A plan to save dwindling wild salmon runs could boil down to a choice between fish and chips.
Idaho potato farmers own the water that some say could save the salmon. Farmers say using their water to save the fish could wipe out the state's potato business.Participants in the Pacific Northwest Salmon Summit had to weigh such difficult choices. The summit concluded three days of meetings at the Bonneville Power Administration's Portland offices Wednesday.
The group included representatives from Northwest states, utilities, Indian tribes and conservation groups all looking for ways to restore the Snake River's spring, summer and fall wild chinook and sockeye salmon runs.
Conservation groups want to put those fish under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. But as with the northern spotted owl, such a listing would have economic effects.
Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., who convened the panel, wants a completed plan by February. He has said the Northwest must devise a fish recovery plan before the federal government steps in and declares the salmon endangered species. Hatfield fears such a listing could have drastic effects on the Northwest's economy.
Summit members say young salmon need a quicker, safer journey to the sea. They say the Army Corps of Engineers must make costly changes in the operation at eight Columbia and Snake river dams that are killing the fish, or the stocks will have no chance to recover.
"The cause of the decline ought to be the source of the recovery," said Don McIsaac, salmon program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The summit also is considering a proposal to increase the number of juvenile fish trucked and barged around the dams. Doug Arndt, a biologist for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the corps rescued 28 million fish last year from the dams by taking them around.
But Frank Young, a salmon specialist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said most of the fish died after they entered the ocean.
"Transportation could be a detriment," he said, echoing the thoughts of many other biologists.
For now, summit members assume the slow flow in the Snake is the chief problem.
Fred Crase, an environmental specialist for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Boise, said the agency could put more water in the Snake River by partially draining several reservoirs in Idaho. It could release the water between mid-April and mid-June, when almost all the year-old spring and summer chinook from the Snake are headed toward the sea.
The effect would be to flush the fish downstream faster.
"We don't know if this will work," Crase said.