Cantwell Questions NOAA Administrator Nominee On Salmon Recovery

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This morning the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held  a hearing to consider the nomination of Dr. Richard W. Spinrad, to be Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the committee, discussed the importance of science and infrastructure for salmon and orca recovery.

“I really want to focus on salmon,” said Cantwell. “You and I had a chance to talk about salmon, particularly as it related to some of the issues like fixing culverts and habitat, and the impacts of pollution. You suggested that … focusing on systems like the Chesapeake or Puget Sound as an ecosystem, and impacts with new science available today, could give us better interest and information. And I just wanted to ask too whether this is where you see the best return for our dollars.”

Dr. Spinrad responded by saying, “Places like Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay, Chesapeake Bay, represent critical areas for focus of not just research, but applications of that research to solutions to ensure we are sustaining these natural resources, including salmon, Pacific salmon. I’d point out obviously in Puget Sound it also deals with endangered species such as the Orca population who depend on salmon as well.”

He pointed to two critical overall elements of any solution: “I believe the solution does lie in two things, one … the best observations, the best predictive capabilities using exactly the kind of high performance computers that you alluded to. But another key point is the act of engagement from the get go with the local communities, local governments, jurisdictions, Tribal councils.”

More specifically, Dr. Spinrad focused on these elements of how ecosystems operate: “There’s a physical aspect to this. How [do pollutants] get distributed, what is the fate and effects of pollutants that may after the Sound? There is a hydrological challenge, there was a wonderful story in the Seattle Times just a few days ago about the different culverts and how effective or ineffective they are in transporting water and allowing the salmon up into their spawning grounds. And I would also point out a critical component of this is developing solutions that are long standing and withstanding, especially in the context of climate change. So will the solutions of 2021 work in 2025 or 2030?”

Cantwell concluded by stressing the importance of salmon recovery as part of infrastructure considerations: “We believe that since culverts have had such a dramatic effect that when we’re looking at new transportation infrastructure investment, we should be thinking about these things, we call it salmon infrastructure.”

Throughout her time in the Senate, Cantwell has been a staunch advocate of protecting and strengthening critical salmon populations.

Earlier this year, Cantwell secured commitments from Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, to work on increasing investments in salmon habitat and prioritizing fisheries management. Cantwell also championed and passed the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act in 2019, which authorized an integrated and collaborative approach to addressing water challenges in the Yakima River Basin.

In 2020, Senator Cantwell led the fight to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay against the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Cantwell has long been vocal about the devastation that Pebble Mine could bring to the Pacific Northwest.

In 2018, Cantwell introduced the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act to protect endangered salmon and steelhead populations.

Video from Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with Spinrad at the hearing is available HERE and HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript is available HERE.