Posted on Fri, October 07, 2011 by Emily Vaughn
9 Comments | Categories: Biodiversity, Books, Farms and Farming, Seafood,
By Bobbie Peyton for Roots of Change
California salmon feed the country but their habitat is threatened to a perilous degree. To understand how that came to be, we have to acknowledge the complex, interconnected reality of our food system.
In California, the current salmon crisis can be traced to the early 1900s when the state chose to use its finite water supply to develop its urban centers and industrial agriculture, rather than maintaining its free-running inland waterways (i.e. rivers and creeks). The dams created to bring water to cities and farms did so at the expense of maintaining healthy aquatic ecosystems, and blocked salmon spawning routes.
Indeed the appropriation of abundant amounts of water and the creation of 1,400 dams transformed California into a “cornucopia,” the largest agricultural state in the U.S. But this choice to favor agriculture and developing cities still haunts us today.
This blog post is a segment of a more in-depth article. Download the complete version here.
In an attempt to save the industry, in the 1970s salmon fishermen turned to hatcheries to give fry or young salmon a place to grow and a chance to survive. Unfortunately, this also established a seafood-farming model that increased demand for a fish that isn’t efficient to farm. (The history of salmon farm fishing is too nuanced for this discussion and is better detailed in the book Four Fish).
Ultimately, Californians are losing the quality and quantity of our salmon to a destructive agroecosystem, but these dam structures guarantee water to Southern Californian residents and Central Valley farmers. Without sacrificing the homes and livelihoods of farmers and city dwellers, how do we save our salmon?
Consumers can take charge by getting informed. Consumer watch lists that tell us what fish to buy are widely available. To trace your fish from ocean to plate, get the Thisfish app, check out local databases, or download the Smart Seafood Guide from Food & Water Watch.
Fishermen themselves are addressing the problems by partnering with farmers to come to mutually satisfying conservation strategies. This cooperation of industries historically pitted against each other is leading to powerful change. Download the full version of this article to learn more.
But the unfortunate reality is that the problem is so complex that there’s no real simple cure-all. Ultimately, we must support those advocates who have the knowledge to help us reverse the legacy that got us here in the first place. Some of the organizations most active on this issue are Roots of Change, The Institute for Fisheries Resources and Tiburon Salmon Institute.
Finally, stay informed on seafood activism and issues by joining the mailing lists of Slow Food USA and Food & Water Watch.
And we must act before it’s too late. To heed the words of Four Fish author Paul Greenberg: Only in retrospect and in the face of steep declines do humans smack their foreheads in dumbfounded realization and reach out, Lorax-like, for the last vestiges of wild salmon slipping from their outstretched hands.
Bobbie Peyton completed her M.A. from Tufts University in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (G07). She currently works with Roots of Change, an NGO working to develop a collaborative network of leaders and institutions to establish a sustainable food system in California by the year 2030.
This article was researched with the help of Brooke Halsey, a salmon fisheries advocate at the Tiburon Salmon Institute, and Pietro Parravano, a commercial fisherman from Half Moon Bay.
Photo: Melissa Tatge