[env-trinity] NY Times 4 2 10
bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon Apr 5 10:33:39 PDT 2010
Salmon Fishermen Swim Against Political Tide in Long-Running Calif. Water
By Colin Sullivan
California congressmen George Miller and Mike Thompson stumped for salmon
fishermen yesterday during a political rally here meant to counter the
political muscle of San Joaquin Valley farmers who tend to get more media
attention in the long-running war over the state's strained water supply.
The Democratic lawmakers represent Northern California districts that were
once home to some of the nation's most active king, or chinook, salmon runs.
But the California and Oregon salmon fishery that largely starts in the
Sacramento River north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has
There were 28,000 naturally spawning Central Valley salmon caught in 2009,
down from nearly 700,000 wild salmon harvested as recently as 2000. The
plummeting catch has led to the cancellation of the commercial salmon season
the past two years, causing the loss of 23,000 jobs and $2 billion in
revenue, according to a study by Southwick Associates, an analytical firm
that specializes in resource issues.
Commercial salmon fishermen blame the agriculture industry for the fishery's
collapse -- namely, Central Valley farmers who have seen their share of
water from federal and state sources steadily increase in recent years.
Water exports from the delta, the fishermen say, had reached record highs
from 2003 to 2007, prior to the fishery collapse and the implementation of
pumping limits under the federal Endangered Species Act.
And though there are other factors hurting fish in the delta, Miller,
Thompson and the blue-collar band of trollers they support believe the
salmon side of the California water story has been neglected. They say
television news reporters -- notably, representatives of Fox News and CBS's
"60 Minutes" -- have come to California in the past year to tell one part of
a complex tale of pressures on the troubled delta, which supplies much of
the state's drinking water.
The congressmen had harsh words in particular for a group of "third tier"
water rights holders, led by the Westlands Water District, that have fought
in court and in political circles to get more water from reservoirs and the
delta. But they also said courts are starting to sense the gravity of the
situation, as evidenced this week by a federal district court decision
rejecting an attempt to attain a restraining order on the salmon recovery
"We've always fought an uphill battle" against the agriculture industry,
Thompson said in an interview. "But it's wrong to choose economic winners
and losers. That's why these people are here today."
Miller, who is now in his 18th term on Capitol Hill and whose father fought
the same water fights as a state senator, has long been an advocate of the
fishing community. He is also the lawmaker most likely to take on Sen.
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who many in the fishing industry view as their
nemesis. In a swipe at the state's senior U.S. senator, Miller said the
recent National Academy of Sciences review of the science behind a salmon
recovery plan confirms that rolling back the Endangered Species Act to allow
more water to flow to farmers should not be on the table.
"This system has to be looked at as a waterway of national significance,"
said Miller, comparing the delta to the Everglades and the Chesapeake Bay.
"This is the beginning of a long struggle to right what is wrong."
The rally that drew several hundred people here yesterday was staged by the
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the Environmental
Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council and local fishing
groups. Hundreds of fishermen, many clad in blue jeans and baseball caps,
attended and carried signs that said, "I love salmon and I vote" and
"Fishermen deserve better."
Larry Collins, a commercial angler based in Fisherman's Wharf and president
of the Crab Boat Owners Association of San Francisco, said the industry is
making a concerted effort to counter "agribusiness bigwigs" who he accuses
of stealing water. Collins concedes that many in the state have started to
view the fishermen as something of a dying breed, but he said restoration of
wild salmon is still possible if voters start paying attention.
"We've lost 80 percent of our fleet in the last 25 years," Collins said,
citing a drop in state-issued fishing permits from 5,000 in 1985 to about
1,200 today. "I don't think the farmers can say that."
Key to their strategy is the species-protection law, which has forced a
federal judge to place limits on how much water can be pumped from the
delta. Spring-run and winter-run chinook salmon are listed as endangered
already, and the fall-run may not be far behind.
"The [Endangered Species Act] has been the key to holding the line," said
Jim McCarthy, of SalmonWaterNow. "These environmental protections are really
all these fisherman have."
The commercial fishermen are also hoping the legal maneuvering to outsmart a
federal biological opinion on salmon, which has led to the pumping
curtailment, will stop once public pressure is brought to bear. Dick Pool,
who owns Pro-Troll Fishing Products in Concord, Calif., said federal
scientists should be able to enforce the Endangered Species Act outside
political pressure from farmers who, in his view, should be directed to work
harder at efficiency and plant more drought-resistant crops.
But why not shift the focus away from salmon to crab, halibut, tuna or rock
cod, all of which are fished out of the San Francisco Bay? Because there is
money in salmon.
Collins said 70 percent of his income has been historically attached to the
salmon catch, which is the top-selling fish in the United States. Duncan
McLean, captain of the Barbara Faye out of Half Moon Bay, Calif., says the
only reason he started fishing crab was to pay his taxes.
"Losing the salmon season," McLean said, "is like retailers losing
Still, the fishermen acknowledge "Big Ag" tends to hold more political sway
Feinstein has long favored exporting more water to farms in the valley,
which is considered a pillar of the state's economy, and Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger (R) was able to push through a series of water bills last
year that could lead to billions of dollars invested in infrastructure
designed to store more water and transfer it around the state.
Schwarzenegger and Feinstein both support an $11 billion water bond that
goes before voters in November. The campaign on the bond is expected to pit
environmentalists and fishermen against irrigators and farmers, with
Democrats and Republicans slugging it out on the sidelines depending on
To Collins, who calls the forthcoming ballot fight "David vs. Goliath," the
future of his industry is linked to that bond like no other piece of policy.
If it passes, Collins says he might as well start planning for retirement.
"We're done if that thing passes," Collins said. "The farmers are never
going to stand up and say, 'We have enough water now.'"
Miller said the answer is to "back up" the fishing community's passion in
Washington, where he wants Congress to approach the delta's maze of problems
with the same kind of state-federal partnership responsible for attempting
to restore the Everglades. Miller has met recently with Interior Secretary
Ken Salazar and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman
Nancy Sutley to urge a deltawide approach, as opposed to a piecemeal
As for the farmers, Miller said he wants to reach out to them and bring all
interests to the table.
"We asked our colleagues in the Central Valley, were they willing to check
their guns at the door?" he said. "We can't go back to the old way of doing
The White House appears to be listening to both sides. Salazar conceded to
Feinstein when she demanded the NAS study of the delta. And he included in
the Obama administration's budget proposal for fiscal 2011 increases of
$106.0 million for Land and Water Conservation Fund programs and $71.4
million for investments in major ecosystem restoration projects in the
Chesapeake Bay, California's Bay Delta, the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and
Mississippi, and the Everglades.
Asked whether he saw that political balance on the issue might be shifting
away from agriculture to the fishing community, Rep. Thompson was
"I don't think," he said, "that's going to change anytime soon."
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land/fax (call first to fax)
415 519 4810 mobile
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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