Federal Salmon Agencies, They’re What To Merge?

With Washington and Oregon legislators introducing bills that would merge wildlife agencies with other state departments due to budget issues as well as trying to make government more efficient, President Obama hinted at reforming fish management at the federal level.

And used salmon as the butt of a joke.

Last night, in the 49th minute of his State of the Union address, he pointed out the redundancy of having two different bureaus manage Chinook, coho, chum, sockeye and humpies.

“The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they’re in saltwater,” he said. “And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”

During the slow-to-build laughter and applause that followed the quip, the TV version cut to Commerce secretary Gary Locke, former Washington governor, who appeared to chortle.

Bestweekever.com pointed out that, unseen to TV viewers, the White House’s streaming version of the speech included a graphic that split a salmon in half to illustrate what agency manages the genus Oncorhynchus during its different life stages.


Interior does so through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Commerce through the National Marine Fisheries Service.

But, as Politifact notes, “Obama might even have been underselling the complexity.”

“A major effort in the Pacific Northwest to protect and conserve salmon in the Columbia River Basin involves a “federal caucus” of 10 agencies working together for that purpose, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Geological Survey, to name a few.

And while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims jurisdiction over salmon, freshwater fishing is also regulated heavily by state agencies.

“It is a stretch to say that salmon in freshwater are regulated by the Interior Department,” said Ray Hilborn, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “Harvest in freshwater is almost totally regulated by states, and in some case tribes,” he said in an e-mail. “In salt water the ocean harvest beyond 3 miles is federally regulated, but almost all the catch in the U.S. takes place in Alaska, and the state of Alaska regulates that fishery.”

“In reality, most of the things that affect salmon in freshwater are managed by dozens of agencies,” he added.

Politifact noted the statement as “mostly true”

A poster on Piscatorial Pursuits pointed out that another federal agency, the State Department, is involved with salmon management as well, negotiating with Canada on fisheries.

The full context of the salmon remark was:

So now is the time to act.  Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress –- Democrats and Republicans -– to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done.  If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.

Let me take this one step further.  We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable.  We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient.  We can’t win the future with a government of the past.

We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black-and-white TV.  There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports.  There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy.  Then there’s my favorite example:  The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater.  I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.

According to the Washington Post, the joke came from former Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley, currently serving as the new White House Chief of Staff. In his previous position, he offered $3.5 million in aid to Washington state following a fishery failure in 1998.

While Obama’s speech was about the future, those who watched or listened to it appear to have remembered it for the fish.

Afterwards, NPR asked listeners to describe the speech in three words, then generated four different “word clouds” from the 4,000 responses. The more responses, the bigger the word was.

In all four versions — a cumulative, and three that broke responses out by political affiliation, Independent, Republican and Democrat — a Chinook-sized “salmon” muscled out coho-sized words such as “inspiring” and “hopeful,” chum-sized words such as “future” and “education,” sockeye-sized words such as “optimistic” and “innovation,” and humpy-sized words such as “intelligent” and “smoked.”


A word cloud of the actual speech shows that “people,” “new,” “jobs,” “years” and “make” were actually the most uttered words, according to New York Magazine.

According to the Washington Post, Commerce and Interior “are now working more closely to coordinate their efforts.”


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