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Trying to replay the 1980's salmon crisis

By Dennis T. Avery
web posted August 17, 2009

British Columbia's Fraser River is suffering a salmon collapse, says Canada's Globe and Mail. "It's beyond a crisis!" warns a fishing advisor to the Fraser's Indian tribes. The Watershed Watch Salmon Society says the Fraser should have had 10–13 million spawning sockeye salmon this season—but has gotten less than 2 million. Canada's government has closed its 'biggest salmon river' to commercial and recreational fishing for the third year in a row.

 "No one's sure what's happened to these fish," Watershed Watch told Reuters. Some activists blame global warming. Others say salmon farms are infecting the wild salmon with sea lice.

The preceding paragraphs are essentially media campaign nonsense. However, the stage is set for western Canada to offer a repeat of the salmon decline response that caused the U.S. government in the 1990s to permanently close the Oregon and Washington forest industries and restrict fishing. 

During the past 25 years, however, the salmon extinction claims pushed scientists to look closely at North America's Pacific Coast salmon. In 1996, two Pacific Northwest researchers announced their discovery of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation—a shift in the currents of the North and Central Pacific that moves the salmon food in the open oceans north or south every 25-30 years. Salmon numbers are dramatically impacted.

When the salmon collapse in the Columbia—as they did during the 1980s—other salmon were thriving in the Gulf of Alaska. And vice versa. The two fisheries never prosper at the same time, giving the salmon extinction claims a near-constant supply of fish-decline headlines. 

The Fraser is linked to the Gulf of Alaska. The Fraser had strong salmon runs in the early 1990s, averaging more than 16 million fish from 1990–93. However, it got less than 4 million fish in 1999, and this year's still-smaller run seems to confirm that the Fraser will have only a small salmon fishery production for the next 25-30 years.

The Fraser salmon slump wasn't caused by global warming; the earth's temperatures have trended down significantly since 1998. It's not overfishing; and, there's little pollution in the river. Nor does the Fraser have dams to blame like the Columbia River.

Tree rings from around the Pacific show the Pacific cycle's 25–30 year phases go back at least 400 years. In fact, the PDO is so powerful that the whole world's temperatures have recently danced to its tune; the Pacific is our planet's largest heat sink. The rising global temperatures from 1915–1940, the declining temperatures from 1940–1975, and the strong global heating from 1976–1998 all coincided with PDO shifts.      

Yet the activists and journalists want to drag us back over this same false salmon-collapse trail just a dozen years after scientists found the salmon survival secret right in the salmon catch records! They must believe the rest of society is truly foolish.

The activists, of course, would much rather stir media headlines about salmon extinction rather than talk about the earth's current sharp decline in temperatures. Unfortunately for them, Pacific salmon decline from now on will be inextricably linked to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation—and the earth's history of constant warming and cooling cycles.

People who hate modern medicine, fish farming, cars and air conditioners are free to go live somewhere without them. They should not have the right to drag the rest of us along, let alone making us pay their air fares to the next global warming sing-along in Copenhagen. ESR

Dennis T. Avery is an environmental economist, and a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.  He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421 or email to cgfi@hughes.net.

 

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