The Question of Urgency

Mid-April is a perennial time of urgency -- the burgeoning rush of spring, be it in the form of blossoming flowers and trees or the surge of seasonal floodwaters, or the taxpayer's need to complete the reckoning on the previous annum's finances -- but last Thursday's decision by the Pacific Fishery Management Council to close the salmon fishery in California and Oregon extends these rites in an unwelcome direction.

And would that we could, it's implausible to argue that the collapse of the spawning salmon population the measure hopes to address is anything irregular, save perhaps in its scope. It's a rare and inauspicious moment to cheer cooperation between states on a mutually beneficial regional policy, especially when doing so essentially eliminates a commercial  and recreational market worth tens of millions of dollars to the region each year. But the agreement is driven by a recognition that the states must act if they are to secure the long-term viability of what one official described as "the cornerstone of coastal communities," the cultural and provisioning ecosystem services that the salmon fishery provides.

In L.A. Times quotes one commercial fisherman saying, ""Going fishing this year would be like a farmer eating his seed corn."Further declines in salmon runs would almost certainly have a cascading effect, too, potentially altering the lands around the migratory rivers and streams, if recent research proves correct.

Council Executive Director Don McIsaac noted, "The reason for the sudden decline of Sacramento River fish is a mystery at this time," but likely combining factors include agricultural pollution, degraded habitat, and altered water regimes. The New York Times' Felicity Barringer narrowed the factors to two in her story: the "federally sanctioned diversion of water from the Sacramento River into the irrigation system used by farmers in the Central Valley of California, and "a climate-driven change in the normal upwellings in the ocean that could have deprived the young fish of food."

Regardless of the cause(s) and beyond the moratorium, there's more work to be done, many of which connect to questions land conservation can address -- whether it's best management practices for farming or habitat and river protection and restoration. We hope that the citizens of the Pacific coast can use these tools in ways that can restore the eponymous population of "the salmon nation" to the benefit of commerce, recreation, and biological diversity.

- Kyle Copas

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