Basin stakeholders talks could break stalemate

December 30, 2012 

With the election over, it’s time for our new and returning elected officials to get to work making good on their campaign promises.

At the top of everyone’s list is job creation. We’ve got to get people back to work. Fortunately in the Northwest, I see some good prospects to do just that.

One of our region’s biggest challenges, to restore endangered Columbia Basin salmon, is also a tremendous opportunity to craft a comprehensive plan that recovers salmon while creating — some of us would say re-creating — good jobs right here in the Northwest.

Last year, a federal judge rejected the federal government’s Columbia and Snake Rivers salmon plan. It was the government’s third consecutive failed plan in a decade. The court ordered a new plan, due in just over a year at the end of 2013.

Rather than ask the agencies to simply update their old plan with small tweaks, however, my company, Yakima Bait, and hundreds of other Washington businesses believe that our economy and our towns would be far better served by a new, collaborative approach.

The Obama administration and our region’s leaders need to recognize that the Columbia Basin’s salmon problem is also a jobs problem. The opportunity is to fix both together. Done right, a lawful, science-based plan crafted by the people of the region can create thousands of new jobs in Washington and across the Pacific Northwest.

Thirty years ago, five or six major tackle companies operated in the Northwest, each with a strong customer base here, along with a national market.

Today, Yakima Bait is the only one left standing. The others went out of business or shrunk and were bought out. The decline of these businesses has paralleled the decline of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin. I fear our sector will continue losing ground without serious and durable improvements in the fishery.

I know that times change. We can’t re-create the past, nor should we. But we can work toward a better future, as Northwesterners who care about healthy salmon, clean and affordable energy and a reliable inland freight transportation system.

If we succeed in moving salmon and steelhead off the endangered species list by dramatically rebuilding their numbers, we can create conditions that will lead to fishing and recreation jobs on a scale much greater than today’s.

Just the modest bumps in salmon numbers that we’ve seen over the past couple of years (the result of good ocean conditions and more spill at the dams, ordered by the court to help fish) have helped give our industry some temporary relief after years of decline. Completing the job by achieving sustained salmon recovery is our next step.

Yakima Bait is a $10 million-a-year company, based in Central Washington, supporting 200 family wage jobs here and in Mexico. I see young people coming to work for us, full of ideas and wanting to raise their families here. They deserve a bright future, and they can have it — right here in central Washington — if these salmon recover.

I know other good jobs also depend on the Columbia and Snake rivers. None of our sectors can stand still. Changes are under way to the federal dams and their role in our economies quite apart from salmon. The sportfishing and tackle industries believe further change is needed at the dams to restore salmon, but I also believe we can find paths forward, together, that work for fishermen, farmers, energy producers and users and others with a stake in a thriving Columbia Basin.

In that spirit, hundreds of Washington businesses have asked the president and our members of Congress, to change salmon policy so it is lawful, science-based, puts job creation center stage and lets river users collaborate directly with each other — along with Northwest states, Columbia River tribes and federal agencies — to find lasting solutions. The time for that collaboration is now. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

A cold-water sport fishing authority, Buzz Ramsey is brand manager for Yakima Bait Co. He lives in Klickitat with his wife, Maggie, and their boys Blake and Wade.

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