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Salmon Treaty and the "gift economy"

March 2, 2007

By John Enge - Or maybe the Treaty should be called the Alaska vs U.S. and Canada Salmon Treaty. I'm down in Oregon now and, even though I used to commercial troll in Alaska and want the Alaskans and Seattlites to do well, I sure wouldn't want them to stiff everyone else to the point that the runs fail.

Here's a lesson for Alaska as it contemplates mixing mining with salmon spawning streams.

The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council would simply split all the fish between themselves if it wasn't for volunteers-with-heart like Kodiak fisherman Lu Dochtermann.

Look at these quotes from the News Tribune.com:

"If we don't solve the interception problem, we will never solve the recovery problem, and some of these stocks will go extinct," said Bill Bakke, executive director of the Native Fish Society, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Portland. "Columbia River, Puget Sound and all coastal stocks will be affected. This treaty is vital." "When it comes to the treaty, there is a certain triangulation involved, say those close to the negotiations."

"Washington and Oregon argue the Canadians are catching too many endangered wild fish, and unless there are restrictions their runs will become extinct. The Canadians say they understand the problem, but aren't going to shut down their fishery to address endangered species issues in the United States while fishermen in Alaska are catching Canada's wild and endangered salmon. Alaska, meanwhile, feels everything is working fine and it should be allowed to continue catching salmon from Canada, Oregon and Washington along with fish hatched in its own rivers and streams."

It's not all the fault of the Alaskans however. These other areas have done a pretty good job of doing in their own runs of salmon. Dams are all over the place, whether needed or not. It has always been just plain cool to build a dam, whether on a small stream like a municipal dam on Rickreal Creek in Dallas, Oregon, irrigation dams on the Rogue River and Bear Creek in the S. Oregon Rogue Valley, or on the bigger rivers.

When I first moved to the Rogue Valley last year I noticed an extraordinary number of cabin cruisers in people's front yards. These are ocean boats. They are all vintage boats too, like the sort we used when I was a teenager, maybe some 70's models too. That's because there were kings and coho galore off the coast of Oregon back then. Just like there were coho galore in the streams around Petersburg, Alaska when I was growing up there. In both areas, you might as well hang up your boots, because if you do see a coho it's probably one of the last ones. Don't blame any one group either, it'll take a quantum shift in public perception of the fragility of these runs.

Thank goodness for some people who just get their rain gear on and go out and dismantle little old dams. Like social entrepreneurs and activists in fisheries management and conservation all over, they are principals in the new "gift economy." All this volunteerism in the last decade was looked at like, "is this real?" In the next half decade it will be like, "what do we do with it?" State governments should be asking that question full bore.

Some of the biggest things coming along are being created and carried out by volunteers: Wikipedia, that largest of all reference resources, the Linux operating system that IBM is making billions off of, and the Firefox web browser. And of course other shareware like my friend's friend who wrote the code that was taken over by the guys that called it YouTube and sold it to Google for $1.65 billion.

Time Magazine says that clever entrepreneurs and organizations can profit from this volunteerism if they don't get too greedy. "The key, Benkler says, is "managing the marriage of money and nonmoney without making nonmoney feel like a sucker." The point is, there are a lot of people who would like to help the fisheries stakeholders, because of special talents and dispositions they have. People, like most groups of animals, really want to help others. Heck, even herring work together. It's a huge lost opportunity to not harness volunteers. Think how many people would love to adopt a salmon stream to pamper like they do roadways.

Dam removal? There would be a thousand volunteers with rock hammers show up the first day. Don't say it's too expensive to do. A spilled tanker of asphalt tar on the banks of the Klamath River like last summer? Just provide the buses. When politicians and lawyers get involved you can actually have SWAT teams fending off volunteers, like when they shut off the water to the Klamath and practically wiped out the entire run of king salmon.

And the Klamath was the third largest king producer in North America. And do you know how many king salmon the bottom trawlers catch? Nobody else does either because the Federal government won't fund observation of U.S. harvesters like the Canadian model. But then that's not the end-all, be-all solution either. There are solutions out there, it's just a little before their time at the moment though.

To make a long story short, Federal interference in the fisheries has been a disaster. Remember how they kept Alaska from statehood, and outlawing the destructive fish traps, for over 50 years. Only when Edna Ferber wrote "Ice Palace" and a movie was made based on it did the federal government do the right thing. So don't hold your breath when you hear that a negotiator from Washington is out here trying to save the salmon. Unless you're holding your breath because you're shooting a good video of the negotiators to put on YouTube.

Labels: Salmon treaty and volunteerism


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John lived in Alaska for 50 years and has run commercial boats and processing plants. John also served as a loan officer and economist for a "fishing bank" and served as the only Fisheries Infrastructure Development Specialist the state has had. He has owned a marine design and fabrication business and created the best-selling "Passport Alaska." All photos on his blog are his own, unless so noted.

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