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NW Infrastructure Plan Could Bolster WA Restaurants

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Monday, March 1, 2021   

SEATTLE -- If the Pacific Northwest has a taste, it's for the region's salmon, but as the iconic fish species dwindles, it also effects a food chain that brings the salmon from boats to plates.

A Northwest infrastructure proposal is seen by some as a lifeline to industries across the region.

John Sundstrom, award-winning owner/chef of Lark, a Seattle restaurant, serves wild salmon when it's in season during the summer months, but noted a number of factors are hurting the species' survival chances right now.

"The main thing that it comes down to is how do we relieve pressure on the whole region?" Sundstrom explained. "You know, there's more and more people in the world that want fish."

The Columbia Basin Fund, proposed by Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, is a $33 billion plan to remove four dams on the lower Snake River to help recover endangered salmon and steelhead, and replace the energy and agriculture benefits they provide for the region.

Sundstrom noted some larger restaurants feel the need to sell salmon year-round, because the fish is so emblematic of the region, and others secure their catches months in advance. He doesn't feel that pressure.

But Sundstrom believes the region does need a plan to preserve native salmon, as well as aid other stakeholders who would be affected if the dams are breached.

"I want this to be a resource that's around for my grandkids and for everybody down the road," Sundstrom stressed. "So, to me it's really, how do we balance the different needs?"

Amy Grondin, a commercial fisher based in Port Townsend, Washington, believes the best chance of restoring salmon and the northwest fishing industry is by removing the lower Snake River dams.

But Grondin appreciated under Rep. Simpson's plan, it wouldn't come at the expense of food producers east of the Cascades.

"We need to work together on this one," Grondin contended. "And also, when I eat salmon, I usually eat it with some vegetables, a glass of wine and some bread. That's not something I can do on a boat. I need farmers to do that."

While the plan is getting some pushback and details are still being hashed out, Simpson's Columbia Basin Fund could be included in a larger infrastructure bill in Congress later this year.


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