Monday, 8:15 AM. 40 degrees F, wind again W, calm. The sky is again uniformly overcast with high gray cloud cover. There is a band of lighter clouds on the eastern horizon but that is the only sign of the sun. At dawn the whole east hemisphere of the sky was suffused with the faintest pink light, which was very soft and beautiful, and yesterday evening the moon and stars were caught in a fine mist net of high clouds. The barometer has not yet risen from the depths of its depression.
I have mentioned before the excellent news periodical published by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), available by contacting the organization at MAINA’IGAN, P.0. Box 9, Odanah, WI 54861, phone 715-682-6619, and mailed free to US and Canadian citizens. The current issue has many interesting articles, but one that really captured my imagination regards the ongoing efforts to increase Pacific salmon and lamprey spawning on the Columbia River.
There are a series of dams on the river, including the largest, Bonneville Dam, built in 1933 during the heyday of United States dam building for flood control and electricity production. These dams, unfortunately, blocked the spawning runs of the Pacific salmon and lamprey, greatly damaging the economies and lifestyles of the Indians living in the Columbia River watershed, as the native population harvested these species for both their own use and for trade. The cultural and economic damage to the tribes did not end there, as their best crop land, and many village sites and burial grounds were inundated.
Over the years, fish ladders and other devices have been installed to allow the migrating fish to swim upstream and complete their life cycles. GLIFWC’s counterpart, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, has worked with the federal government to increase both the production of the fishery and Indian access to it (building parking lots, boat ramps and access roads to the river, which is otherwise rather inaccessible due to the high water and steep banks created by the dams).
The whole cooperative venture has been so successful that lampreys and salmon now not only migrate upriver to spawn, but congregate in great numbers in pools below the dams waiting their turn to ascend the ladders. At first this appeared to be a great opportunity for the Indians to catch the fish; but soon the great concentration of fish attracted hordes of sea lions, who would not pass up an easy meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner). One would think that the Indians now would have the best of all worlds, feasting on the sea lions as well as the salmon and lamprey.
An aside: in the Great Lakes region the lampreys, which are an invasive species parasitic on salmon and other large fish, are killed in electric weirs in the spawning streams as well as poisoned in the larval stage. Perhaps we are missing the boat, so to speak, and should be eating them and even exporting them to the Pacific Northwest and to France, where I understand they are considered a great delicacy, like eels and snails).
At any rate, it turns out that the Indians do not in actuality have the best of all sea worlds, as the sea lions are a protected species and cannot be killed and eaten, or even physically removed. So it is the sea lions that eat many of the fish which would otherwise continue up river to spawn and provide for the Indians, who are again left holding the bag, or in this case an empty net.
There is an upside to this upside down story, however, as scaring the sea lions away from their seafood feast with specialized fireworks has become the summer job of college interns…who one assumes are learning far more about ecology on the banks of the Columbia River than in the classroom.
But I wonder if the story ends here, and I think that perhaps the grizzly bears may yet come o feast upon the feeding sea lions, and then the killer whales upon the swimming bears. And who knows what Mother Nature may yet have in mind for the zany two-legged creatures who started it all?