A Fish Is Just a Fish

Terry Jeffrey
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Posted: Jul 11, 2007 12:01 AM
A Fish Is Just a Fish

One can see through the environmentalist movement as clearly as if it were a mountain stream by reading the opinion U.S. District Judge John Coughenour issued last month in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) suit brought by Trout Unlimited and other groups against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

The judge sided with the environmentalists, arguing that the human race is endangering the steelhead species of salmon by breeding too many of them.

The problem, as the environmentalists see it, is not that man, through ill-considered and wanton acts, is driving a poor fish from the face of the Earth. The problem is that man, through imagination, careful planning and industry, is on his way to making this fish so abundant and readily reproducible that it more resembles a domesticated animal than a "wild" creature.

The key term in the judge's decision is "human interference."

"If the statute did not aspire to naturally self-sustaining populations of endangered or threatened species," he says, for example, "it would be permissible under the ESA to capture and permanently raise such species in zoos or other environments where they are dependent on human interference for survival."

Now, non-environmentalists understand that "human interference" in the environment can be either good or bad. When a farmer clears a forest, plants a crop and brings it to harvest, most of us would consider that a good thing. We recognize that the farmer's interaction with the environment is quite different from the interaction of an arson who sets a forest ablaze simply to see it burn.

In environmentalist ideology, however, human acts are never good. All are ultimately destructive acts of "interference."

This ideology runs throughout Coughenour's decision on the steelhead, which orders NMFS to stop its practice of counting steelhead bred in fish hatcheries as part of the steelhead population for purposes of determining whether steelhead ought to be listed as endangered. To the judge, it does not matter if a river-born and a hatchery-born steelhead are genetically identical, born along the same river, migrate to the same ocean, and return to breed with one another in the same gravel bed and share the same offspring. The river-born steelhead, the judge says, counts. Its hatchery-born mate, the product of "human interference," does not.

In fact, in this judge's view, anything man does to the salmon is wrong. He dramatizes this by presenting a salmon-centric capsule history of North America in which man is the constant villain. First, man-the-villain depletes the salmon. "Despite their ability to survive the catastrophic events of millions of years of evolution," the judge writes, "salmon populations have experienced substantial declines since the commencement of European settlement of the Pacific Northwest, due to overharvest and severe habitat degradation resulting from logging, mining, irrigation and construction of dams for hydropower, among other factors."

Then man-the-villain increases the salmon, building artificial -- even capitalistic -- fish hatcheries "to compensate for the declines in salmon populations and meet the demands of the burgeoning canning industry."

These hatcheries are soon "releasing far more fish fry than result from natural spawning."

But, wait! These teeming schools are not real salmon, they are man-tainted ones.

"These floods of hatchery fish," the judge observes, "can result in the appearance of a well-stocked fishery, though in actuality it would not be so without human interference."

Finally, the man-bred salmon threaten the survival of the real salmon. "Hatchery fish and wild salmon also have ecological interactions that are detrimental to the wild population," says the judge. "Hatchery fish, which tend to be larger than wild fish, compete for habitat and food and prey upon smaller wild fish."

You have no doubt discerned by now that the movement to preserve the salmon through the ESA is not really about preserving salmon. So, what is it about?

It is about shackling man. "The legislative history of the ESA reinforces this view that species are to be protected in the context of their habitats, until they are self-sustaining without the interference of man," the judge concludes. "(T)he ESA is designed to protect not just a species' genetic material, but its place in the natural world."

For those who see man as an interloper "in the natural world," few acts of government can match those that would seek to remove the effects of man from the habitat of the salmon -- which covers all the major rivers of our Pacific Coast and the ocean into which those rivers drain.

Saving the salmon from man may be the next best thing to global warming, which depicts the most productive activities of our race as a mortal threat to all of Earth.