In his new book, David R. Montgomery wants Northwesterners lamenting the decline of wild Pacific salmon to know they’re not alone. King of Fish documents the death of Atlantic salmon, while pointing out that the same threats — and similar challenges — face salmon recovery around the world.
Today, one-third of Pacific
salmon stocks are extinct; only one in six runs is in good shape.
This is the result of a history of commercial fishing, hydraulic
mining, industrial clear-cut logging, and massive hydroelectric
dams and hatcheries and fish farms. According to Montgomery, the
decimation of Pacific salmon runs is an accelerated repeat of what
happened to Atlantic salmon in England and Scotland during the
Industrial Revolution, and then in New England and Canada following
settlement in the New World.
"It is sobering to think
that salmon could take the worst nature could throw at them for
millions of years — from floods to volcanic eruptions,"
writes Montgomery, "but that little more than a century of exposure
to the side effects of Western civilization could drive them to the
edge of extinction."
Montgomery portrays the decline of
salmon as "death by a thousand cuts": Even as environmental
pressures have doomed the fish, federal and state agencies have
refused to enforce plans for their protection. European kings in
the Middle Ages and pre-contact American Indians sustainably
managed fisheries for centuries despite knowing far less about the
biological needs of salmon than we do today. But our government
lacks the political will to foster restoration of stocks
domestically, or to build international accords to reduce
commercial ocean-fishing pressures.
Fish warns against provincial approaches to salmon
management — such as hatcheries — that fail to heed the
global lessons of salmon decline. After all, reliance on local
control of salmon stocks has gotten us where we are now.
King of Fish, Slave to Man
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