Why is it OK to kill threatened salmon?

Opening a PUD bill during the winter can provide quite a jolt. If the amount that’s attributable to salmon recovery were itemized, ratepayers might be in shock.

The Snohomish County PUD estimates that the effect of mandates to protect threatened salmon species in the Columbia River system amounts to about 15 percent of its budget. The PUD is the largest customer of the Bonneville Power Administration, which runs federal dams that produce electricity along the Columbia and Snake rivers, buying about 10 percent of BPA’s power. That gives the PUD, and its customers, a keen interest in the cost of salmon protection.

On a winter PUD bill of $320, you might be paying as much as $48 to help rebuild salmon populations.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Salmon are a valued part of the region’s environment, history and economy. The cost, though, should be spread fairly among stakeholders – including those who catch salmon. The priority for all, not just some, should be to restore the threatened runs.

U.S. District Judge James Redden has ordered water at federal dams to be diverted from turbines during the summer to help fish survive. That lessens BPA’s ability to produce surplus power it can sell outside the region, which traditionally has lowered rates for Northwest customers. Multi-million-dollar plans for improving salmon habitat, including one in Snohomish County, have been drawn up and are looking for funding.

Meanwhile, adult wild salmon continue to be harvested before they can return to the rivers to spawn, with the approval of federal fisheries managers. It seems more than a little counterproductive to allow a threatened species to be killed for commercial benefit, especially when it has survived to the end of its life cycle and is about to reproduce.

PUD officials, members of Congress and the Salmon Spawing &Recovery Alliance are calling for federal fisheries managers to tighten domestic harvest rules on threatened salmon, and to get tough with Canada, where fish from threatened U.S. runs are caught off Vancouver Island.

In a court filing challenging current harvest rules, the Alliance seeks a dialogue with NOAA fisheries managers, who set those regulations, hoping to avoid a lawsuit. It’s in the interest of all parties to stay out of court and keep judges from becoming fisheries managers.

Hatchery fish are plentiful, and more selective fishing techniques can allow for abundant harvests without killing wild, threatened species. That’s mostly what the Alliance is seeking.

It’s time for NOAA Fisheries, perhaps with some encouragement from Northwest members of Congress on behalf of power customers, to sit down and talk.

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