I enjoyed reading Phil Reed’s acknowledgment in last week’s Forum stating that much of the cause of our fish ‘disappearing’ is due to climate change. The WDFW regulations cause hardship and much anger, but they are dealing with issues that encompass many difficult parameters with many stakeholders, none of whom will ever be completely pleased with their actions.
Due to atmospheric warming, rivers and streams carry less water at key times for salmon and that water is warmer, causing many problems. If salmon make it to the ocean, the warmer water there makes them more susceptible to predators, parasites and disease. The ocean and river food chains are in serious trouble with salmon not able to find enough food to eat. This warmer ocean water wreaks havoc on a salmon’s life cycle, as Mr. Reed pointed out.
But hatcheries producing more fish is not the answer. Hatchery fish, if they make it to the ocean, die there in large numbers due to lack of food because of warmer waters. Their food supply is depleted and the food chain broken.
A solution lies in combating climate change. It is a controversial issue but should not be. It is happening, and it is not going away.
Forks Middle and High School Students, including my own students, participated in collecting data before, during, and after the Elwha dam removal. I keep abreast of the status of the salmon’s return to the Elwha River ecosystem by participating in regional discussions and reading the latest data. By most accounts, the dam removal and river restoration on the Elwha has been a success. It’s still too early to tell how large the rebound will be for salmon populations, and scientists will spend years studying the long-term impacts. But initial results are encouraging. Adult fish from all the species have returned. Unfortunately, Chinook populations on the Elwha (as they are everywhere in the Northwest) are improving only very slowly according to the Washington Policy Center. It will take a few more generational life cycles to begin to understand the overall health of the salmon populations. These results are what most scientists expected; it is not accurate to declare the whole situation as “not so good”.
The plight of the salmon and their impact on local and regional economies is a gnarly, multi-faceted issue. It is risking peril to our beautiful Olympic Peninsula’s rivers and the salmon (and many other species that depend on them) to ignore climate change and I am glad Mr. Reed acknowledged this in his letter.