For a long time, scientists have been warning that we’re depleting the oceans faster than they can replenish themselves. We’ve been catching smaller and smaller fish, leaving fewer mature adults to repopulate fish stocks, and illegally fishing protected waters. Now we’ve done it again, with the Pacific salmon.
As an article in today’s New York Times points out rather calmly, the entire Western Pacific wild salmon stock has collapsed. Pacific salmon stocks aren’t diminished, or threatened, or in decline. They have collapsed.
Federal officials are probably going to close the both the commercial and sport fisheries from Mexico up through Oregon, leaving the Washington state and Alaska fisheries. At this point, it’s not clear that that’s enough to rejuvenate the fishery. Robert Lohn, the regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service said that, “the Central Valley fall Chinook salmon are in the worst condition since records began to be kept. This is the largest collapse of salmon stocks in 40 years.” In fall 2007, the number of adolescent salmon, one year away from adulthood, was 6% of the long-term average. This is not a hiccup, it’s part of a larger catastrophe. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the most prominent fisheries experts believe that fish catches peaked in 1994, and are in a steady decline thereafter. Moreover, it’s not clear how much of an effect closing fisheries will have, as some federal oceanic scientists speculate that abnormal ocean conditions are negatively affecting the young salmons’ food chain. In either case, this is a bad sign.