Twelve years ago, whenever salmon was on the family dinner menu, I would go out fishing and within a few hours, dinner would be in the boat. I heard many stories about how fishing used to be, before my time, when you could catch dinner in about 10 minutes.
Now, except during the runs, it takes about two days of fishing to catch your limit. Now, as before, people are asking, “What’s happening to the salmon?”
What does the reduction of salmon mean to an islander who doesn’t fish?
There is a direct link for every one of us, because the economic reality is that the marine environment is our economy. Tourism is the primary industry of the island; reduce the quality of the marine environment, the experience of it, and tourism will decline. Reduce the number of salmon and the orca population will decline. As goes the bellwether orca, so goes tourism.
So what is happening to the salmon? I’m not a scientist. I just follow what the fish are telling me. Look at what they’re eating and we know that the vast majority of their diet is forage fish.
Forage fish are dependent on eel grass fields and spawning beaches. The eel grass fields and spawning beaches are dependent on shoreline property owners’ stewardship. As with most things in nature, we are living in an interdependent ecosystem.
What can we do personally to help the salmon?
It is not much of a stretch to suggest that a majority of shoreline property owners would be willing to accept the responsibility of being the steward for sensitive environmental property. This responsibility would be possible if shoreline owners had reliable information about what the concerns are and options for dealing with them.
Those of us who live inland can support the marine environment by simply paying attention to what we are putting into our land. There are sensitive environmental areas we need to steward with as much care as shoreline areas.
Based on my fishing experience, what’s happening to the salmon is that they’re not quite holding their own against a slowly deteriorating marine environment. Each of us can make a difference by taking on the personal responsibility, the stewardship, of those critical areas we own.
San Juan Island