Tuesday, March 17, 2009

THE DAILY ASTORIAN: Obama should name a King Fish

Good ideas have a way of eventually prevailing over short-term politics. Such deserves to be the case for a proposal to unite Pacific salmon recovery under the oversight of a new federal salmon director.

Although this person probably will inevitably be dubbed the salmon czar, calling him or her "King Fish" offers better opportunities for amusement.

As reported last week in the Los Angeles Times, more than 75 fishing organizations from six Pacific states — Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Nevada and Alaska - sent President Barack Obama a letter asking for the new post. Severe problems with Sacramento River salmon runs sharply limited West Coast's commercial salmon fishing the past two seasons.

The letter urges White House involvement as a way to "protect and restore dwindling populations of Pacific salmon and steelhead and the tens of thousands of jobs in our states that depend upon them."

For anyone who follows the tortuous migration of salmon policy over the years, the current proposal bears similarities to the plan for a single multi-state coordinating entity for Pacific Northwest efforts. This plan fell apart in 2000 when Washington's then-Gov. Gary Locke opted out.

The new idea is less appealing, in that it wouldn't be based here in the region and currently doesn't seem to explicitly encompass key parts of the discussion like hydropower production and tribal treaty obligations. But even so, it would be better to have one Washington, D.C. office with real power to deal with salmon issues, instead of the highly dispersed and dysfunctional mish-mash that now governs.

As we editorialized nine years ago, striving for centralized control of salmon recovery, dams, electricity generation and habitat restoration is a gamble. It will require congressional cooperation and political backbone to overcome institutional inertia and special interests. It could impact power rates, fishing seasons and all sorts of other factors.

A single coordinating entity with real power wouldn't do away with these turf battles and bureaucracy, but could go far toward introducing accountability into a West Coast issue that is thoroughly Balkanized — split among a dozen federal agencies, six states, numerous tribes, water users and almost countless landowners.

Making a genuine effort to address the seemingly intractable issues surrounding salmon recovery would go a long way toward building President's Obama's credibility and legacy here in the far West. Naming a King Fish is a decent place to start.


No comments: