Salmon 2100: The Future of Wild Pacific Salmon

Introduction: The Challenge of Restoring Wild Salmon

Robert T. Lackey, Denise H. Lach, and Sally L. Duncan


Restoring runs of wild salmon is a widely professed goal for the region of western North America encompassing southern British Columbia, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and California. Some people accord wild salmon mythological status, and thus, their calls for protection take on the tone of religious fervor. Substantial support for wild salmon recovery also comes from those who fish for salmon. Others fold the saving of wild salmon into broader environmental concerns.

But whatever the motivation to protect and recover wild salmon, it is unlikely to happen if current trajectories in human population and development continue. The implications of science findings in both biology and economics have yet to be adequately explained. And dramatic changes in salmon recovery trends would have to occur if the restoration undertaken to date were to have any measurable chance of success. For all the talk of sustainability, society has yet to make the painfully difficult choices required to achieve it.

At best, we can say what is likely. Through the 21st century, appreciable year-to- year variation in the size of wild salmon runs probably will occur. In addition, short-term trends will continue to be confusing because of decadal fluctuations caused by cyclic climatic and oceanic changes. Most stocks of wild salmon in the region, however, likely will remain at their current low levels or continue to decline despite costly restoration efforts. Based on historical patterns, another cyclic climatic and oceanic change likely will occur early in the 21st century, extend for several decades, and stimulate modest increases in the size of wild salmon runs. However, the long-term trend is likely to remain downward (Hare et al. 1999).