Obama administration to skeptical judge: Bush's salmon-rescue plan is A-OK

To highlight yet another example of how the Obama administration's environmental policies don't always look that different from the Bush administration's, note that today the National Marine Fisheries Service tried to assure a skeptical federal judge that a Bush-era salmon-rescue plan was just fine -- even though it ruled out disabling dams on the Snake River.

For years, U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland has been ruling that the Bush administration's blueprint to bring back struggling salmon runs on the Snake and Columbia rivers just didn't measure up. When environmentalists, tribes, sportfishing interests and the state of Oregon complained that the Obama-era Fisheries Service plan was no better than Bush's, Redden gave the agency three months to review the plan.

A pivotal question is whether four dams on the Snake River -- which produced about 5 percent of the Pacific Northwest's electricity, last I checked -- should be "breached," meaning partially removed to let the river flow more freely again. The dams and the changes they cause in the river kill some of the small salmon migrating to sea there.

After a three-month review, the Fisheries Service said the Bush-era plan needed only minor modifications. It refused to start the years-long planning process that would be required to breach the dams. It didn't even budge on a lesser step: letting more water flow through the dams without producing electricity -- "spill" -- to help the fish.

The best quote of the day -- and even this is a tired analogy, bearing witness to the tenure of this controversy -- came from Nicole Cordan, a campaigner with Save Our Wild Salmon:

Obama's fish regulators facing challenges from both sides of debate on privatizing fisheries

Privatizing fisheries. Sounds bad, eh? And some fishermen's groups are making impassioned pleas against the idea.

On the other hand, some pretty smart people think it's the way to control overfishing and make "fisherman" an occupation that's not so way-high-up on the most-dangerous-jobs list.

This whole debate recently came home to the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle -- known by locals as "the Center of the Universe," and also the location of InvestigateWest's "World Headquarters," as I like to call our small office. Young environmental campaigners stood in front of the PCC Natural Markets co-op gathering signatures in front of signs warning of the demise of the family fisherman.

They're fighting an Obama administration push to divvy up fish catches. Under the plan, the shares of a given fish catch coming out of such a division would become a property right call an Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ. As a property right, it can be sold or traded -- flying in the face of the traditional understanding of fisheries as a common resource.

[caption id="attachment_5771" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="This yelloweye rockfish suffered "barotrauma" when it was yanked quickly from the depths. Reminiscent of how opponents feel about privatizing fisheries, eh? Photo courtesy Oregon State University via Flickr."]This yelloweye rockfish suffered "barotrauma" when it was yanked quickly from the depths. Reminiscent of how opponents feel about privatizing fisheries, eh?</p />
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Will privatizing fishing rights help stocks rebound?

A push to privatize fishing quotas is designed to help end overfishing and is supported by some scientific research, Matthew Preusch of The Oregonian writes. The so-called "individual fishing quotas" are also designed to make fishing safer by ending the "derby-on-the-sea" mentality. Some fisheries scientists say that fishermen who own a share of the catch will be more careful to avoid overfishing that could hurt their future income. Preusch notes that some groups are urging the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to go slow because "divvying up the total allowable catch can't restore fisheries if the total allowable catch is more than the fish stocks can bear." NOAA plans to finalize the plan next summer and put it into effect in 2011.

Will Obama administration stop Arctic fishing?

Today's the comment deadline for an Obama administration proposal to close virtually the entire U.S. portion of the Arctic Ocean to commercial fishing. We were reminded of this by Marilyn Heiman of Oceans North, a new Pew-funded effort to protect, well, northern oceans.  Heiman writes:

If approved, the plan will be the first major move by a government to protect an entire marine ecosystem before commercial fishing takes place.

As Datetline Earth has discussed before, global warming is going gangbusters in the Arctic.  It looks like we could see an ice-free summer there in the next decade.

[caption id="attachment_1794" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Ringed seal in Arctic courtesy Josh London, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration"]Ringed seal in Arctic courtesy Josh London, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration[/caption]

The Arctic Fishery Management Plan that Commerce Secretary Gary Locke (still feels weird to type that instead of  "Washington Gov.") is considering has the support of both Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and her Democratic compatriot from Alaska, Mark Begich.