CENTER FOR NATURAL RESOURCE POLICY
  
Information & Membership
Publications & Reports menu_arrow.gif (154 bytes)
NW Indian Virtual Library
Links
back

WASHINGTON’S AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY AND STATUS OF THE SALMON AND STEELHEAD STOCKS

STATUS OF THE STOCKS

Salmon, steelhead, trout, and the other salmonid fishes have been an integral part of the culture and economy of the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years. These resources are a symbol of Washington state’s natural beauty as well as a critical part of its economy. Commercial and recreational fisheries in Washington support tens of thousands of jobs, and annually generate over one billion dollars of income to the state's economy. Recreational fishing provides countless hours of outdoor enjoyment with friends and family. In 1991, nearly one million Washington anglers over the age of 16 spent nearly 12 million days fishing. In addition, each year several million visitors and tourists contribute some $4.8 billion to the Washington economy. The state's major attractions are its scenic beauty and environment.

Salmon are also important to the culture and religion of Native Americans, and they support many fishing-dependent coastal communities. Salmon also make important contributions to the health of our ecosystems. Yet, with an anticipated growth rate of 2.7 million more people by 2020, our state is rapidly losing the resources necessary to support healthy salmonid stocks.

Recent surveys have identified a number of salmonid stocks at risk due to habitat loss, over fishing, loss of genetic fitness and diversity, and reduced marine productivity. A joint tribal-state survey of the status of Washington salmon and steelhead stocks was done in 1992 (WDFW et al 1993). Of the stocks where enough information was available to determine status, 42% were identified as either depressed or critical (See Figures 1 and 2). A recent survey of Dolly Varden and bull trout stocks found that only 17% of the stocks were at no immediate risk of extinction. In other studies, 26 salmon or steelhead stocks from Puget Sound and the Washington Coast are at risk of extinction, 8 at moderate risk, and 7 of special concern (Nehlson et al. 1991).

This decline in stock status has lead to the loss of fishing opportunities. In recent years, the ocean coast of Washington has twice been closed to salmon fishing, and fishing has been severely limited in the Columbia River, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, and a number of inside areas. In addition, many local and tribal communities have lost their identities and livelihoods due to a loss of their fisheries resource. This has resulted in the loss of social, cultural, religious, and ecological benefits that are important to Washington’s quality of life.

As population continues to increase within our state, we continue to lose approximately 30,000 acres of fish habitat every year to other uses. This, coupled with concerns about overfishing and other problems, has lead to actual and potential listings of salmonid stocks under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Listing of species can be an important step to recovery, but listing of species hinders local governments’ and private landowners’ ability to maintain local control of the land and natural resources. In addition, recovery efforts to bring back healthy salmon stocks are costly to Washington citizens and increasingly difficult as more and more habitat is lost each year.

To meet the needs described above requires robust and productive wild salmon runs that can survive and flourish despite the stresses of nature and man. This requires productive, fully functional habitats. For without healthy habitats for the fish, we will have no fish.

Clearly, there are a number of reasons for the decline of salmon habitat and resources; urbanization, forest practices, municipal and industrial pollution, and agricultural practices. In response, we as a society have tried to make accountable a variety of these land and water practices for the protection of our fish and water resources. We have the Growth Management Act for development and urbanization, the Forest Practices Act and National Forest Management Act for state, private, and federal forest land management, federal Clean Water Act and State Water Pollution Control Act to primarily address "point" source pollution. However, we as a society have not developed a functional system of accountability for agricultural practices to protect our health, safety, environment, or water quality.

AGRICULTURAL IMPACTS

Even 25 years ago we recognized agricultural activities were the predominant contributor of nonpoint source pollution in both rivers and lakes throughout the country. In 1984, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that the principal sources of nonpoint pollution vary between the regions, "but agricultural sources are identified as the most pervasive nonpoint source in every region." In fact, "it is considered the most serious cause in most of the EPA Regions." Report to Congress: Nonpoint Source Pollution in the U.S., U.S. EPA, January 1984.

Agriculture is the remaining major unregulated source of environmental -- primarily water -- pollutants. The Issues and the Policy: View from OMB, EPA Journal, vol. 17, No. 5, Nov/Dec 1991. The agricultural community has continually taken the approach of holding out for compensation and subsidization rather than taking action consistent with their responsibilities to the public. For any other sector of the economy, allocating the financial burden for prevention of contamination is an easily settled matter: The polluter pays and is compelled to do so through regulation. Society cannot continue with subsidization of the agricultural community without greater responsibility and accountability of their land and water management practices.

There is NO credible scientific debate whether agricultural (including grazing) practices have significant detrimental impacts to our water quality, fish habitat, and salmon resources. Farming results in massive alterations of the landscape and the aquatic and riparian ecosystems. In general, the effects of agriculture on the land surface are more severe than logging or grazing because vegetation removal is permanent and disturbances to soil often occur several times per year. In addition, much agriculture takes place on the historical floodplains of river systems, where it has a direct impact on stream channels and riparian functions.

