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Lackey, Robert T. 1999. Salmon policy: science, society, restoration, and reality. Renewable Resources Journal 17(2). (In Press)

Salmon policy in the Pacific Northwest illustrates a class of contentious, socially wrenching issues that are becoming increasingly common in the western United States as demands increase for limited ecological resources. Many Pacific salmon "stocks" (a term used in fisheries management for a group of interbreeding individuals that is roughly equivalent to "population") have declined and some have been extirpated. The salmon "problem" is one of the most vexing public policy challenges in natural resource management. Even with complete scientific knowledge — and scientific knowledge is far from complete or certain — it would be a challenging policy problem. The salmon decline issue is often defined simplistically as a watershed management problem, in part because changes in watersheds are highly visible and often occur on public or corporate lands where individuals and organizations often have direct input to decision making. Yet, changes in climate and ocean conditions, for example, occur frequently and such changes have a major influence on salmon abundance. The scientific challenges are great, but the more difficult — and critical — aspect of the debate concerns policies and decisions affecting everyone, including those involved in rural enterprises (especially farming and logging); manufacturing and construction; electricity generation (including hydro, fossil fuel, and nuclear); national defense; urban development; transportation (including road, rail, air, and water). The debate also involves competing personal rights and freedoms; the prerogatives and roles of local, state, and federal government and Indian tribes; policies on human population level, reproduction, emigration, and immigration; and the future of fishing (commercial, recreational, and Indian). The salmon policy conundrum is characterized by: (1) nearly everyone claims to support maintaining wild salmon runs; (2) many competing societal priorities exist, many of which are partially or wholly mutually exclusive; (3) the region’s rapidly growing human population creates increasing pressures on all natural resources (including salmon and their habitats); (4) policy stances in the salmon debate are solidly entrenched; (5) society expects salmon experts to help solve the salmon problem; (6) each of the many sides of the political debate over the future of salmon use salmon experts and scientific "facts" to bolster its argument; (7) it has proved to be nearly impossible for salmon scientists to avoid being categorized as supporting a particular policy position; and (8) many advocates of policy positions couch their positions in scientific terms rather than value-based preferences. Although far from indisputable, I conclude that over the next century and allowing for considerable year-to-year and decade-to-decade variation, many, perhaps most, stocks of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest likely will remain at their current low levels or continue to decline in spite of costly protection and restoration efforts.

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