Obama’s Salmon Comments: It’s (not) Funny because it’s True

All apologies for the webcation, it’s been ducksteelieskiingboarding season with a new issue and couple trade shows thrown in for good measure. Have been meaning however to reference Obama’s recent SOTU speech comments about salmon being the ultimate example of government inefficiency; in a speech somewhat short on specifics and long on pathos, it was a humorous moment. Until, that is, like a dirt farmer laughing at a joke about dirt farmers, I realized any comedy therein was simply tragi-comedy — because it was both true and terrible.

In case you missed, the President said: “Then there’s my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in freshwater, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”

The truth is that there are far more than three Federal bodies involved in salmon — among others: NOAA, the Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineeers and the various tribal governments all have a hand in the habitat and management of salmon. And I assume we are talking about Pacific salmon and not Great Lakes Salmon. Which are not salmon as far as Obama’s reference was concerned.

And while the sheer dollars, effort and number of agencies involved may make for good politicking, the tragic part of the tragi-comedy is that in the Puget Sound, for example, it is all having a fairly negligible effect on maintaining a quality sportfishery — while simultaneously assuring the decimation will continue through overstocking via hatcheries, overfishing via the tribes and commercial boats, too many dams, too much clear cutting and effectively no stormwater controls in the lowlands.

The byzantine system which manages salmon, could, I imagine be run far more efficiently. However, the fact that this touchstone fish swims through as many departments as it does Snake River dams, is only indicative of it’s import. Salmon are: food, sport, endangered, wild, domestic, ocean fish, river fish, lake fish, nutrients for juveniles, food for adults, spirits to the indigenious, a livelihood, a brokered commodity, a restraunt dish, a mainstay for brown bears and eagles, an indicator species, a reminder of what was and a promise of return. The fact that this creature is governed by multiple agencies is simply reflective of these various roles. No one expects the Forest Service to be in the business of regulating pulp mills. And as a resource, salmon are a lot more like trees, than say… bass, crappie, brook trout, ling cod or any other species that tends to stay put and not engender massive lawsuits.

And I’m not really sure efficiency is the paramount goal here. The Nazis were really efficient. I think conservation, sustainability and cultural preservation are the most important issues facing salmon and salmon fishing — however many, or few, agencies are involved.

I’d like to laugh, Mr. Obama; but the tragedy of politics continually trumping science is the real joke. And in the Puget Sound, with virtually all the rivers now shut down for wild steelie fishing, the joke is on us.


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