Sunday, July 17, 2011
Where Have All The Salmon Gone? Did We Listen To Our History?
A Lament by: Evelyn Leahy Hankel
The recent popular song lamenting the disappearance of nature's treasures could very well have added to the demise of our King Salmon and all his relatives thus:
"Where have al the Salmon gone?
Long time passing,
Gone to canneries every one
Long time passing,
Nature cannot yet return.
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?
How very difficult it is for us Astorians to bid farewell to Astoria's great source of wealth without shedding a tear for our own "Deaf Ear" policy toward those who tried to warn us of impending tragedy down through the years from the beginning of the industry.
The first cannery on the Columbia was located at Eagle Cliff in the year 1866(145 years ago). That year 4000 cases of Salmon were packed. At the end of a seemingly successful year, why did the owners sell out? They felt that the river was already fished out but, graduallt the pack increased till 1895(116 years ago) when some 634,000 cases were packed.
Again the warning came in 1920-21(91 years ago) when the runs were badly depleted due, the experts cautioned, to use of purse seines which destroyed the young fish. Though this method was outlawed, a short run again appeared in 1925-26(86 years ago). This time the poor run was attributed "to certain disturbances of a political nature which partially disrupted the hatchery program and to certain climatic conditions which caused the heavy spring run to enter the river in advance of the fishing season." This according to reports in the Morning Astorian of July 22, 1926.
Also that year a full page of the same paper was given to dire warnings from Hugh C. Mitchell of the Salomon Protective Association claiming the chief enemies of the fishing industry were irrigation, hydro-electric development and pollution of the streams. Fifty-four years ago(1926) our eyes and breathshould have been caught by this flamboyant page. Did we listen and learn?
Mr. Mitchell considered the firts two enemies, irrigation and hydro-electric, to be serious as they had already cut-off the great spawning area for the Salmon, yet he believed that pollution was the major cause of the depletion and the most deadly to fish life. The filth from the cities, chemicals from paper, woolen and other mills and factories are all into the streams in utter disregard of the law, ultimately destroying every vestige of fish life.
Hugh Mitchell urged that scientific methods be employed to determine steps necessary to correct existing evils and to effect remeidies. He begged thoughtful citizens to lend their every effort to the protection of this, Oregon's third greates source of wealth. He lamented that a great resource was being permitted to peter-out. It is undervalued because it runs along each year and is utilized and enjoyed with the feeling that nature will function and will supply us with yearly returns and renewals while our own indifference causes us to supplement and in many cases supplant nature.
We were told that the future of the Salmon industry is in the hands of the men and women of this section of the country and particulary those who rside in territory bordering on the tributary to the Columbia River. That future may either be one or greater in value and may see increased industry or it may be a future in which the Salmon industry will be but a memory.
However serious the situation may have appeared by 1930(81 years ago), it was then, by no means, a lost cause. It was, however, a steadily losing cause though many adequate remedies were begun. The fine work of the Oregon hatcheries and the protective organizations was not to be overlooked but, the speedy extinction of the fish supply surprised even the alert The junking of the fish industry in the nation's great fishing grounds came in on a rip tide of events in the 1980's(31 years ago).
Fifty years late, your words penetrate our loss Mr. Mitchell and we weep. How we will miss the great fishing industry begun by our ancestors in this city by the sea. How we will long to see once more the bosom of that great river at night dotted with the twinkling lights of gillnetters drifting with the tide, or those of us who can remember the magnificent site of the immense fleet come sweeping in with full sail to rest beside our miles of docks. Where have they gone? - the troller with the silver spoon, the purse seiner or "Black Feet" as condemned by legislature, the seining grounds seen from shore as a fascinating sight as horses drag the nets loaded with Chinook, Steelhead, Blueback, Silverside.
Like the herds of Buffalo that once roamed the plains of the middle west or the vast pgeon flight that darkened the skys, the King Salmon has become a memory in our mighty river, in our canneries, on our table.
Will nature replenish if we allow this respite?
CUMTUX - Summer 1982
The Clatsop County Historical Society Quarterly