WASHINGTON, DC – Legislation authored by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), that would protect thriving wild salmon populations, just as current law protects endangered salmon, received strong support today in a Senate hearing. Cantwell chaired a hearing of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee on her Pacific Salmon Stronghold Conservation Act (S.817). The bill would create a program explicitly for the protection of thriving salmon populations – or “salmon strongholds” – so that they never become endangered. Cantwell’s bill complements existing law designed to revive and recover threatened and endangered salmon populations. Her legislation directly supports public-private incentive-based efforts to sustain the economic, ecological, cultural, and health benefits of wild Pacific salmon for future generations. The bill is backed by all eight U.S. senators representing the Pacific Coast states of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California.
“Salmon continue to be a vital part of our communities up and down the Pacific coast, providing billions of dollars of economic activity and thousands of jobs,” Senator Cantwell said at today’s hearing.“Current federal salmon recovery efforts are focused heavily on salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act – basically seeking to ‘restore what we have lost.’ While recovering depleted populations is essential, we cannot forget that it is also important to protect the healthy salmon populations we still have. The Pacific Salmon Stronghold Conservation Act was written to achieve a simple goal: to ensure the survival of Pacific salmon by making sure that our healthy salmon populations get the protection they deserve.”
In Washington state, two salmon strongholds in the Wenatchee and Queets-Quinault watersheds have been identified by the Wild Salmon Center as being a top concern and could be targeted for preservation under Cantwell’s bill. This bill will help provide funding to identify stronghold populations and maintain their health.
“If there is one message from my testimony today that I hope stays with you, it is this: Congressional direction is absolutely necessary to implement a winning, science-based salmon conservation strategy,” Guido Rahr, President and Chief Executive of the Wild Salmon Center, a science-based conservation organization, said in testimony to the subcommittee. “Enacting the Pacific Salmon Stronghold Conservation Act will provide the critical missing link in current salmon conservation and management policies by harnessing public and private efforts to protect North America’s healthiest wild salmon rivers, and the communities and wildlife that depend on them.”
Salmon strongholds generate millions of dollars in economic activity and support hundreds of jobs. In Washington state, commercial fishing for salmon generated more than $26 million in revenues and supported more than 500 jobs in 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available. That same year, Washington sport fishing generated $130 million in net economic activity. In Alaska, the salmon stronghold runs in Bristol Bay alone are estimated to support over 5,500 full-time jobs and direct economic expenditures of over $3 million dollars each year.
The Pacific Salmon Stronghold Conservation Act makes it a priority for the multiple government agencies, states, stakeholders, tribes, and private organizations involved in preserving strong salmon populations to protect and preserve salmon strongholds before they become endangered. The bill establishes a much-needed grants and technical assistance program to leverage private dollars in support of targeted, high-impact projects in stronghold watersheds. The bill could save billions of dollars in future restoration, stock rebuilding efforts, and emergency funding, by making strategic investments in the highest value conservation actions within salmon strongholds.
Cantwell has long supported salmon recovery programs, including increased funding for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. Since its inception in 2000, the Fund has enabled the removal of 200 barriers to fish passage, opening 450 miles of habitat each year. In the states of California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, roughly 20 percent of salmon habitat supports about half of the region’s salmon abundance.