HOOD RIVER, Ore. - The sport-fishing season for salmon starts next week on the Columbia River, and once again this year, only hatchery fish can be kept - wild chinook salmon and wild steelhead trout have to be released. Advocates for native salmon are waiting for a federal court decision about whether the government's latest plan to save the endangered fish is sufficient.
One man watching the case is Steve Hawley, who lives along the Columbia River in Hood River, Ore. He has written a new book about the salmon controversy. Hawley says it took multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to get the documents he needed, and they reveal a gloomy picture of the government's role in saving salmon.
"What the record shows, and the story that my book tells, is that there are entrenched sets of political and economic interests that have really worked hard to badly bend, if not outright break, the laws that are mandating that we not let these species go extinct."
The native salmon protection plan is supposed to be based on what is termed the "best available science," says Hawley, but his research uncovered attempts by government agencies to discredit or suppress studies that don't conform to the current federal plan.
Hawley says he found that the most salmon are harvested not by fishermen, but by the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. He tells fellow fishermen that they are fighting over the smallest percentage of the catch, but says it's still important to speak up.
"Fishermen, in particular, if they could spend one-tenth of the time that they spend on the river being active, making one or two phone calls to let their representatives and the agencies know what they would like to see happen, it might make a tremendous difference."
Federal agencies have said the dams generate low-cost power for the Northwest and that measures are being taken to help fish get around them safely.
Hawley's book, "Recovering a Lost River," published by Beacon Press, explores the political battle behind the scenes. It comes out March 15.
On March 1, opening day of the sport-fishing season, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will conduct a public meeting to get input on the commercial salmon fishing season. It is set from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the WDFW General Administration Bldg., 11th and Columbia Sts., Olympia, Wash.