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Overcast: What's Going On With Salmon In Washington?

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Photo
Farm-raised Atlantic salmon move across a conveyor belt by Cooke Aquaculture near Eastport, Maine. There was an escape of these non-native salmon from the company's net pen near the San Juan Islands.

Washington's local ecosystems have been through a lot recently.

First, there was the release of more than 100,000 non-native Atlantic Salmon this summer into the Salish Sea. Now, scientists are also reporting alarmingly low numbers of young salmon from the Columbia River system out in the Pacific Ocean.

Seattle Times environment reporter Lynda Mapes has been covering these events. She tells her colleagues Jim Brunner and Dan Beekman that while these two stories are separate events on the surface, they mean bigger things for our ecosystem.

Interview highlights

On what the state is doing to protect native salmon...

"Things such as development have only become more of a challenge for salmon. You know, we're still losing forest cover when we know that forests are the one thing that hold the soil, and soak up the rain, and take care of these ecosystems by keeping forests, and yet we're still losing them. It's not like we don't know what to do. We know perfectly well what to do. And the Snake River Dam issue? My goodness, that's been around as long as I've been writing about salmon. So you ask me are they doing enough? They're spending a lot, untold amounts of money. But fish don't lie."

On the what makes the release of non-native salmon dangerous...

"Because they're not supposed to be here. We have spent untold amounts of money trying to pump up these populations of native salmon, and instead they just keep cratering. And you have other animals out there, such as orca whales, that have got to have Puget Sound Chinook. They won't eat anything else, and they're literally starving. And the last thing you need is yet another stress, another challenge in this already struggling ecosystem."

On what Pacific Northwesterners should take away from this...

"Nature is our teacher. It's not just sitting out there as scenery or a passive recreational opportunity. Nature is telling us the health of our world, the state of our world. And when you have situations where animals that are supposed to be there aren't or animals that aren't supposed to be there are there by the millions, you should be asking yourself what's going on."

The conversation above is an excerpt from The Overcast, the Seattle Times weekly politics podcast recorded at KNKX. To hear more about the state of salmon in Washington, missing martens in the Olympic Mountains, and what it means for our region, listen to the whole episode. You can find The Overcaston iTunes, SoundCloud, TuneIn and Stitcher.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.