Tag Archives: salmon

Transfomation of the Klamath

Many rivers are more valuable without their dams.  Years ago it was unthinkable, but now dams are scheduled to be removed on the Klamath River.  Robert Service writes in Science News (Nov 13) Four Dams to Come Down:

A tentative agreement has been reached to begin decommissioning four dams on the Klamath River, an issue that has been a hotbed of controversy in recent years. The news was announced today by top officials with the U.S. Department of Interior, the states of California and Oregon, and the utility company PacifiCorp. If the deal goes through, it’s expected to mark the largest dam-removal project ever undertaken.

The agreement marks a major shift in bitter battles over water that have racked the Klamath Basin in recent years and often placed scientists in the center (see Science, 4 April 2003, p. 36). PacifiCorp had been seeking to relicense its dams, and the Bush Administration has long opposed dam removal. The Klamath, which flows from the central portion of southern Oregon to the coast of northern California, is the third most important river for salmon in the West behind the Columbia and Sacramento rivers. Dams along the river provide cheap renewable energy, as well as vital irrigation water for farmers. A drought in 2001 led federal officials to shut off irrigation water, a move that sparked widespread conflicts among farmers, fishermen, and conservationists. With irrigation restored the following year, low river levels contributed to a disease outbreak that killed at least 33,000 salmon, according to a 2004 report by the California Department of Fish and Game.

In the NYTimes, Felicity Barringer writes:

All the parties had coped with worst-case situations in the past decade. In 2001, irrigators had their water shut off, crippling agricultural production. In the dry year of 2002, the Interior Department ordered water distributed to irrigators and tens of thousands of salmon in the Klamath died; in 2007, low salmon populations in the Klamath led to sharply curtailed commercial fishing.

“After living through moments that would tax the character of most anyone, the good people of the basin came together,” Mr. Kempthorne said.

The agreement also sets out a requirement for several years of scientific analysis of how removing the dams would affect water quality and fish habitat. The aim is to ensure that the environmental impact of the release of sediment would not be worse than leaving the dams in place. The oldest dam was installed more than a century ago.

Decline in salmon causes decline in cultural ecosystem services

Agriculture increases the supply of food supplied by an ecosystem, but often decreases its ability to supply other services.  The same appears to be true for salmon aquaculture.  In the Toronto Globe and Mail, Vancouver journalist Mark Hume reports Declining salmon runs blamed for wilderness tourism slump:

All along the B.C. Coast, wilderness tourism operators who run bear-viewing, whale-watching and sport-fishing resorts are reporting tough times because of declining salmon runs.

But the biggest impact may be occurring in the Broughton Archipelago, where Mr. MacKay operates, and where pink salmon runs have all but vanished, sending a shock wave through the region’s ecosystem.

“Some of the northern pods are just not here,” Mr. MacKay said yesterday. “And we’ve had three occasions [this summer] when we did not see any orcas at all. That’s pretty weird.”

He said northern killer whales visit the area during the summer months, collecting in big social gatherings where breeding takes place.

“When they get together like that it’s called Super Pod Day, and we will see over 100 dorsal fins out there at a time,” Mr. MacKay said. “That didn’t happen this year, for the first time since we’ve been collecting data, which is almost 30 years.”

Mr. MacKay said it’s not coincidental that the whales have vanished along with the salmon.

“It’s pretty simple. …What do you think these orcas eat?” he said.

Surveys by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans indicate pink salmon stocks have fallen to extremely low levels in the Broughton Archipelago. In Glendale Creek, a key indicator stream, there have been only 19,000 spawners counted this year, compared with 264,000 last year.

Pink salmon, which usually spawn in prodigious numbers, are a keystone species on the West Coast. Chinook salmon, the mainstay of the orca diet, feed on young pinks, while grizzly and black bears depend on spawning adult pink salmon to bulk up for hibernation.

Brian Gunn, president of the Wilderness Tourism Association, said the collapse of salmon stocks is threatening the survival of ecotourism businesses.

“The bear-viewing businesses, the whale-watching operations, they built up a lot of equity showing people these wild animals. Now the fish aren’t there and they are seeing their equity drain away. …If the salmon go, so does the wildlife, and so does the business.”

Mr. Gunn blamed the fish-farming business, saying a heavy concentration of net pens in the Broughton Archipelago has created sea-lice epidemics which kill young salmon.