Every year we are treated to the obligatory jacks up, jacks down story as we try to forecast next year's run size with an indicator that in some years is akin to predicting the weather by chewing tree bark. Look at Friday's (June 8) Lewiston Tribune for the amusing jacks down story and whether or not it is a predictor of the 2013 run size. (amusing because a straight news story answers questions directly, this one like all jacks up, jacks down stories leave people bewildered as to why we pay attention to that anymore) My problem beyond the annual do jack runs predict the future or not story is that these stories never break it down into wild jacks vs. hatchery jacks. We are fortunate to have dam counts for steelhead still broken out into wild steelhead and hatchery steelhead, so at least the average citizen can, with little effort, keep track of the wild steelhead situation. We don't get the information on Chinook so easily.
My question, and it is not just that most media professionals are phoning in their stories and going for the lowest hanging fruit, it is also the state and federal fisheries people not making it a point to discuss our dwindling stocks of wild fish. Of course, that brings up the huge question WHY? It should be just as easy for someone, anyone, to see the number of wild/natural Chinook passing the dams as it is with wild steelhead. And it is not, at times it is damn hard to find anything recent. Stories on the wild fish runs should be numerous, so numerous that on the tip of the tongue of anyone who pays some bit of attention to media in the Pacific Northwest should know the plight of wild salmon returns. It should be common knowledge and it is not. They (officials and perhaps the media outlets who fear dam breaching and they exist too) want you to forget about the wild fish and bask in the glory of all the fish we made that come back. That's what they want from you. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain or fish as the case may be.
Wild fish and their run numbers are far more important than the total run size that is published often to get anglers to froth at the mouth. It's candy journalism when you see these stories that take this generalized run-size view and don't break out the wild fish numbers and discuss why they are four times less than the hatchery fish. That's the harder, far more important story, and being a person who has won 16 journalism awards in the last six years, what I am saying might be something some of you journalists out there might want to pay attention to and perhaps follow up on often. The wild salmon run size is news every season, report on it. It is far more important than telling everyone there is a wall of (hatchery) fish at some spot on the river. You have a responsibility as a journalist to seek out and report the truth (or at least something approaching the truth as best as you can see it). So would you please stop being the pro bono PR arm of the various agencies and interests that don't want the story of the wild salmon of the Snake River Basin story to be fresh in the minds of the attention paying public?
If wild salmon and steelhead are to be saved in the Snake River Basin, then their story has to be told by far more people than people like me. They won't be saved if the media continues to refuse to scratch the surface of wild fish runs and opts instead to publish the blah so many outdoors sections have become. The wild fish are what matters and when you actually do some journalism in this area, the story will land on page 1 every time, unless you are working for a bonehead (which is entirely plausible in media).
Here are some basic story ideas to get you guys started off on a new narrative that will have great interest among your readers. You could do a story on the run sizes through the years of wild (natural) stocks of spring, summer and fall Chinook (start with this, it's a good baseline). You could then search around for various wild populations, you know pick a river and find some sources and do a story on that particular river's wild fish. You could do a story on how the endangered wild stocks of Pacific salmon actually get off the Endangered Species Act and how it is highly unlikely for that to happen given our love of dams (you can pretty much throw a dart at a list of fisheries biologists names and get people to tell you the same (don't take my word for it)). Though some of those biologists will be scared to say anything on the record due to some hush money a few years back. You could do a series of stories on how federal dams actually get breached. You could do stories looking at the recent dam breachings and track the wild fish in those rivers. You could do more reporting on all the research coming out that shows how hatchery fish are damaging wild stocks when they are allowed to spawn naturally amidst wild fish. You could do these things and more and perhaps people could make a real choice in the future when it comes to saving these fish or letting them pass to history. But until you up your game a bit and actually report about where the rub actually is, time will pass and wild fish will pass away to history like the coho did, like the sockeye did though we froze some semen and made a new population with that.
I expect nothing less from you, even if the only people remaining in journalism (due to the economy and the industry's inability to figure out the internet) these days are the ones willing to work for next to nothing and those still awed by the sight of their own name next to words strung along in one sentence paragraphs on a page. Anyway, if there are any real journalists left out there, perhaps get cracking and please give fair space to all sides, that is your job.