The Beacon

A Stimulus Package for the Oceans: Deconstruction

This is the second in a series of four guest posts by Paul Greenberg, author of the bestselling book, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing James Prosek's excellent Eels for the New York Times Book Review.  An endlessly interesting topic but most relevant for today's oceanic fisheries because of the unseen (and largely fixable) problem eels represent: the useless damming of small rivers around the country and around the world. 

Rivers are key to oceans: they allow for energy transfer between freshwater ecosystems and saltwater, and the primary way they do that is through "diadromous" i.e. sea run fish like salmon, herring, shad, and yes, eels. 

Of course much attention has been paid to pulling down the big dams on behalf of salmon like the Elwah in Washington State which is slated to come down in September, 2011 (supporters hope that the Elwah's removal could bring back the legendary king salmon of that river that supposedly regularly topped 60 pounds). 

But very little attention is paid to the little dams and the little fish they impede.  In the state of Connecticut alone there are several thousand small-scale dams that serve no purpose whatsoever. Most small dams are left over from the industrial revolution when millers and textile industries used mechanical hydro power to run their businesses.

But now that those mills are all defunct, why can't we get off our butts and get rid of those dams? Why can't we have a national economic stimulus package based on deconstruction instead of construction? All this stimulus money to build new things is ridiculous when you consider all the dams we should be unbuilding. River herring, which were once as populous as passenger pigeons, are so reduced now (by both dams and over fishing) that they are now a rarity in many coastal zones. 

And lest you fail to see the logic in a national stimulus package to take down dams and bring back little fish, think of this: every big fish we like to eat be they striped bass, tuna, codfish, salmon—all of them eat smaller, diadromous fish like herring, smelt (and sometimes eels too).  More little fish = more big fish. 

And we could all use a few more of the big ones.


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