The big topic among business people up here is the closure of the salmon season. We've known for a while the commercial season would be closed, it was recently announced the sport season would be closed as well. Developments late Thursday point to an opening in state waters, from shore to 3 miles out. Not to expose myself as a conspiracy theorist, but there's something fishy going on.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration lists the seafood industry, including recreational fishing in the billions of dollars, so clearly there's money to be made. And while we have mightily abused our oceans and rivers, salmon fisheries have been well-documented and regulated for quite some time. Certainly at times closures are needed. Our town's fortunes, such as they are, were made on the twin pillars of logging and fishing, two mutually exclusive industries. Now that logging is all but gone, there is a slim chance for fisheries to rebound. Slim is the key word.
The supposed reason for the closure is the health of the salmon stocks that run the Klamath River, which is as this article points out, 300 miles north of San Francisco. Allegedly the reason the feds are closing the season is on the chance that one Klamath River fish might wind up in local waters. And although salmon are pretty picky fish, returning to the same rivers and creeks they were born in to spawn, it's conceivable that a few might get confused and lose their way. The stocks locally are in good shape however.
So let's look at the money. Who benefits from this closure? Well, one group are the farmers who are dependent on the diversion of water from the Klamath for irrigation. 2/3 of the Klamath Basin is in Northern California but most of the water comes from the upper third, in Oregon, where it is diverted for storage for agricultural use. As much as 90% of the water that would flow through Iron Gate Dam gets diverted for farming. This is a dilemma for me. Pitting farmers against fishermen. In this zero-sum game there's no real winner, although in general when we're talking salmon, the fishermen are still pretty small outfits and increasingly farming is agri-business. So, it might appear there's more Klamath agricultural lobbying money than Klamath fisheries lobbying money.
Let's look at another player, that I haven't heard mentioned except by another chef when we were at dinner recently. With even staunch wild fish promoters like Greg Higgins conceding that aquaculture is where our fish is going to come from sooner rather than later, it's clear this is a rapidly growing segment of the seafood industry. And what aquacultured fish brings in the highest price? Yes of course. Salmon. So, if wild fisheries are closed down from Northern California through Washington and supply is severely limited, what salmon are all the desperate consumers going to eat? Hmmm....I'd like to compare the lobbying dollars spent by the aquaculture industry to those by the wild-caught, both commercial and sport. Let's also wonder why the Alaska season isn't closing. Couldn't be their Republican senator's willingness to allow oil exploration in the ANWR. Nah....stuff like that doesn't happen in America.
I am all for conservation of our marine resources. And if aquaculture is the way we are going to meet our increased demand for seafood I want to be part of the discussion to see that it's done in beneficial rather than destructive ways. There's a part of me that hopes the salmon season stays closed and that the state legislature supports the federal ruling because salmon is a good point making fish. When all the people come to the restaurant looking for salmon and we don't have any that's an opportunity to start a discussion about conservation and stewardship. To say nothing of expanding your palate. Salmon are tasty sure, but so are mackerel, which are abundant. So are any number of what are now called trash fish.
That said I feel for the people in town who don't have the luxury of serving other fish like I do. People like one of my cooks roommate, who bought a salmon boat 3 years ago with a partner. Or the sport fishing outfits in the harbor that are mightily dependent on the salmon season. And while I might be able to serve other fish, there will definitely be an economic blow to the community because of the closure. And if our residents are broke, they probably won't go out to dinner. And if out of towners are planning a trip and they like to fish, they may end up somewhere where they can fish.
For the time being I'll be interested in seeing who the Jack Abramoff of the seafood world will prove to be.