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King Salmon. Delicious. California king salmon, that is. In the nineteen sixties and seventies, it was priced a little bit more than hamburger. It was a staple on family plates. During World War I, canned king salmon from the abundant rivers and tributaries of the Sacramento valley fed American and allied forces in Europe, and a goodly portion of America too. Last summer, I saw king salmon for sale in a Bay Area fish market priced at thirty-two dollars a pound. Currently, one can purchase king salmon at Costco for about half that price per pound, but it arrives frozen all the way from New Zealand on a ship. It’s raised in a salmon farm. Who knows what antibiotics are used? Frozen salmon is also available at varied supermarket chains. Some of it comes from Alaska, but it’s never king salmon. A large portion of Alaska salmon sail frozen to China where it is unfrozen, processed and packaged, and frozen again before it’s shipped to your local store. Yum! It only takes two to four months to cross the Pacific twice.
Local congressman, Jared Huffman, co-chair of the wild salmon caucus, apparently has a remedy to restore king salmon to their historical spawning grounds. According to a recent press release from his office, he’s introduced a bill that will provide forty million dollars to “provide identification of salmon areas and strongholds” to “sustain thriving salmon populations.” What a noble inclination—restore salmon in California to “thriving” numbers. Who could resist? How about the fish?
I’ve read the bill. Huffman’s legislation purports to spent a great deal of money to identify “strongholds.” In other words, historic, salmon spawning grounds. Ask some old-timers or the Sierra Club, they’ll tell you exactly where they are and it won’t even cost a dime. Huffman’s bill also provides money to remove obstacles to salmon spawning grounds. Great idea. Start a company. Give it a fancy environmental name; rake the money in removing log jams and impediments blocking access to historical spawning beds. The only problem is that when salmon arrive at their “strongholds,” the gravel and pebbles needed to incubate their eggs will still be covered by hundreds of years of silt created by logging practices, housing developments, and agricultural expansion. Dig out the mud and silt, truck fresh gravel in to restore the spawning grounds? Now we’re getting somewhere. Like digging the Panama Canal, which will take a lot more than the forty million bucks provided by this bill to magically restore hundreds of miles of impacted salmon beds. Without spawning gravel replacement, without enough water to do the trick, it could take a thousand years to wash the mud and silt to the sea. By then, there may be a dozen wild salmon left.
There’s a larger issue here; one that impacts every one of us. On most rivers, salmon spawning grounds, in other words, their so-called “strongholds,” are blocked by dams. These strongholds no longer exist. Do you really care about salmon? Do you want their indigenous spawn to endure? Simple. Take out every dam. In California, agriculture will cease to exist. There will be no juice for your Tesla, and people in Santa Rosa or Ukiah will be limited to one gallon of water a day. This bill is a feel-good farce.
Currently, off the shores of California, the highest percentage of salmon swimming in the sea (up to 90%) began their lives in a restorative hatchery on the endangered Sacramento River. They’re raised as juveniles and trucked to San Pablo Bay where they’re released to go to sea. Restorative hatcheries are not fish farms where salmon are aquatic prisoners dosed in antibodies swimming around in what comes out the other end. State, restorative hatcheries in California sustain what little salmon are left. Wild salmon spawning naturally? There are hardly any left, where—once upon a time—they thieved in every river north of the Golden Gate. Restorative hatcheries? When it comes to Congressman Huffman’s bill, there’s not a single cent for that. Enjoy the symbolism on your plate.