[env-trinity] Salmon Season Sacramento Bee March 15
bwl3 at comcast.net
Wed Mar 15 13:34:58 PST 2006
Salmon season, livelihoods on brink
To preserve the Klamath River's chinook, fishing could be banned off a large
stretch of the California and Oregon coasts. But the survival of an industry
is also threatened.
Sacramento Bee - 3/15/06
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer
Along 700 miles of the Pacific Coast, fishing towns and fishermen are facing
the unthinkable this spring: a total closure of the salmon season.
For consumers, it means there may be no local wild chinook (or king) salmon
in markets and restaurants this year.
For fishermen, it could mean bankruptcy, the end of a way of life.
"I hate to try and imagine how bad my life is going to get," said Larry
Collins. He and his wife, Barbara Emley, are among the last commercial
salmon fishers who still live and work in San Francisco. "I've been doing
this 21 years, and I'm not really positioned to do anything else."
The prospect is even harder to bear because, this time, fishermen share none
of the blame. And tragically, salmon overall are expected to be abundant
this year, thanks to healthy runs on the Sacramento River and its
tributaries, including the American River. These fish make up the vast
majority of commercial salmon caught in the ocean off California and Oregon.
The blame falls, instead, on government and private interests who have
failed to resolve their differences in just one corner of chinook habitat:
the Klamath River.
The overall Klamath chinook population is expected to hit its second-lowest
level in 20 years. Fish returning this year to spawn naturally are predicted
to fall below a critical management threshold for the third year in a row.
Because these fish mingle in the ocean with Sacramento River salmon, the
National Marine Fisheries Service says a total ban on ocean chinook fishing
is the only way to protect the few remaining Klamath fish.
The ban is proposed between California's Point Sur and Oregon's Falcon
Point, a vast area where chinook represent a $150 million industry and the
cornerstone of many local economies.
"Most of our boats that fish here, the primary income from fishing is
salmon," said Mike Stiller, a commercial fisherman in Santa Cruz for 30
years. "It's part of the heritage of this state. You could live without it.
You could live without grapevines, too. But it's part of the history and the
culture of this state."
Stiller and other fishermen blame government officials for failing to solve
the Klamath River's long-standing problems. The result could be the end of a
commercial fishing tradition that, in some coastal towns, goes back a
century or more.
Tony Anello and his wife, Carol Ann, own Spud Point Crab Co. in Bodega Bay.
Crab is a significant part of the business, but half their revenue comes
from salmon. Their son Mark is poised to become the fourth generation in the
business after investing $150,000 in a boat. The season closure could end
"We really worked hard to get our local wild king salmon in the marketplace,
and now we're going to be just devastated," Tony Anello said. "It's all
caused by the federal government, it's not caused by us, but we're the ones
paying for it."
Many blame a Bush administration decision in 2002 to ignore its own federal
biologists and divert more water from the Klamath River for farm irrigation.
The decision put salmon in jeopardy as they tried to swim upriver to spawn.
An estimated 70,000 fish were killed that fall in stagnant pools on the
lower Klamath by disease and suffocation - about half of them chinook
A 2003 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it was the worst
die-off in history on the Klamath, and possibly the entire Pacific Coast.
The report blamed the deaths on a combination of low water flows and a
relatively large spawning run, which worsened the crowding and caused deadly
parasites to spread.
Because those fish didn't spawn, fewer adults remained in the ocean two
years later, prompting the National Marine Fisheries Service to abbreviate
the commercial salmon season last year. Some fishermen say the decision
slashed their income by 50 percent.
Last year, for the first time in its 30-year history, the Fort Bragg Salmon
Restoration Association had to buy fish from Alaska for its "World's Largest
Salmon BBQ," a fundraiser.
As Larry Collins put it, a "death spiral" has begun, both for chinook and
the people who depend on them.
Only 24,000 fall chinook spawned naturally in the Klamath in 2004, followed
by 27,000 last year. This year, fisheries managers predict 29,000 spawners.
Under federal rules, three straight years below a spawning objective of
35,000 fish triggers a "conservation alert."
The National Marine Fisheries Service announced at a meeting in Seattle on
March 7 that it may be forced to close the salmon season to save next fall's
spawners, even though they are only a small percentage of the fish caught
commercially in the ocean.
The ban would apply to ocean sportfishing, as well, and a recreational
fishing ban is likely on the Klamath River itself.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council will make a recommendation on the
closure at meetings in Sacramento in early April. But the council is only an
advisory body to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which can impose the
closure on its own.
The commercial salmon season normally begins May 1 in California, and April
1 in Oregon.
"We're trying to save what we can," said Scott Barrow, a senior biologist
with the California Department of Fish and Game, a voting member of the
management council. "It's a huge economic and political decision that's
going to have to take place."
Meanwhile, little has changed where the problem began - on the Klamath
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation continues to follow the same water diversion
policy blamed for killing salmon in 2002. That is the case even though
fishing and environmental groups, led by the nonprofit group Earthjustice,
won a federal appellate court ruling in October invalidating the policy. The
group now hopes for another ruling to require a change in flows while a new
plan is developed.
John Hicks, planning division chief at the agency's Klamath regional office,
rejected the idea that agricultural diversions are behind the salmon
die-off. He said the water his agency controls represents only 11 percent of
the flow at the mouth of the Klamath, where the fish died in 2002.
"It's pretty hard for us to make significant impacts no matter what we do,
which is part of the problem," said Hicks. "Everybody's kind of looking for
the silver bullet: There must be one thing out there we can do that's going
to fix it. But it's a very complicated system."
That view is echoed by Peter Moyle, professor of fish biology at UC Davis.
Moyle served on a National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed the
Klamath's problems in 2003.
The panel found that a host of problems are killing the Klamath, including
high water temperatures and sedimentation caused by logging, road
construction and agriculture. It recommended new land-management rules, as
well as acquiring water rights for fish on the Klamath's tributaries,
especially the Trinity and Scott rivers.
It also recommended removing Iron Gate Dam, the first of six major dams on
the Klamath River, which has no fish ladders.
"The chinook salmon are just the tip of the iceberg," Moyle said. "The
decline of the salmon fishery is just a major indicator of the seriousness
of problems on the Klamath River in general."
Those six dams on the Klamath are in the middle of the relicensing process
by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A coalition of environmental
groups and American Indian tribes wants the commission to order removal of
the lowest four dams, including Iron Gate.
The dams, owned by PacifiCorp, a unit of Scottish Power, provide
hydroelectric power, but no water for farms or cities.
"What we hope will happen as an outcome is that we'll look at these dams and
realize they don't provide the benefit to society that the commercial
fishery does," said Craig Tucker, campaign coordinator for the Karuk tribe.
The closure proposal comes as commercial fishermen try to win international
certification of California chinook as a "sustainable" fishery. Such a label
is important to consumers who want to ensure their purchases don't deplete
David Goldenberg of the California Salmon Council said there is no
inconsistency, even though the sustainability of Klamath River chinook is
very much in doubt. The proposed ban, he said, shows the system is working
to sustain Klamath fish.
It remains to be seen if fisherman will survive the closure.
"If we don't get an adequate season, we're out of business. We're broke.
Belly up," said David Yarger, a Bodega Bay salmon fisherman. "It would be
just like you walking into your office in the morning and having them tell
you, 'We don't need you anymore."
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
Advisor, California Trout, Inc
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 ph
415 383 9562 fx
bwl3 at comcast.net
bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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