Puget Sound salmon recovery threatened by proposed EPA cuts

Biologists studying high rates of mortality in salmon and steelhead in Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia are concerned that proposed EPA funding cuts will derail their research.

A leaked proposal from the Office of Management and Budget shows that the Trump Administration wants to slash EPA funding in Puget Sound by 93 percent, from USD 28 million (EUR 26.3 million) this year to around USD 2 million (EUR 1.9 million) in the coming fiscal year.

EPA funds are channeled through tribes, not-for-profit research agencies and state biologists that carry out research on the ground.

Major research endeavors like the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project – a massive transboundary salmon recovery project for the combined waters of Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia involving more than 40 organizations – could be derailed by the drop-off in funding.

Michael Schmidt, deputy director of Long Live the Kings which, along with the Pacific Salmon Foundation, is facilitating the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, said the science is necessary for restoring and preserving West Coast salmon populations.

“About seven years ago, scientists convened around not really knowing what’s happening to juvenile salmon when they enter the breeding grounds here in Puget Sound and the Straight of Georgia. Rough looks at data indicated there were unusually high mortality rates here, and that turned out to be true,” Schmidt said.

Researchers think there is a local problem that is killing off juvenile salmon in the Salish Sea, but one that has widespread consequences throughout Pacific fisheries.

“Chinook in particular have a big international impact because chinook and sockeye are the predominant drivers of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, so there’s a big commercial fishing aspect. The chinook go to Alaska and the steelhead can go as far as Japan. The coho go to Southeast Alaska,” Schmidt said.

The proposed cuts may be just the beginning of a move by the Trump Administration to make aggressive budgetary cuts to marine science programs. Also potentially on the chopping block is the much larger Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund, which has pumped millions of dollars into salmon recovery from Alaska to California since being passed by Congress in 2000. According to NOAA, the fund has injected USD 1.2 billion (EUR 1.1 billion) into recovery and research projects along the West Coast, where a diverse network of studies spans everything from zooplankton to whales.

“We’re just one component of the mechanism that tries to work for salmon recovery and a hit like this is going to affect the entire mechanism. It would be huge…We’re very, very concerned,” he added.

All funding decisions proposed by the White House must pass congressional approval before they are implemented.


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