Technology with attitude

Of salmon and trout and canaries in a coal mine.


Just in case anyone is not familiar with the meaning of the phrase “like a canary in a coal mine” this is it:

“Early coal mines did not feature ventilation systems, so miners would routinely bring a caged canary into new coal seams. Canaries are especially sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide, which made them ideal for detecting any dangerous gas build-ups. As long as the canary in a coal mine kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe. A dead canary in a coal mine signaled an immediate evacuation.”

I bring this up because wild Salmonids (trout and salmon) are often referred to as the canaries in the environmental and watershed “coal mine”. They require cold clean fast flowing water. They are hypersensitive to pollution, water flow, silt, and water temperature. If conditions are changed due to the effect of logging near streams, or rivers being dammed and providing insufficient flow, or wildlife management policies that permit overfishing, the trout and salmon die. It is that simple.

One example (among many) of how this metaphor is used:

“The abundance and health of the fish themselves remain in most cases the best integrated measure of the ecosystems that salmon traverse and inhabit. Salmon are often likened to the canary in the coal mine…”Pacific Salmon & Their Ecosystems

Again, this quote is one of many that make the point that Salmon and Trout populations are an early warning system for our water quality, watershed and wildlife management policy.

Paraphrased from author Thomas McGuane

Canaries in the Pacific Watershed
Last week, we learned the bad news. On the Pacific coast, the canary is dead. We now know for a fact we have a real environmental problem in the ecology of the river system “coal mine”:

Is Calif. salmon fishery finished?
SAN FRANCISCO, April 13 (UPI) — The one-year ban on fishing for Chinook salmon could kill the commercial salmon fishery in California, officials said. The number of boats has dropped from 4,000 to 400 in 15 years, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

End of coast’s 150-year-old fishery looms
Carl Nolte, Chronicle Staff Writer Saturday, April 12, 2008
The ban on all commercial and sport fishing for chinook salmon in California and most of Oregon this year could be the beginning of the end for a whole way of life. Commercial fishing is an industry that is deep in the heart of life along California’s 1,000-mile coast, where fishing ports from Crescent City to Morro Bay have supported generations of fishing families. Now, for the first time since commercial fishing began on the West Coast more than 150 years ago during the Gold Rush era, no boats will be permitted to put to sea to fish for Chinook, the fabled king salmon that is the mainstay of the commercial fishery.

The question goes begging. What happened to the salmon? There are many theories, and scientists are, as yet, unwilling to state that they know the reason. I won’t pretend to have a definitive answer, but I do have an informed opinion.

It starts with an administration that has an ideological agenda to prioritize political and economic interests over wildlife.Then the administration cooks the science to further their ideological objectives. The resulting removal of “endangered” status for wild salmon runs, created a regulatory environment that permitted the wholesale diversion of water from the Klamath and Sacramento Delta Salmon habitat to agricultural interests.

“Although Sacramento River chinook salmon suffer from an array of problems, the most significant are the massive export of water from the California Delta by the state and federal pumps and declining water quality. Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his corporate agribusiness and developer buddies are pushing for a peripheral canal and more dams that would allow the projects to export even more water in an estuary whose fisheries are already crashing. On the Sacramento, where the salmon collapse is the immediate cause of the fishery closure, state and federal government water managers diverted and pumped an all-time record high of 6.4 million acre feet of water from the delta in 2005, the same year juvenile salmon that would have returned as adults in 2007 were attempting to migrate through the delta and out to sea, according to Earthjustice. “What’s happened is no surprise given the massive water diversions from the Sacramento San Francisco Bay delta and the failure to address toxic discharges into this estuary, an ecosystem critical to the survival of the salmon run that drives our west coast fishery,” emphasized Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA). “It’s obvious that we’ve got to go to work to both save fishermen and fix the delta to bring back our fishery.” – Dan Bacher – Truthout – April 11, 2008

And so, the canaries die. The message is clear, when the canaries die, the mine water is not safe.

Canaries in the Wisconsin Watershed
On a more local scale, HDW at HDW Mobile Blog has been waging a campaign to prevent politics and bad science from overriding Wisconsin protections for wild trout in the Prairie River Watershed. As per the example of the West Coast Salmon, to nip the problem in the bud is to head off damaging politics based on bad science early. In an excellent series has been enumerating the top reasons for all who are concerned about maintaining the health of the wild trout “canary in the cold mine” in Central Wisconsin:

Vote Yes on Question 36Reason # 1 – because it is the right thing to do

“On April 14 in every county in Wisconsin the unique Conservation Congress spring hearings will be held. A disgruntled “retired” fisheries manager has been waging a personal war against the enlightened Wisconsin inland trout coldwater fisheries regulations. He has found a like minded group group of the kill more small trout contingent and managed to put to vote the regulations protecting five miles of the prime rearing habitat for native trout in Central Wisconsin’s Prairie River. All Wisconsin citizens are eligible to vote by showing up at the hearings held in every county. The citizens of the surrounding states of Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois, which are generally referred to as Greater Wisconsin, are also eligible to vote on this advisory question. Vote yes on question 36.”

This post may be too late to help HDW in this effort, as the vote is at 7PM tonight in every county of Wisconsin. Less than a hour from when this got posted (don’t ask – flu, computer problems, it’s been a bad day). If you can, get there and vote, and make your voice heard. Locations for hearings can be found here.

x-cerpted and x-posted (with more links and quotes) at “Divided We Stand United We Fall“.