Natural climate insurance for Pacific Northwest salmon and salmon fisheries: Finding our way through the entangled bank


Mantua, N.J., Francis, R.C. 2004. Natural climate insurance for Pacific Northwest salmon and salmon fisheries: Finding our way through the entangled bank. pp. 127-140, in E.E. Knudsen and D. MacDonald (eds), Fish in our Future? Perspectives on Fisheries Sustainability. A special publication of the American Fisheries Society.


This essay focuses on the linkages between climate (variability and change) and sustainable salmon management policies. We show the importance of climate in its effects on salmon production as well as how unpredictable these effects are. Our assessment leads us to conclude that the treatment of environmental uncertainty poses a fundamental conflict between the kind of policies that have been traditionally used in fishery management-basically command and control policies that assume predictability and assert engineering solutions to just one or a few aspects of highly complicated problems-and what the environmental variability dictates-policies that embrace environmental variability and uncertainty and acknowledge a lack of predictability for salmon ecosystems. In this regard, we conclude that three things need to happen in order to integrate climate information into sustainable salmon management policies:

1. De-emphasize the role of preseason run-size predictions in management activities.

2. Emphasize preseason and in-season monitoring of both the resource and its environment.

3. Focus on strategies that minimize the importance of uncertain climate variability and change scenarios to increase the resilience of short and long-term planning decisions.

Our bottom line is that sustainable salmon fisheries cannot be engineered with technological fixes and prediction programs, but that climate insurance for Pacific Northwest salmon can be enhanced by restoring and maintaining healthy, complex, and connected freshwater and estuarine habitat and ensuring adequate spawner escapements. If we are interested in purchasing long-term climate insurance for wild salmon so they can better cope with changing ocean conditions, we will likely get the best return on investments aimed at restoring the health and integrity of our beleaguered watersheds. We also believe that the health of northwest salmon resources is inherently dependent upon social, economic, and political pressures in this world of multi-objective resource conflict. Because of the human dimensions of salmon fisheries, we need salmon fisheries if we hope to sustain wild salmon, and vice versa.