King of Fish, Slave to Man

  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.

King of 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.

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