Summarized below are some of the impacts caused by agricultural and grazing practices to salmon habitat and water quality:

r Irrigated agriculture frequently requires diversion of surface waters, which decreases water availability and quality for salmonids and other aquatic species.

r Natural grasslands, woodlands, and wetlands have been eliminated to produce domestic crops.

r Repeated tillage, fertilization, pesticide application, and harvesting of the cropped acreage significantly alters physical soil characteristics and soil microorganisms.

r Changes in soils and vegetation on agricultural lands typically result in lower infiltration rates, which yield greater and more rapid runoff.

r Agricultural lands contribute substantial quantities of sediment to streams. The Soil Conservation Service (SCS 1984) estimated that 92% of the total sediment yield in the Snake and Walla Walla River Basins resulted from sheet and rill erosion from croplands--lands that accounted for only 43% of the total land area.

r Removal of riparian forests and shrubs for agriculture reduces shading and increases wind speeds, which can greatly increase water temperatures in streams passing through agricultural lands.

r Agricultural practices substantially modify the water quality of streams. In a nationwide analysis of 928 catchments, streams draining agricultural areas had mean concentrations of total phosphorus and total nitrogen 900% greater than those in streams draining forested lands.

r Agricultural practices typically include stream channelization, large woody debris removal, construction of revetments and removal of natural riparian vegetation. Each of these activities reduces physical habitat complexity, decreases channel stability, and alters the food base of the stream.

r Agricultural practices cause detrimental biological changes in aquatic ecosystems.

r Grazing causes compaction of rangeland soils and increase surface runoff.

r Livestock presence in riparian zones increases sediment transport rates by increasing both surface erosion and mass wasting.

r The removal of riparian vegetation along rangeland streams result in increased solar radiation and thus increased temperatures.

r Livestock induced changes in physical structure within streams result from the combined effects of modified hydrologic and sediment transport processes in uplands and the removal of vegetation within the riparian zone.

r Loss of riparian vegetation from livestock grazing generally leads to stream channels that are wider and shallower than those in ungrazed or properly grazed streams.

RIPARIAN BUFFERS

Riparian buffers are the key to protecting and allowing for the recovery of salmon habitat, the resource, and water quality. Although riparian buffers alone are insufficient to ensure healthy salmonid habitats, there is consensus in the scientific community that protection and recovery of riparian ecosystems should be central to all salmonid conservation efforts on both public and private lands.

There are six specific functions of riparian zones that are essential to the development and maintenance of aquatic habitats favorable to salmon. Riparian vegetation provides:

  • shade to stream channels,
  • contributes large woody debris to streams,
  • adds small organic matter to streams,
  • stabilizes streambanks,
  • controls sediment inputs from surface erosion, and
  • regulates nutrient and pollutant inputs to streams.

Removal of riparian vegetation through grazing, agriculture, or other means can diminish each of the important functions listed above. The removal of overhead cover results in more extreme temperatures during both the summer and winter through greater radiative heating and cooling. The lack of recruitment and active removal of large woody debris has left many streams in the state depleted of large wood that is essential in creating pool and off-channel habitats, retaining sediments and organic materials, creating hydraulic and physical complexity, and providing overhead cover for salmonids.

Riparian buffers must be established for all land-use types, in particular, agriculture, and should be designed to maintain and restore the full array of ecological processes (i.e., shading, organic debris inputs, bank stability, sediment control, and nutrient regulation) needed to create and maintain favorable condition through time.

Regional and statewide salmon and steelhead stocks

 

CHINOOK

  CHUM 

  COHO 

  PINK 

SOCKEYE

STEELHEAD

PUGET SOUND

           

N. Puget Sound

15

12

14

7

1

22

S. Puget Sound

10

23

11

2

3

13

Hood Canal

1

12

9

3

0

11

Strait of Juan de Fuca

3

8

12

3

0

14

Totals

29

55

46

15

4

60

             

COASTAL

           

N. Coast

21

6

18

0

3

24

Grays Harbor

9

2

7

0 0

10

Willapa

2

6

1

0 0

6

Totals

32

14

26

0

3

40

             

COLUMBIA RIVER

           

Lower Columbia

17

3

18

0 0

23

Upper Columbia

30

0 0 0

2

18

Totals

47

3

18

0

2

41

             

STATEWIDE TOTAL

108

72

90

15

9

141

435 TOTAL STOCKS

           

 


Summary of salmon and steelhead stock status by species
(Percent of Stocks)

HEALTHY

DEPRESSED

CRITICAL

UNKNOWN

Chinook 50.0% 32.4% 4.6% 13.0%
Coho 41.1% 37.8% 1.1% 20.0%
Chum 67.6% 4.2% 2.8% 25.4%
Pink 60.0% 13.3% 13.3% 13.3%
Sockeye 33.3% 44.4% 11.1% 11.1%
Steelhead 25.5% 31.2% 0.7% 42.6%

 

Back to the Top

 

back

Copyright 1999 -  Center for Natural Resource Policy