Salvation for salmon will not come through reading Brett Wilkison’s completely decontexualized piece on salmon and dams (HCN, 3/06/06: Fishermen blamed for salmon troubles).
The threats to the well-being of salmon are very complex. Yes, for certain runs of salmon, dams have had huge detrimental effects. But the evidence shows these salmon runs have continued to suffer further degradation long after the dams were built. Do we blame the fishing community? Agriculture and industry? Development? All of the above, and more.
Why the fishermen? They have, for decades, gone after salmon with size-selective gear. In theory, this was to protect the younger fish that were not ready to spawn. In practice, this approach has given smaller fish reproductive advantage over the larger fish. Smaller fish cannot migrate as efficiently, they cannot move as quickly to avoid predators, and they are no longer able to feed on certain kinds of prey.
Agriculture can hurt salmon by reducing the volume of rivers and by degrading water quality. Industry and development can hurt salmon through degradation of watersheds and pollution of waterways.
Even the weather may bear some blame. There is a large swirling current of water in the North Pacific called the North Pacific Gyre. When this flows a bit southward, salmon runs in Washington and Oregon tend to do better. When the flow hits farther north, salmon runs in Alaska and B.C. tend to do better.
Before we fight to rip out the dams, we should take the time to understand the situation as fully as possible. We should also make sure that we are ready to accept the fossil fuel power plants that would likely replace the dams that generate power for the Northwest.