Opinion: Spring Chinook returns increase 27 percent, continuing the recover from the recent low point in the population cycle

Todd Myers, of the Washington Policy Center, challenges recent claims that Snake River Spring Chinook runs are on the path to extinction

This opinion piece was produced and first published by the Washington Policy Center. It is published here with the permission of and full attribution to the Washington Policy Center. 

Todd Myers
Todd Myers

Todd Myers
Washington Policy Center 

Contrary to recent claims that Snake River Spring Chinook runs are on the path to extinction, returns increased for the second year in a row, continuing the recovery from the recent low point in the population cycle.

The Spring Chinook salmon run for the Snake River concluded yesterday, with 29,634 salmon passing the Lower Granite Dam. This is a 27 percent increase from 2020 levels and 55 percent larger than 2019 returns. That number is also only 495 Chinook short of the 2020 Spring and Summer run combined, which concludes two months from now on August 17.

These returns are in sharp contrast to predictions made by dam opponents as recently as two weeks ago. It is unlikely the data will convince those who continually predict catastrophe but are regularly proven wrong. Instead, they will offer a number of excuses.

Some will argue that only non-hatchery fish matter. That talking point runs contrary to their purported reasons for wanting to destroy the dams. For example, two environmental activists claimed we are nearing extinction of Spring Chinook, saying it would result in a “loss of subsistence for Tribes and local economic development to collapse of regional tourism and dead orcas starved of the protein salmon provide.” None of those benefits depend on wild salmon. Human subsistence, tourism, fishing, and food for orca can all be provided by hatchery or wild salmon, or both.

Indeed, for tourism and local fishing, only hatchery fish can legally be caught. Claiming to be concerned about wild salmon and then citing tourism as a reason indicates the argument is disingenuous or that dam opponents simply do not know what they are talking about.

Salmon populations run on a natural cycle. In the past few years, conditions have been poor, but the population rebound began last year and has continued this year. There are also indications that next year returns will be stronger, with a large number of “jacks” – salmon returning early – this Spring, which can be an early indication of future returns.

We should continue to find ways to increase salmon runs in the Snake River and across the Northwest, while recognizing that much depends on natural cycles and ocean conditions. Dishonest, disingenuous, and unscientific arguments about salmon returns make it difficult to focus on the real threats that put salmon at risk and make it harder for all of us to work together to reduce those threats.

Todd Myers is the director of the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center.

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