OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Experts Explore Pathways to Salmon Resilience in New Journal Issue

02/02/2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Is there anything really new to be said about the prospects for salmon in the Pacific Northwest? Yes, says a group of experts, including several from Oregon State University, in a series of perspectives collected in a special feature issue of the online journal Ecology and Society.

The special feature issue is titled “Pathways to Resilient Salmon Ecosystems”; access to the journal is free and open to the public (http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/).

Scientists, politicians, pundits and the public have been discussing the future of salmon since at least the 1870s, said Dan Bottom, an editor of the special issue and a research fisheries biologist for both NOAA Fisheries and courtesy faculty in the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

“The special issue of Ecology and Society offers on the one hand a critique of traditional command-and-control management of natural resources and on the other a search for scientific, political, and institutional alternatives for salmon conservation,” said Bottom.

“Unlike previous assessments of the ‘salmon problem,’ our special feature proposes an alternative conceptual framework for understanding human and natural interactions with salmon and for designing conservation approaches that will strengthen salmon ecosystem resilience.”

Resilience – the ability of a system to absorb disturbance without losing its characteristic structure or function – is the key idea that links articles in the issue together. The articles arose from a 2007 Oregon Sea Grant conference that assembled a broad range of experts for an unprecedented exchange about social-ecological resilience.

Among the OSU co-editors and authors of the “Pathways” special feature, besides Bottom, is Courtland Smith, professor emeritus of anthropology. Susan Hanna, an OSU Professor of agricultural and resource economics, is a contributing author, as are Carmel Finley of the history department and Gordon Reeves, a research fish biologist with the U.S. Forest Service and courtesy faculty in the OSU fisheries and wildlife department.

Seven articles are online and several more papers will be added soon. The editors introduce the issue with an overview of key features of ecosystems that have been overlooked by conventional fishery management approaches but that become a focal point when resilience thinking is applied to salmon. Case studies in salmon ecosystem resilience and articles that synthesize a range of research and case studies follow.

Contemporary gillnetters on the Columbia River have adapted their own strategies for resilience, but as author Irene Martin explains, depleted salmon populations and recent listings under the Endangered Species Act have taken a severe toll on local communities and could threaten their continued advocacy on behalf of salmon.

Yet, as several of the papers discuss, an adequate accounting of social and ecological resilience has far-reaching implications for natural resource management. Historian Finley concludes that historical entrenchment of the maximum sustained yield concept in fisheries policy, science, and law has made it difficult for scientists and policy makers to implement new policies that enhance ecological resilience.

OSU economist Hanna discusses the challenge of designing institutions to promote ecosystem and human system resilience, emphasizing two critical elements of salmon ecosystem management that are missing from the existing institutional infrastructure – incentives and transaction costs.

For more news about science, marine education and related activities on the Oregon coast, subscribe to “Breaking Waves,” the Oregon Sea Grant news blog, at: http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/blogs/.