Human Nature, the Growth Imperative, and the Precarious State of Wild Pacific Salmon
William E. Rees
The precarious state of the world’s wild salmon stocks has been thoroughly documented elsewhere, and Lackey et al. (2006b, this volume) provide a useful summary of the status of Pacific Salmon on the West Coast of North America. In brief, and recognizing the uncertainty that clouds some data, it is clear that hundreds of wild stocks have been driven to extinction, others are on the brink, and many others are at risk of extirpation should current trends continue. In North America, Alaskan runs provide the only truly bright star in the otherwise darkening sky over Pacific coast salmon.
But before we renew the grand policy debate on how to hasten a brilliant new dawn for salmon, let us consider the salmon problem in a global context. Staying with fisheries for a moment, it has been clear for some time that the seas are no match for modern fishing technology. North America—the world, for that matter—received a dramatic wake-up call in 1992 with the collapse of the Newfoundland cod fishery. For five centuries, Atlantic cod Gadus morhua stocks had continuously supported what had became the world’s greatest and most important fishery by the mid-20th century, so many people seemed caught off guard by its ultimate implosion. But surprise was unwarranted. The decline of the cod fishery had been evident in the data for 30 years and was only one particularly striking example of an increasingly general pattern.