NOAA: Sea Lion Advocates and Fishermen Find More Common Ground than Expected
Two prominent Obama administration officials were in Oregon today to discuss salmon recovery. NOAA chief (and former OSU professor) Jane Lubchenco and White House Council on Environmental Quality chairwoman Nancy Sutley came to talk salmon, but pointedly did not allow participation from the public -- indeed, the doors were closed to almost everyone. This did not stop sea lion advocates, anglers, and other stakeholders from making their voices heard anyway.
Despite the incredibly short notice, dozens of people showed up with signs, banners, and lots of spirit. I had actually expected to meet with some tension from the fishermen who had promised to be there. However, when I arrived and began talking to the other groups, I was pleasantly surprised and amazed at how articulate and well-informed this particular crowd was on this issue. While all were clear that they were there to talk salmon, every single person that I spoke with told me that they did not support killing sea lions, and that in fact, targeting sea lions as part of a salmon "recovery" plan is ridiculous. Sea lion advocates and anglers immediately found common ground on numerous issues: All of us care about real salmon recovery; None of us believes killing sea lions is the answer; All of us want to see dams removed from the Snake river; All of us want to see habitat restoration.
While we did avoid the sticky issue of the impact of over-fishing on salmon recovery, it was nevertheless clear that there was a lot more common ground than differences between our respective sides. By the end, we were actually carrying each others' signs -- some of the fishermen carried signs supporting sea lions, and some of us carried their "science not politics" signs. Besides the Sea Lion Defense Brigade and In Defense of Animals, I also saw people there from Save Our Wild Salmon, Klamath Riverkeepers, NW Steelheaders, the National Wildlife Federation, and even the Sierra Club, among others.
Some stood with signs and cheered and chanted, others circled the building towing trailered boats festooned with banners that read, for example, "Remove the Dams" and "We need salmon!"
I talked with one fisherman who said, "The science is clear: Eight dams is too many dams." He went on to talk about the 4 Snake river dams and the 4 Columbia river dams that are "Strangling what was once a massive salmon and steelhead run, and could be again." Another man who identified himself as an Oregon angler told me that he felt that killing sea lions to save salmon was "the height of stupid," and that "It's really obvious that these animals are not the ones causing the problem." He said that he wants to see the dams addressed, and that he is not happy with fishermen who "buy the hype" about sea lions. He noted that sea lions do sometimes eat salmon from fish-hooks, but he sensibly pointed out, "First, it's their river and they were here first, and second, you can't say that salmon was going on to spawn anyway because it was about to be killed anyway." He said that dealing with dams and habitat loss is important to salmon recovery, and that killing natural predators is not.
Aside from these enlightening encounters, I also had several people walk up to me throughout the morning, read my sign, and say things like, "We totally agree" and "I'm happy you guys are here."
Overall, I felt heartened to learn that the fishermen who have been posting on this site recently (see, for example, the comments on this article: http://sealiondefensebrigade.org/?p=375) do not represent all fishermen. It was good to learn that we can find common ground after all, and that all of us care about salmon recovery enough to see through ridiculous schemes to scapegoat and kill sea lions instead of addressing the real issues that are driving salmon to extinction. "Science, Not Politics," indeed.
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