Thursday, June 15, 2006

SAVE THE SALMON - OR NOT; SCIENCE VS. POLITICS

An interesting small article caught my eye this morning in the Oregonian: Council approves funds for sockeye run. It's a small story about trying to recover endangered fish, but it's also a larger story about the roles of science and politics.

Redfish Lake, Idaho, on the Snake River system, historically had adult sockeye returns of about 35,000 per year. But by 1991, when the population was listed as "endangered"under the Endangered Species Act, only a few adults returned to their native spawning lake. That same year, a Captive Brood Program was established that has captured returning adults and held them in hatchery facilities to produce offspring that could be re-introduced into the river system, thus preserving the genetic population and moving towards recovery. The captive brood program has been very successful, in terms of hatchery fish produced; however, it has been a failure in terms of restoring the run of sockeye in Redfish Lake.

I found the following numbers on the web: adult returns from hatchery produced sockeye were 7 in 1999 (the very first returns from the brood program), 257 in 2000, 26 in 2001, 21 in 2002, 3 in 2003, 27 in 2004. The total returns since 1995: 342 fish.

The Captive Brood Program spends at least $2 million annually to produce and raise 160,000 young sockeye salmon; I calculate that at approximately $88,000 per returned adult fish from the program. This week, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council approved $2.7 million for the program to increase the number of fish produced and raised to 260,000 per year.

Now here's the kicker, the Independent Science Review Panel, an 11-member panel of scientists appointed by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, recently recommended that the Council not fund the program anymore, and let the sockeye run go extinct. To quote the ISRP: Since there has been no response by the populations to recovery efforts in the Basin, it is clear that conditions outside the Basin determine the fate of these fish, and there is no evidence that these conditions are likely to improve significantly in the foreseeable future. Not only are these limiting conditions not likely to change, the fish themselves are likely to be changing as a result of present intensive propagation and rearing procedures so that their viability even under restored conditions is increasingly in doubt. Recovery of endangered species is important, but evidence presented here does not demonstrate that recovery is occurring. The view of the ISRP is that there is no scientific basis for continuing this program. (report)

So what's going on here? Why did the Council go against a very strong recommendation by their own scientific experts and put even more money into this program than was requested? I don't know the answer, but my guess is that Save the Salmon Industry politics have trumped science once again. Significant sums of money go to state agency and Tribal entities each year for salmon recovery programs. Pork barrel - fish barrel; they're both the same in the Pacific Northwest.

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