Salmon Odyssey (6/3/11)

Salmon Odyssey Phil Isenberg, Chair, Delta Vision Task Force James Norton, Filmmaker, Salmon: Running the Gauntlet Jonathan Rosenfield, Ph.D., Conservation Biologist, The Bay Institute In the post-World War II boom, previous generations prioritized cheap electricity and economic development over salmon. On the West Coast, huge dams blocked rivers and sprawl fragmented habitat. If wild salmon are to survive, in California and elsewhere, we must acknowledge that well-intentioned human ingenuity has failed and that tough choices wait, says this panel of experts.“We overestimated our ability to mitigate the impacts of that dam construction,” says James Norton, writer and producer of Salmon: Running the Gauntlet. Fish ladders, hatcheries, barging – all have been deployed in an attempt to work around Mother Nature. “It’s turned out to be much more complicated than that, and it’s never really worked,” he says. The complications don’t end there. In trying to sustain a commercial salmon fishery even as dams killed fish and sprawl chewed up habitat, salmon and fisherman both lost. The result: commercial fishing is “remnant industry,” Norton says, with 30,000 jobs lost on the West Coast in past 20 years. To Norton, the lessons of this troubled history are clear. “I’d get out of the business of managing complex ecosystems. We’ve learned, over the last 150 years, there’s no appropriate surrogate for the natural productivity of these systems. We’ve learned that abundance – true abundance – is the default condition of these places. It’s not something that we tease out of them by being really clever.”For Phil Isenberg, Chair, Delta Stewardship Council, it’s all about our establishing priorities. He notes that in California demands for water and ecosystems are on equal footing, which should work to the benefit of salmon. “We have fought since before WWII the question of whether the human use of water is always more important than anything else. At least in California, the answer is No, it’s not.” Jonathan Rosenfield, a conservation biologist with The Bay Institute, cautions against pitting salmon against people or jobs. “It doesn’t need to be framed in terms of either farmers in the Central Valley have water, or we have salmon.” We do, he says, need to heed the message sent by the salmon’s decline. “Salmon are a hardy, adaptable, incredibly creative species that have survived for millions of years, through several ice ages, in every watershed up and down this coast. The fact that we can’t maintain them in the system says that we have way, way overreached any semblance of balance between human use and what our ecosystems need.” This program was recorded in front of a live audience at the Commonwealth Club of California, San Francisco on June 3rd, 2011 Learn more about your ad choices. Visit

by Climate One