James Connaughton, head of the Council on Environmental Quality, announced at Portland’s Salmon 2100 conference in January that salmon recovery will have to come through curbing fishing, along with upgrades to outdated hatcheries, which may be harming wild fish. The Bush administration is currently under court order to address the effect of hydroelectric dams on the region’s fish. Yet Connaughton made only brief mention of dams (HCN, 6/13/05: For salmon, a crucial moment of decision).
Fishing groups say the focus on fishing and hatcheries — while valid — diverts attention away from the larger impacts of hydropower. Fishing is prohibited for all but one of the Columbia River’s endangered and threatened salmon populations, and only 5 percent of listed salmon die at the hands of fishermen. Hydroelectric dams, meanwhile, kill as many as 92 percent of the river’s listed young salmon and 25 percent of listed adult fish, according to government reports.
"It’s like worrying about a mosquito bite when you have cancer," says Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.
A 2000 NOAA Fisheries report concluded that ending all Columbia River salmon fishing would result in "limited benefits" to listed populations. "At some point (the administration) is going to have to face up to the dams," says Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. "The science leads to the dams and the law leads to the dams."