Can’t Live Without ‘Em: Pacific Salmon

A weekly homage to endangered species, large and small

During his State of the Union address in January, President Obama used salmon as the butt of a joke about the complexity of America’s regulatory bureaucracy. But salmon mean serious business.

Chinook salmon

Issaquah, Washington, a town about 20 miles west of Seattle, has turned the mere presence of salmon into a profit center. Several important Puget Sound salmon spawning streams flow through the city, so in 1970 when the community was looking to create a special event to boost tourism, the choice of a salmon celebration seemed obvious. The Issaquah Salmon Days Festival, timed to coincide with the annual salmon spawning run in early October, is a four-day extravaganza that attracts as many as 200,000 people and brings about $7.5 million to the community each year, including more than $1.5 million spent at the festival alone.

Up and down the West Coast, salmon fishing provides jobs for tens of thousands of Americans. Salmon industry advocates with Water4Fish estimate that more than 2,000 businesses in California alone derive income from salmon, including boats, marinas, manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers. During 2008 and 2009 when California’s salmon fishery was closed due to drought, 23,000 jobs and $1.4 billion were lost in economic activity, according to study published by the American Sport Fishing Association.

Salmon are a vital part of the economy, and a vital part of healthy ecosystems. They’re an important food source not only for humans, but for grizzly bears and a number of scavengers as well.

But without further protection, Pacific salmon populations are quickly dwindling. For example, the fall run of salmon in California’s Central Valley plummeted by 97 percent in less than a decade, dropping from a return of nearly 1.5 million adults in 2002 to fewer than 40,000 in 2009.

Salmon are a vital part of the economy, and a vital part of healthy ecosystems.

Today, 17 runs of four different subspecies of Pacific salmon (chinook, chum, coho, sockeye) are listed under the ESA as either endangered or threatened. Overfishing and the loss of the river, estuarine and ocean habitat essential to the salmon life cycle contributed to their decline. In other places such as the Columbia River Basin, the primary cause of decline is the series of dams on the river and its tributaries that impede the passage of migrating fish.

A grizzly dines on a fresh catch of salmon in Alaska.

In addition to these ongoing threats to their survival, Pacific salmon are also under legislative attack. At the end of March, Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) introduced a bill that would allow even more water to be diverted from California’s deteriorating Bay Delta, and now Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) is pushing to undo nearly two decades of conservation efforts to preserve even minimal river flows for salmon. These efforts by both congressmen would deprive rivers in the Central Valley of the water they need to support healthy salmon runs and divert it to major agribusinesses in some of the driest land in the state.

Furthermore, many salmon populations in the Northwest are threatened with pesticide poisoning. Currently, EPA has not implemented the no-spray buffer zone requirements that prevent farmers from dumping dangerous chemicals into our waterways, which has been shown to have lasting effects on both wildlife and human health.

Help us fight these attempts to undermine protections for salmon and retain the important economic and ecological benefits they provide to us all.

Read more about the economic benefits of Pacific salmon in Defenders Conservation Pays report (2006).

What Defenders Is Doing to Help Protect the Endangered Species Act

The ESA is under attack in Congress, and Defenders is fighting back! We’re…

  • Reaching out to our allies in Congress to make sure they stand up for all of America’s imperiled wildlife.
  • Mobilizing our activists across the country to protect endangered species in their home states.
  • Educating the general public with targeted media campaigns highlighting the importance of protecting all our native plants and animals for future generations.

Read more about what Defenders is doing to protect endangered species.

What You Can Do to Help

  • Speak up for wildlife! Write a letter to your local newspaper explaining why you care about protecting endangered species. Help us bring attention to all the critters, large and small, that make up the web of life and support a healthy environment.
  • Help us stop legislation that undermines our nation’s commitment to good stewardship and saving wildlife from extinction.