Friday, March 21, 2008

Funeral for Chinook salmon

Kiss your Chinook goodbye.

That's the message coming out of California and Oregon where the National Marine Fisheries Service is considering shutting down all fishing for fall Chinook salmon in the Pacific Ocean between the Oregon and Mexican borders because the fish have nearly disappeared.

Federal officials said it's the largest collapse of salmon stocks in 40 years—since record keeping began.

The class of 2005—the baby Chinook salmon that went to the ocean from the mainland's rivers that year—is gone.

As a result, coastal and riverside communities will kiss their cash goodbye.

Their economies depend heavily on the commercial fishing industry that sends thousands of pounds of prized fish to tables across the nation and the sport-fishing industry that draws hundreds of thousands of people to the coast every year for the experience of bringing in the big ones.

Scientists blame the population crash on "unusual" ocean conditions as well as on poor conditions in California's Sacramento River where large parts of the run normally return to spawn.

The river's water has been hard hit by demands from farmers as well as from growing cities in southern California.

Central Idaho has some advice for the West Coast: Go ahead and have the funeral now.

Central Idaho is the inland home of Lonely Larry and Lonely Lorraine, the sockeye salmon that occasionally return to the Salmon River, which was once crowded with their species.

For the funeral, invite Rev. Al Gore to preside. Form an all-generations choir starting with Michael Franti and Spearhead; Liquid Blue; and stretching to Joni Mitchell; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; the Kingston Trio; and Pete Seeger.

Ask Native American tribes to send representatives to offer prayers for the fish that sustained them for generations. Ask fishermen to act as pallbearers. Ask Northwest artists to memorialize the fish in granite and bronze.

Broadcast the mourning worldwide on live Internet.

Otherwise, the fall Chinook's demise, like Idaho's sockeye, will go unnoticed. The only comments marking its passing will be in stacks of lawsuits and futile plans for recovery that will gather dust while politicians spew meaningless rhetoric, ridicule conservationists and duck responsibility for neglect of the nation's natural resources.

The West Coast's fall Chinook runs must not be allowed to fade quietly away into the annals of extinction. The nation must begin to understand what will happen if we continue to do nothing about environmental protection.

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