[env-trinity] Times Standard: Poor season forecast for Klamath Chinook salmon
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Tue Mar 8 08:43:53 PST 2016
Poor season forecast for Klamath Chinook salmon
A population estimate for Chinook salmon (pictured) from the Klamath River for the upcoming fall run is the second lowest since at least 1996, according to the state. About 142,200 Klamath River Chinook salmon are estimated to be in the ocean, with fewer expected to return to the river to spawn. Times-Standard fileBy Will Houston, Eureka Times-StandardPOSTED: 03/05/16, 10:15 PM PST | UPDATED: 2 DAYS AGO0 COMMENTSA dismal crab season may soon be followed by a poor turnout of fall run Chinook salmon in the Klamath River this year.The California and Oregon Departments of Fish and Wildlife estimate there to be 142,200 Klamath River fall run Chinook salmon in the Pacific Ocean this year, which is nearly a third of last year’s estimate and the second lowest predicted run size since at least 1996.For Stillwater Sciences senior fish biologist Joshua Strange, the low prediction is yet another indicator of the combined effects of climate change and the ongoing California drought. “In the last year or two, ocean productivity in our area was still good,” Strange said. “It was essentially compensating for the drought and the poor river conditions and the fish diseases. Now that the ocean has shifted into a cycle of poor productivity for our coast, it has now exacerbated the effects of the drought and increased fish disease.“It’s also a clear warning sign that we need to do more to protect salmon and restore our rivers,” he continued.During the next few months, the Pacific Fishery Management Council and California Fish and Game Commission will use the predictions and other data to set salmon fishing season dates and catch restrictions. The Fish and Game Commission is set to make its final decision on April 18.The Hoopa Valley Tribe’s Fisheries Director Mike Orcutt said that even if more fish turn up than were predicted to, it does not mean that these fish will be swimming up the Klamath and Trinity Rivers.“The bottom line of it all is well under what we have seen in recent years,” Orcutt said “It will meager in terms of harvest.”The Yurok and Hoopa tribes are entitled by the federal government to harvest at least 50 percent of the surplus Klamath River Chinook salmon that return to spawn. Orcutt said their harvest numbers could be drastically reduced by the state, which also has the power to close the fishery altogether as is currently occurring with the Dungeness crab seasonSince 1996, only the 2006 run of Klamath fall-run Chinook salmon had a lower predicted run size than this year’s. The 2006 prediction prompted the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to declare a salmon fisheries disaster for California and Oregon in order to open up federal relief funds.“From 2001 to 2005, drought conditions in the upper Klamath Basin resulted in very low flow conditions in the Klamath River and its tributaries,” a 2013 Congressional Research Service report states. “Low flows likely contributed to substantial mortality of juvenile and adult Chinook salmon by creating an environment in which they become more susceptible to endemic diseases.” AdvertisementWhile the 2006 population size ended up being slightly higher than predicted with about 159,000 salmon recorded, the fishery was strictly curtailed between May and August that year.“Although a complete closure of the fishery was avoided, landings decreased in 2006 by 81 percent when compared to the average of the preceding five years,” the 2013 Congressional Research Services report states.While there recently have been some “power broods” for Klamath River Chinook, such as the 2012 record-breaking population of nearly 880,000, Orcutt said the returns have dropped steadily throughout the years.Within the next few weeks, Orcutt said they’ll be able to estimate how many salmon will likely swim upriver, though his expectations aren’t very high.“There is not going to be a whole lot of fish,” Orcutt said.Jim McCarthy, the southern Oregon Program Manager for the environmental organization WaterWatch of Oregon, stated in an email sent to news media that these forecasts have, in the past, been lower than the actual population sizes. But since 1996, only seven predictions for Klamath fall run Chinook were lower than the actual population size as opposed to the 12 predictions that overestimated the population, according to the state data.“However, it is important to note that because of the complexity in the salmon season setting process and number of factors considered, this 2016 Klamath run number doesn’t mean that we will see an exact repeat of 2006,” McCarthy wrote. “However, it will mean that coastal communities will most likely take a big economic hit this year.”Strange said it’s hard to pinpoint an exact cause of the low salmon population, but said it comes in the midst of several other marine creature maladies, including high concentrations of neurotoxins found in Dungeness crab and record die-offs of sea lion populations in southern California. Whether it’s carbon sequestration raising the acidity of the ocean waters, abnormally warm ocean waters or radiation from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, Strange said the base of the marine food chain is collapsing under the strain.“Salmon are not going to be able to escape that level of disturbance in the marine environment,” Strange said. “There are a lot of serious indicators.”Similar to the 2006 salmon run, this year’s run is also preceded by several years of drought conditions which led to outbreaks of deadly fish pathogens, juvenile fish death, barred passage to essential spawning tributaries throughout the last few years.Strange said that humans have more control over freshwater environments than the oceans, which if properly protected could lessen the burden on the fish. One method of doing this that Strange and Orcutt support is the removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River as part of the renewed Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement project.“The clock is ticking with Mother Nature,” Strange said. “We don’t have an endless amount of time to remove the dams on the Klamath River. The salmon really need that to happen as soon as possible to help compensate for some of the negative impacts of global warming, which includes impacts to the marine environment as well as freshwater.”By removing the dams, Orcutt said that it would give the salmon access to cold, disease-free water supplies.“The health of the population is driven by the health of the habitat in the (Klamath River) basin,” he said. “We’re not doing all that great in terms of survival.”Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.
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