Idaho's coho salmon went extinct in the mid-1980s without even a whimper. They were simply gone and no one really noticed, at least not enough to have them listed on the Endangered Species List, which had been around for more than a decade by then.
In the mid-1990s, amidst all the Lonesome Larry news and the listing of several salmonids of the Snake and Columbia rivers, the Nez Perce Tribe and its fisheries program accepted coho salmon eggs from coastal runs, disregarded Idaho's decision not to give them a permit to bring the eggs in and voila, more than a decade later IDFG is overseeing a coho salmon fishing season.
This gives me reasons to celebrate and this gives me great pause. Ultimately, what I hope comes from this is the complete cessation of the hate speech from those non-native American anglers who constantly complain about Native Americans and their fishing practices and the fact that they get to fish differently. If those anglers who seem to have been transported from the American frontier of the 1870s-80s, are never heard again uttering their hatred toward Native Americans and using limited and shortened salmon fishing seasons as justification to spew forth their hatred, then I am not going to be bothered that these coho are not native.
Hopefully, the Nez Perce will rightfully be credited with creating an entirely new fishery where the state of Idaho completely and utterly failed to do so. And hopefully that will go a long way toward some hearts being changed, some thawing of some horrible prejudices that have no place in 2014-America nor 2014-Idaho.
However, the success of this gives me great pause. But along the same token, if state operated and federal operated hatchery programs aren't looking into what the Nez Perce are doing and rinsing and repeating, then they need new leadership, because it is pretty obvious the Nez Perce are doing it better than state and federal agencies.
So why does it give me pause?
I admit that I could be completely wrong here and maybe the situation with Pacific Northwest salmon was so far gone that this make lemonade out of lemons approach is correct, but there are things about this that bother me. First, the fish aren't native. Salmon evolved over the years for the streams they were in, our Idaho coho were the best adapted for free flowing rivers in Idaho, but once the dams came in, they went extinct. Now we have fish who are clearly from different rivers, who evolved over time to make short runs to and from the ocean. The Nez Perce took these fish and obviously something is working and the extra 800 miles hasn't stopped some 15,000 plus coho from going over the final dam, Lower Granite, before entering Idaho. Still, though, while I want to applaud the effort, I know it means applauding non-native fish.
The part of this that bugs me the most, is that the hubris of mankind is bound to increase. The notion that if we get out of the way and allow these fish to recover on their own with our obstructions removed takes a back seat. Now, we may embark upon a renewed effort where mankind is completely responsible for the recovery of these fish and then you have the potential problem of someday the coffers drying up and the billions thrown at "saving fish" by us gets cut without our obstructions being removed and then the salmon could wink out. So, that is troubling, though that has to be taken with a grain of salt in that clearly, the Nez Perce are doing great work with fall chinook, coho and those salmon on the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River to name the successes off the top of my head.
There is another serious issue at play here dealing with a current fight going on with the Endangered Species Act. We have powerful people who believe the "evil leftists" eroded individual liberty one step at a time and these same people are hellbent to return the favor. So they are chipping away at the Endangered Species Act. One such fight they have started is an effort to remove the ability to list a species that is on the brink of extinction in one area, but is healthy in another area. Idaho's caribou comes to mind here. For anglers, think of distinct trout populations spread throughout the west that would be completely gone today if specific populations weren't listed.
This coho project puts the arguments for designating specific populations at even more risk than they were when this coho project was floundering in its early stages.
Human nature must be taken into account here. We tend to believe if we can do one thing successfully, then it will work for another thing. Some trout in the Sierras going extinct, well who cares, there's a really similar trout in eastern Oregon we can use. Yes, those waters have long ago been muddied, but do we ever get to let those particulates settle out?
Another thing that bothers me, it's like we didn't properly mourn our own coho's demise and now we are excessively jubilant to welcome some clone back to our home waters.
I guess I'm pessimistically optimistic or optimistically pessimistic. Either way, it sucks to be me.
Oh well, please enjoy fishing for the coho and hopefully their shear biomass will begin to restore our ecosystems that have suffered during these generations where the transfer of nutrients from the ocean were greatly disrupted.
Thank you Nez Perce Tribe, you have once again shown that you are doing the best work to restore Idaho's salmon fisheries.