Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Billy Frank Jr. on Puget Sound Habitat

Last week, pioneering Indian rights advocate Billy Frank Jr. wrote an editorial in the Seattle Times highlighting the threat habitat loss poses to recovery efforts in Puget Sound. Mr. Frank is absolutely correct, habitat loss has played a tremendous role in the decline of salmon and steehead in the Puget Sound. Thoughtless logging practices sloughed sediment into spawning habitat, diking and agriculture channelized rivers and destroyed floodplain areas and urban sprawl has now consumed a large proportion of the river valleys in Puget Sound. To top it all off more than 90% of the estuarine habitat, critical for ESA listed Chinook has been lost in the last century.

While habitat loss should provide the backdrop to our conversations about salmon recovery in the region, we cannot proceed effectively without recognition of the other factors which continue to depress wild salmon populations in the Puget Sound. Chiefly, declining marine survival in Puget Sound which remains poorly understood, and the proliferation of hatcheries which now release millions of less fit competitors into our waters each year.

Frank argues that shifting responsibility for habitat protection and recovery to the federal government will improve the outcome for wild salmon in Puget Sound. While that is subject to debate one thing is certain, more needs to be done to protect Puget Sound's remaining salmon habitat. With 150 years of habitat degradation we face an uphill battle to recovery, but more can be done. While we may never reach historic abundance we could be getting alot more bang for our habitat buck. As most populations in the Sound hover between 1% and 5% of their historic abundance we need to increase research that expands our understanding of the processes that drive marine survival in the Sound. And as hatchery programs are proving to be a limiting factor for struggling wild populations, it is critical that measures be taken to reduce the ecological effects of hatcheries in Puget Sound.

Unfortunately, as wild stocks have declined, Native fisheries have increasingly turned to hatcheries to sustain themselves, and in the past Mr. Frank has been a proponent of hatchery expansion efforts in the region. Given the weight of evidence suggesting hatcheries are a problem rather than a solution, one hopes that tribal fishermen, long advocates for wild salmon will put their considerable political weight behind hatchery reform as well as habitat protection.

Read Frank's editorial in the Times:

Map of State hatchery programs which currently release more than 10,000 fish annually

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