago was big, being back to it's usual 6,000 a year now. Well, the Hume cannery at the mouth of the Rogue ran for half a century and I wouldn't doubt that they had DAYS early on where they caught 6,000 kings. They were using the same beach seine methods as on the Karluk River on Kodiak Island and one set there yielded 40,000 reds.

They put a hatchery in at the mouth in 1887 to make enough fish to keep the cannery running. In 1902, one writer figured the runs would go extinct from the cannery taking spawners off the grounds up-river for their eggs. Judging by the size of the river and it's tributaries, the run was probably in the millions of king salmon. On one tributary, the Applegate R., a salting operation put in a board dam to trap migrating salmon.

The Fraser River, emptying into Georgia Straits at Vancouver, BC, is down to an estimated 2007 run of only six million reds. Forget the kings, coho and chum. There are still some pinks left though. The entire run was estimated to be over 100 million before fishing started and and especially before they choked the river with a landslide from building the railroad. The red run was up to 17 million a few years ago though. But the bycatch of endangered runs has whittled one run down to one survivor last year.

Dam removal: The Elwah dam on the Olympic peninsula is scheduled to come down, but it will now take five more years as of late. Earliest start date of dam removal is now 2012. That's the river that used to have 100 lb king salmon go up it. I have an old trolling spoon of my Grandfather's that has stainless steel wire on it for a leader. He ran down from Alaska to troll Puget Sound once: maybe he was after these kings. There used to be a run that sagged into Tebenkoff Bay in S.E. Alaska that had big fish too. When they were there, the trollers had to switch to wire leaders.

On the Klamath, those four dams that are causing so much grief aren't coming down 100% for certain. Fishermen, Indians and farmers all just recently went back to a Berkshire-Hathaway stockholders meeting to try convince Warren Buffet that the only thing "green" about his power company, Pacific Power, is the toxic levels of algae in his dams.

The estimated cost of getting those 70 miles of king salmon spawning ground on the San Joaquin River back in shape has risen to $500 million. The Friant Dam is the problem there. Of concern to 25 million Californians is the Judge who gave the State a couple of months to figure out how to keep from sucking up protected king salmon and delta smelt and sending them down the California aqueduct. Cal Fish and Game is balking at doing anything about it. Looks like a old West shootout shaping up there.

On the subject of removing the four lower Snake River dams, it's spy versus spy as usual. The Oregon and Washington politicians vs. the Idaho politicians. I mentioned some of this stuff to my father who has 93 years of fishing industry experience and observation under his bridge and he just chuckles. Not very encouraging. Neither is the six sockeye that came back to Redfish Lake in Idaho last year.

I won't even go into mining threats to Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay fisheries. I just know that from the Lower 48 experience, it's not likely you'll get your salmon to come back once they are gone. Maybe in a hundred fifty years if you're lucky. It's when they shut down and everything covered over that they can show those cute ads on television with birds flying all over and fish jumping. But on big mines you're probably talking about race extinction. Not whole species, but the races in those streams.

Fish kills: Puget Sound had one in salt-water, in the head of Hood Canal. Now they have to scuba dive to try eradicate one kind of invertebrate that got out of hand. That's not something you would want a steady diet of, no pun intended to the sea squirts.

There was a die-off a month ago of tiny coho fry and steelhead smolt in a creek within a mile of where I live here in Central Point, OR. I'm a little baffled at the Troopers and the Fish and Wildlife not even finding a smoking gun, but did say spraying herbicide into the creek directly could have caused the kill. I went over to where it was reported to have happened, via the Medford "Mail Tribune" article. In two minutes I saw a storm drain from the high school protruding into the creek and a huge patch of blackberry brush on top the bank withering under the influence of herbicides.

The "fish kill" was reported days after the first good rain we had all winter. They use herbicides in the ditches all over the place here. Ditches that run right into creeks. I took photos of everything. The herbicide sales lady I talked to said you could have a problem with the wrong herbicide at the wrong time. If Jackson County quit using so much herbicide, they could have their salmon and eat it too. To spray the blackberry brush I saw dying by Griffin Creek, you had to stand on the service road of a power sub-station and you would be pointing your spray gun straight toward the creek twenty feet away.

The "blackberry kill" fifteen feet from the "fish kill"(mostly a vertical drop) was right behind the power sub-station. By now you might have guessed that the owner of the sub-station is Pacific Power. They were the ones who said how they are such a "green" company because the Klamath River dams help global warming. Give me a break!(Someone wrote this nonsense in the Wall Street Journal not long ago.) See why my dad chuckles and shrugs over these ecology issues. Money will keep on talking louder than the silent screams of salmon starved of oxygen in their home rivers, and of baby salmon and the bugs they live on, as chemicals wrack their tiny bodies.