It’s the Water

After a couple years in the ocean, coho salmon head for home, to the fresh water where they were spawned. The trip can be thousands of miles and is fraught with danger from fishermen and orca whales.

Meanwhile… as we go about our lives on land, motoring from place to place, our tires wear down and leave tiny particles of rubber on the roads. The tires’ rubber is laced with a preservative containing the chemical antioxidant 6PPD-quinone. When we drive, our tires shed the chemical-laced rubber dust onto the roadway. Rain eventually washes it into streams and lakes along with other debris. 6PPD-quinone is one of 2,000 identified chemicals in road runoff.

Scientists estimate the forty percent of the waterways in the Puget Sound area are tainted with 6PPD-quinone. When coho salmon encounter the chemical, it’s usually fatal within a few hours, long before the fish are able to spawn. Depending on proximity to heavily-traveled roads, somewhere between fifty to ninety percent of returning salmon succumb to the chemical.

Meanwhile… to the east, the outlook for salmon is brighter. Salmon have laid eggs in the upper Columbia River for the first time since the Grand Coulee Dam blocked their return to spawning areas eighty years ago. Native American tribes and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife began working together in 2014 on a project to provide access and improved habitat.

In a test, salmon released above Grand Coulee in 2019, found their way back a year later to their spawning area, an eight-mile stretch of the Sanpoil River, a tributary of the Columbia. The next phase of the testing is to record how many of the newly-hatched fish find their way back.

Dams constructed down river on the Columbia, built after the Grand Coulee, provided fish ladders that gave salmon a route to swim past, although with great difficulty. Salmon further down the Columbia also faced the hazard of hungry sea lions who immigrated all the way from California to gorge themselves on the tasty fish.

Meanwhile… in other water news, Wall Street has begun trading in California water futures. After eight years of drought and annual wildfires ravaging the state with increasing ferocity, municipalities, farmers and, yes, hedge funds can hedge against future shortages with contracts for future delivery of water. The contracts can be bought and sold, like bonds and stocks, as the price of water fluctuates.

“Climate change, droughts, population growth, and pollution are likely to make water scarcity issues and pricing a hot topic for years to come,” said one analyst.

Trading water futures is surely safer than trading sub-prime mortgages.

It’s Not Easy Being Salmon

The acidic cormorant poop threatens to mess up a $75 million paint job that drivers across Washington and Oregon are paying for through gas taxes.

For salmon, if it’s not one thing it’s another.

In the Klamath River Basin straddling the Oregon-California border, salmon compete with onion, potato and wheat farmers for the ever-scarcer water. Dams on the river have also contributed to the decrease in the salmon population. Further north, sea lions from California(!) travel all the way up to the Columbia River to feast on the salmon returning to their spawning grounds. That’s if a few years earlier they escaped predation by cormorants as they made their way from the river to the salt water of the Pacific.

(Fun Fact: The name “cormorant” is a contraction of the Latin words corvus and marinus which taken together mean “sea raven.”)

Continue reading “It’s Not Easy Being Salmon”

Illegal Immigrants Stealing Our Food

Oregonians have long complained about Californians invading their state, driving up property values, crowding state parks, even trying to pump their own gas. Now there is a new threat: predators from California have invaded the Willamette River and are eating the salmon as they try to make their way up the river to spawn.

Blame Richard Nixon. The President signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. Since then the population of California sea lions has more than quadrupled, from around 70,000 to 300,000. Its cousin, the Steller sea lion, has increased its population from 30,000 to 70,000. By the late 1980s, sea lions were preying on fish runs at the Ballard Locks in Seattle. For years the invaders have been eating so many Columbia River salmon there has been debate about what to do with them – should their numbers be reduced by “euthanizing” some?

Biologists estimate that California sea lions ate at least 18 percent of returning adult steelhead through the first two months of this year. Adding insult to injury, about twenty-five California sea lions have made their home in the Willamette River near Portland. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife captured and transported three of them to the ocean near Newport. They swam the 230 miles back in less than four days.

Maybe they should be deported to Pier 39 at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, where the tourists think they’re cute. Or Sea Lion Caves near Florence Oregon where tourists pay money to climb down 250 stairs to watch them play. Then we could find out how much they really like Salmon.