[env-trinity] SF Chron 02 19 09

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Thu Feb 19 12:32:43 PST 2009

Smallest fall run of chinook salmon reported

San Francisco Chronicle - 2/19/09

By Jane Kay


(02-18) 20:50 PST -- The smallest number of Pacific Ocean salmon ever
recorded swam back to the Sacramento River via San Francisco Bay last fall,
the latest evidence of the decline of the storied fish along the West Coast,
officials said Wednesday.

7.DTL> Highlights of plan to close Calif. budget deficit 02.19.09 


The Pacific Fishery Management Council, a federal body that regulates
commercial and sport fishing, estimated that only 66,286 adult salmon
returned to the Sacramento River to spawn. Six years ago, the peak return
was 13 times higher.


In 2007, only 87,881 of the fish returned to spawn in the river, falling far
short of the agency's goal of 122,000 to 180,000 fish.

The latest count comes as officials consider imposing fishing restrictions
off California's coast again this summer.


Chinook - also known as king salmon - are the prized fish of Northern
California streams, once proliferating in four genetically distinct runs, or

For centuries, they have fought their way up the Sacramento and San Joaquin
rivers and their tributaries to bear young, which hatch in the rivers, swim
through the bay and live in the ocean until they return three years later to
spawn and die in their natal streams.


The fish have supported an economy worth hundreds of millions of dollars and
supplied restaurants and retailers with a local source of heart-healthy
protein famous for its rich, buttery flavor.


The Sacramento River fall run, the bread-and-butter chinook run, is the one
facing collapse, although Lagunitas Creek in Marin County this year had its
smallest run of coho salmon ever recorded. 


Scientists believe warmer ocean conditions in 2005 and 2006 led to a lean
food supply as young salmon were entering the ocean. That played a part in
the low spawning returns in 2007 and 2008.


In addition, in 2004 and 2005, the years the chinook were born and traveled
to the ocean, the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project
exported record amounts of Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta water to urban
and agricultural customers throughout the state, documents show.


Federal researchers also blame 50 years of water management in California
for the decline of the fish. The state and federal water projects
constructed dams and conveyance systems that separated the fish from their
habitats. Pumps, canals and hatcheries built to make up for lost water also
depleted once-diverse runs, at one time the pride of the state.


Next week, the management council, which is made up of representatives of
states and tribes as well as government agencies and fishing groups, is
expected to release numbers estimating the chinook salmon available in the
ocean, agency spokeswoman Jennifer Guilden said Wednesday.


Based on stock assessments from the National Marine Fisheries Service and
other federal agencies, the management council then will set quotas for the
fishing season, which typically begins in May.


Last year, the low estimates resulted in a ban on commercial fishing off
California and Oregon, the first time all seasons were closed in California
history. Similar restrictions are expected this year, according to officials
who have seen the stock assessments.


"Almost for certain there will be no fishing this year," said Zeke Grader,
executive director of the Pacific Federation of Fishermen's Associations,
which represents commercial fishermen. The industry has received some
financial aid, which Grader says may have to carry over to this season as


His group was lead plaintiff in a 2004 lawsuit asking the federal government
to deem the winter and spring runs of salmon in jeopardy of extinction. The
fish are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.


The system in the Klamath and Trinity rivers had 31,000 returning spawners,
a better return than in the Central Valley, but still short of its
management goal of 40,700 fish, according to the Pacific Fishery Management


According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest
Fisheries Science Center in Santa Cruz, the fall run appears to have
suffered from "poor ocean conditions when the juveniles left the fresh water
to enter the ocean," said Churchill Grimes, fishery biologist and a leader
of the group preparing a paper on causes of the decline.


But the ultimate cause of the decline is "sort of by 1,000 cuts" related to
habitat destruction of the delta, once 1,500 square kilometers of rearing
habitat, he said.

"It was a huge marsh, habitat for all of the runs. Now it's been diked,
levied and rip-rapped until it's not more than a big ditch," Grimes said.
Dams, pumping water by the state and federal water projects and the
operation of hatcheries all contribute to the problem, he said.



Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land

415 519 4810 cell

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

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