Commercial, Sport, and Tribal Fishing
In truth, we've been over-harvesting wild salmon since the industry was born over 150 years ago.
Production on the Columbia peaked in 1883 when harvesters packed more than 42 million pounds of Chinook salmon into 620,000 cases. But even by 1890, the industry was in decline with less than 30 million pounds.
Fishermen and fishery managers began to warn of the diminishing returns, yet the industry failed to curb over-exploitation of what they assumed was a limitless resource. Though the canneries eventually closed, commercial fishing continued in response to growing demand for salmon.
Today, only 5-10% of those numbers of salmon return to the Columbia, and less than that to Puget Sound. Yet we still allow a harvest that is not sustainable for our endangered wild stocks.
A drastic reduction in commercial, sport, and tribal fishing is needed in order to give wild fish the opportunity to reach their spawning grounds without being caught in a net or a hook. But we can't leave our commercial fishers high and dry, which is why they must be compensated for reducing their catch.
This, coupled with robust programs in habitat rehabilitation can and will allow wild fish to repopulate their native streams. Only then can we build a plan to harvest what our ecosystem can sustainably do without.
We understand the explosive nature of this suggestion. But the research is clear: if we don't stop over-harvesting salmon, and don't fish closer to river mouths that can be better monitored, we will continue to put excessive pressure on the fish we are trying to save.
There are examples of where a reduced harvest has helped stocks rebound. A staggered closure and cooperation between fishers can and will bring more salmon back to the rivers where they spawn.