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Salmon Without Rivers by Jim Lichatowich

By Edited Oct 3, 2016 0 0

Salmon Without Rivers looks at the roots and evolution of the salmon crisis in the Pacific Northwest and describes the factors of the past 150 years that have led to the salmon's decline. It examines in depth, the failure of restoration efforts and includes appendixes, tables, and figures.

The book was written by Jim Lichatowich, a fisheries scientist for over twenty-nine years, working most of that time in salmon management and research in Oregon and Washington. He is a member of three independent teams of scientists investigating the salmon crisis. He has also written numerous scientific and technical papers on the history, current status, and future prospects of salmon. His works have appeared in a variety of publications including Trout magazine, Peninsula magazine, Riverkeeper, and Shirkin Comment.

His book, Salmon Without Rivers chronicles the plight of the Pacific Northwest salmon.  He describes the various factors that have led to the salmon's decline, and examines in depth the failure of the restoration efforts, focused almost exclusively on hatcheries to return salmon stocks to healthy levels without addressing the underlying causes of the decline. Lichatowich does an excellent job of describing the evolution of the salmon beginning with the formation of the land millions of years ago to the destruction of the salmon population prior to the industrial revolution.  This book is intended to inform the reader of how humans are capable of destroying the natural habitat for the pure motivation of greed.  Island Press, a non-profit organization that published books regarding environmental issues, printed this book.   

Lichatowich starts out by describing prehistoric salmon species and how they survived the cataclysmic changes that occurred.  The ice age caused rivers and lakes to protrude through the land, allowing passageways for salmon to travel.  Thousands of years passed and the salmon was occasionally fished for meals but overall were allowed to spawn and repopulate.  Even with the arrival of the first Indians, salmon were not an endangered species.  The relationship between the salmon and the Indians was one of respect and reverence.  The Indians appreciated the salmon and offered thanksgiving through religious ceremonies.  It was not until the first European explorers arrived that started the depletion of the salmon population.

European explorers realized the great opportunity to profit large amounts of money by the trading of fur and salmon.  Lichatowich indicates how salmon is no longer viewed as a means of survival but as a commodity.  More and more settlers entered the new land and felt entitled to everything nature had to offer.  Lichatowich says, “Ever since Euro-Americans arrived in the Northwest, the belief that ecosystems can be simplified and controlled has guided their relationship with the salmon.” (p.43) This was just the beginning.  The gold rush was yet to come.

The gold rush of 1849 brought more over harvesting and devastation to the salmon.  People migrated to the Pacific Northwest by the thousands, in the hopes to strike it rich.  Mining in the rivers ruined waterbeds and the salmon that swam through them.  The industrial revolution brought the destruction of the natural habitat in the hopes of advancing the booming economy.

Salmon was fished and sold for profit but by the time people on the East coast would receive their salmon it was rotten.  Once the concept of canning was invented, over harvesting was inevitable.  Several companies entered the canning industry and each wanted to fish more salmon then the other.  Salmon was now an industry.  The result was over fishing of salmon and the abundance of fish left to rot.  It was apparent that the salmon population was in jeopardy so the incorporation of artificial fertilization through hatcheries was created.

Hatcheries were developed in order to repopulate the salmon.  However, the salmon population did not thrive and more problems started to occur.  As early as the 1930’s environmentalist were calling for salmon refuges but it was not until the 1970’s that laws were put into place and actually enforced.  He suggests sportsmen who launched a political campaign in Oregon to halt ocean trolling were hypocritical not because they still wanted to catch fish themselves but because their media campaign consumed river products like paper and electricity and he calls urban stream restoration efforts "small and futile gestures" without offering a cost-benefit analysis proving why.

Lichatowich explains the attack on the salmon from the various industries and the reasons people had for the devastation.   He gives detailed information and examples of how different events resulted in the depletion of the salmon population.  For example, the trade and timber industry, mining and the building of dams all contributed to the reduction of salmon.  Lichatowich also reports on several key figures in history and their relation, whether preserving or destroying, of the salmon. 

Throughout the book, he argues that the dominant worldview of our society (a worldview that denies connections between humans and the natural world) has created the conflict and controversy that characterize the recent history of salmon. He theorizes that unless that worldview is challenged and changed, there is little hope for recovery. 

Overall the book does an excellent job of informing the reader about the history and treatment of the natural habitat in the Pacific Northwest.  Lichatowich writes about the mistreatment of the salmon but does not give any real advice on how to correct the problem.  He writes, "In decrying the excesses of other resource users, environmentalists have artfully converted self-interest into principle." In the epilogue, he describes watching a salmon struggle on the riverbed and his desire to go and save it.  He stops himself and observes how the salmon struggles but manages to swim to its destination. Lichatowich expresses how the salmon has managed to stay in existence this long and maybe, by leaving them alone, they will be able to reproduce and thrive.  Salmon Without Rivers exposes the myths that have guided recent human-salmon interactions. It explains the difficult choices facing the citizens of the region, and provides insight into one of the most tragic chapters in our nation's environmental history. It will make you think about salmon and their history.

For additional information on other interesting topics see the following articles:

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