Salmon report mixes good and bad news, with a touch of hope

The story of salmon recovery in Washington state is a mixture of good and bad news, according to the latest “State of the Salmon” report issued by the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office.

It’s the usual story of congratulations for 20 years of salmon restoration and protection, along with a sobering reminder about how the growing human population in our region has systematically dismantled natural functions for nearly 150 years.

“We must all do our part to protect our state’s wild salmon,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news release. “As we face a changing climate, growing population and other challenges, now is the time to double down on our efforts to restore salmon to levels that sustain them, our fishing industry and the communities that rely on them. Salmon are crucial to our future and to the survival of beloved orca whales.”

The report reminds us that salmon are important to the culture of our region and to the ecosystem, which includes our cherished killer whales. It is, however, frustrating for everyone to see so little progress in the number of salmon returning to the streams, as reflected in this summary found in the report:

  • Getting worse: Puget Sound chinook, Upper Columbia River spring chinook
  • Not making progress: Upper Columbia River steelhead, Lower Columbia River chum, Lower Columbia River fall chinook, Lower Columbia River spring chinook, Snake River spring and summer chinook
  • Showing signs of progress: Mid-Columbia River steelhead, Lake Ozette sockeye, Lower Columbia River steelhead, Snake River steelhead, Puget Sound steelhead
  • Approaching recovery goals: Hood Canal summer chum, Snake River fall chinook

It would be reassuring if we could know that our efforts in salmon recovery are making some real difference before we “double down on our efforts,” as the governor suggests. That’s why I spent considerable time trying to answer the question of whether we have turned the corner on habitat destruction in Puget Sound. Could we at least be improving the habitat faster than we are degrading it with new development? Check out “Are we making progress on salmon recovery” in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

As I point out in the article, this question is not just a matter of counting salmon that return to the streams, because many factors are involved in salmon survival. Researchers with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center are investigating habitat conditions and the fate of young salmon before they reach saltwater, based on many ongoing studies. I’m hoping their upcoming findings can boost confidence that restoration work is on the right track.

Looking beyond the streams, I have reported on the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, which is asking important questions about what happens to young salmon after they leave the streams and head out to sea. You can read the four-part series called “Marine survival: New clues emerging in salmon deaths” in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

The new “State of the Salmon” report describes, in a general way, the work that needs to be done, concluding that renewed efforts should be focused on:

  • Larger habitat restoration and protection projects
  • Better control of harmful development
  • Management and cleanup of stormwater
  • Addressing climate change
  • Restoring access to spawning and rearing habitat
  • Engaging communities
  • Reducing salmon predators and destructive invasive species, and
  • Integration of harvest, hatchery, hydropower and habitat actions

These general discussions, which are found in Section 9 of the executive summary to the “State of the Salmon” report, could be helpful if you haven’t heard any of this before. If you would like more details, however, I would direct you to these documents:

One of the most engaging sections of the new “State of the Salmon” report is the one containing “Salmon Recovery Stories.” If you read through all 24 of these stories (not necessarily in one sitting), you can confirm what you already know, and you are bound to learn some new things along the way. I know I did. The writing is tight and informative, while the pictures, videos are graphics complete the story-telling. The section is like a primer in salmon restoration.

“It’s not that we don’t know how to recover salmon,” Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, said in a news release. “We know what needs to be done, and we have the people in place to do the hard work. We just haven’t received the funding necessary to do what’s required of us.”

2 thoughts on “Salmon report mixes good and bad news, with a touch of hope

  1. Thanks for highlighting the report – it is certainly a beautiful piece of work and full of interesting and educational and inspiring stories – mixed in with the bad news. I do wonder how many people, who are not already up to their ears in Salmon recovery, will do much with it. There is so much there and difficult to pick out useful tidbits. I certainly hope they do!

    The executive summary is a place I usually think of as where one can get a sort of simplified overall sense of what is in the report and the significant messages. The opening remarks are written for a person with a high school education but unfortunately many (at least the ones I checked) of the follow on paragraphs require a college degree to fully understand – according to the readability checker I used on-line.

    Because this issue comes down to money – that is made pretty clear – I believe these kinds of stories and reports really need to do better at engaging with easier to understand messaging. Otherwise it gets ignored or not understood well.

    Thanks again.

    1. Peter,

      Those are very good observations. I think you see the dilemma. Salmon recovery is a complicated issue, one that remains challenging for writers to describe and for readers to fully grasp. In my writing, I try to convey the complexity of the ecosystem and the interrelationships among living things. I try to explain concepts so that most people can understand them, knowing that some readers may need to go back to basics while others may want to dig deeper.

      Besides the articles I’ve written for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, which tend to tackle more complex issues, some people may learn from a series I wrote for the Kitsap Sun called “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound.”

      Keep in mind that the “Pulse” series was written four years ago, and our understanding of most issues has progressed, as one may find by choosing a topic on the “Encyclopedia” homepage.

      Nature is complex and many problems are difficult to understand. When confronted with complexity, I think the human tendency is to simplify things in our minds and seek out simple answers, such as “stop fishing” or “kill the seals.” These things no doubt would have an effect, in fact many effects that may not be fully anticipated.

      My hope is that people will take the time to embrace the complexities, or at least to realize that simple answers in a complex world may not lead to effective solutions.

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