Fish Food

Cooler Pacific Ocean Currents Bring Record Fish Runs!  Who would have thunk it!

Did you see this story in the Wall Street Journal?[1] It described the near record runs of Steelhead Trout, Coho and Chinook salmon to Oregon rivers and streams over the past several years.  The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) said more than 680,000 Coho salmon alone returned to Oregon last year which was twice the number counted in 2007.  ODFW expects the 2010 spring run to match last year which would make it the biggest run since 1938!

Only a few years ago there was major concern about the falling fish populations.  Declines were blamed on loss of habitat, pesticide use by farmers, overfishing and—of course—global warming.  Environmental groups clamored for new regulations to protect fishery and habitat and the courts imposed water restrictions to increase stream flows.

I know something about anadromous fish(those that return to fresh water from the ocean to spawn) issues having spent three long years securing a settlement of the Mokelumne River hydropower relicensing proceeding at FERC for my then employer the East Bay Municipal Utility District when I was assistant general manager for operations.  Doing “fish deals” are tough, in part, because none of the state and federal wildlife agencies and environmental interveners sitting on the other side of the table have any fiduciary responsibility for the outcome.  It got so bad that we actually set up underwater cameras to video tape fish returns in the river at various points to document the runs.

Eventually we did get a settlement and the hydropower license was renewed securing the water supply for almost two million customers here in the San Francisco Bay area.  But it required spending millions of dollars to match the federal and state agencies claims about the “science” on the river. In the end the investment paid off, the only reason we won the settlement is that we went eyeball to eyeball with the resource agencies and were prepared to go to court to prove that our scientific research was better than their biological opinions which were based, errr, on their opinion not the science. And no good bureaucrat wants to be embarrassed by getting caught with his science down around his ankles.

So today , as you can imagine, there is a lot of explaining to do about why if global warming is so certain and the consequences so dire and irreversible we are seeing near record runs of salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest.  Oh that’s simple says, ODFW, temperatures will warm again and runs will decline.

I guess that’s just one of those crazy cycles of nature isn’t it!  Meanwhile, ODFW sent out volunteers from among the unemployed to catch the returning fish after they spawn and take them to the canners.  ODWF proudly reported it processed 79,000 pounds of fish for the local food banks last month. Now there is a government stimulus program you can believe it!

[1] Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2010, A-3