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Difficult decisions ahead on nutrients and salmon restoration

Against the force of gravity, Pacific Northwest salmon once conveyed considerable quantities of nutrients from the sea upstream into freshwater ecosystems, but as salmon runs dwindled over the past 150 years, so has this source of nutrients. Now, without this oceanic enrichment, lakes and streams are nutrient deficient. One strategy to help restore salmon is to add nutrients such as raw or processed salmon carcasses, and commercially produced fertilizers to headwater areas. Many restoration advocates are suggesting the addition of nutrients to help restore salmon runs, a strategy that conflicts with existing policies that view such nutrients as water pollution.

Robert T. Lackey, Special Assistant for Salmon Research at WED, is analyzing the implications of this issue to environmental policies and regulations. His findings will be a chapter in a book published by the American Fisheries Society. He reports that there are many concerns that need to be evaluated carefully before environmental protection agencies develop general policies or promulgate specific regulations regarding requests for permits to add nutrients to rivers and lakes in the Pacific Northwest. Given the intense public commitment to restore runs of wild salmon and the likelihood that the addition of nutrients will be seriously considered in salmon-recovery efforts, the policy challenge for agencies will be to craft policies that carefully balance the apparent need for removal of nutrients to enhance water quality at some locations with the need for the addition of nutrients at other locations to help restore salmon runs. (Contact R.T. Lackey, 541-754-4607; lackey.robert@epa.gov)

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