Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Salmon Crisis is a Crisis Only If People Do Nothing

Essay on Salmon for the Sacbee, April 28, 2008

Re: A Fisherman’s View of the salmon crisis by Dave Bitts, April 28, 2008

The pressure on all waterways in the Sacramento River drainage has been unrelenting and unabated. Born in Ophir and growing up on the Auburn Ravine, I have seen the pressure on this one stream continue for over sixty years. I want to use this one Ravine to speak to the pressure that all our waterways are under and try to understand why the salmon are currently in such peril.

Mr. Bitts says rightly that “we have abused our rivers to the point that the fish are on the verge of vanishing”. The Auburn Ravine was polluted first by gold miners during the Gold Rush and for years by the affluent of the city of Auburn, improperly treated, being dumped directly into the Ravine. Finally, the State of California fined the city and forced it to clean up it affluent. Frequently, the stench was so strong for us people living on the banks of the Ravine that at times we were forced to leave our homes. Conditions improved but pollution spills continue to occur.

In order to meet water needs of commercial and agricultural consumers, fifty years ago Federal Energy Regimenting Commission (FERC)’s primary concern was providing power; the concerns of aquatic life in the streams were of secondary importance. Twelve man-made barriers were constructed on the Auburn Ravine and are still in use today. Salmon cannot pass these barriers to reach spawning grounds. The Auburn Ravine’s salmon and steelhead runs were stopped completely, preventing the fishes from spawning. The salmon had to look for other waterways, in which to reproduce.

Then the federal government started to build the Auburn Dam on the American River near Auburn. A tunnel was drilled from the dam sight through the mountain to the Auburn Ravine in Ophir, transporting water to the Auburn Ravine. The Ravine’s riverbed was bulldozed to enhance water flow, destroying countless aquatic life forms and their habitat such as pond turtles, pacific lamprey eels, muskrats, sculpin and frogs to name only a fraction. The temperature of American River water was not the same as the water in the Auburn Ravine stressing its aquatic life forms. The focus was on providing water and creating power not on preserving native flora and fauna. The Auburn Dam was stopped by the damage to the Auburn Ravine remains.

No one seems to know what the exact cause of the salmon crisis so many causes are listed. The main cause can all too neatly be attributed to ocean conditions because they cannot be measured or controlled easily, and no one or no one condition can be held accountable for the impending extinction so nothing logically can be done about it because no one agrees on the cause. Not knowing the cause is much too neat and too easy an attribution. Salmon have evolved over eons to survive the vagaries of ocean conditions and have successfully done so. What salmon have not evolved to survive is the damming of their rivers, the diversion of the river water and the seasonal shutoffs of water flow by irrigation districts to maintain canals. When streams are blocked and water is taken away from the creek during the fall, when agricultural usage is lowest, that is specifically the time when Fall Run Chinook Salmon are coming up the streams to spawn, then the mystery of the impending extinction of the salmon is obvious. If salmon do not have water to spawn in, the salmon cycle is doomed. Lacking adequate water when they need it is a death sentence for salmon.

But the good news is the salmon are much diminished in number but are not yet extinct. Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead (SARSAS) is just one citizen led, volunteer, grassroots organization, attempting to return salmon and steelhead to one creek, the Auburn Ravine, by making all twelve man-made barriers passable to fishes. California Department of Fish and Game, Placer Legacy, members of the Placer County Board of Supervisors and Auburn City Council, Nevada Irrigation District and others are working with SARSAS, helping to make the Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead to the Auburn Ravine.

For the next four years FERC is listening to public input before it re-licenses the water companies for the next fifty years. The public has the opportunity to speak up for salmon, but connecting with FERC will not be easy. Now is the time to speak up for salmon because water policy will be formulated by 2012 for the next fifty years.

As long as salmon still swim in our rivers and stream, people have time to save the salmon. People, working with government, not government alone, will save the salmon if they are to be saved. But, time is running out quickly. 796 4-29-08

Another View: Oregon, California salmon

April 1, 2008
The (Eugene) Register-Guard, March 26, 2008
Times are hard for industries all across America, but they may be toughest for salmon fishermen on the Oregon and California coasts.

For three consecutive years, dismal salmon returns on the Klamath River have resulted in disastrous seasons for West Coast fishermen and the communities that rely on the business they create for small ports.

The coming year could be the worst of all — the first complete shutdown of both the commercial and sport seasons ever on the West Coast.

A closure order could come as early as this weekend, when the Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in Sacramento. The council is weighing three options, ranging from a bare-bones season to a total ban. Fishermen are expecting the worst and for good reason.

While the Klamath River runs have improved, returns on the Sacramento River have collapsed. Only 90,000 Chinook returned to spawn last year, a 90 percent decline from just five years ago.

Projections for 2008 are abysmal — so low that any fishing, even for scientific research, will require an emergency order from U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who oversees the National Marine Fisheries Service.

That’s bad news on any river, but the Sacramento has by far the most important salmon run on the West Coast. By some estimates, the Sacramento supports 90 percent of the ocean fishery off the California coast and 50 percent off the Oregon and Washington coasts.

If the council announces a ban or even a repeat of the severe cutbacks ordered in 2006 the federal government must begin immediately the process of issuing the disaster declaration needed before Congress can approve emergency assistance for the fishing industry.

The governors of California, Oregon and Washington have asked Gutierrez to declare a fishery disaster, as have Sen. Ron Wyden and other members of Oregon’s congressional delegation.

The message should be clear to Gutierrez that there must be no repeat of the 2006 debacle in which the Bush administration took months to declare the salmon season a failure. As a result of that needless delay, some fishing families and businesses are just now getting some of the $60 million in aid that finally was authorized in the summer of 2007.

Gutierrez should pay a visit to ports in Oregon to get a firsthand feel for the extent of the problem. Without assistance, fishermen who barely have managed to hang on by turning to other species, such as tuna and crab, won’t be able to make it through another year.

With no income from salmon, they’ll be unable to cover boat mortgage payments and moorage fees. Businesses that rely on income from fishermen may fail, as will an Oregon Coast where the economy is built on a foundation of salmon.

It’s frustratingly unclear why the traditionally robust run of Sacramento chinook has fallen to such perilously low levels. The most widely held theory is that a shift in ocean conditions has wiped out the salmon’s food supply.

But fish biologists rightly point out that a long chain of interlinked factors are also to blame, including overfishing, pollution, excessive water diversions to farms and cities, an overreliance on hatchery-produced fish, and, perhaps most importantly, the debilitating impact of dams. It’s revealing that the fishery management council plans to review 46 possible causes of the collapse of the Sacramento runs.

The solution to restoring runs on the Sacramento won’t be any less challenging than it is on the Klamath. It will require the combined effort of the fishing industry, farmers, Indian tribes, water-control agencies, utilities and environmentalists to rescue the Sacramento’s dwindling salmon runs.

But the first step must be to help the people who catch salmon for a living and the coastal communities where they live and work.
-- The Associated Press
Delaying Critical Habitat
The Bush Administration often asserts that critical habitat designations are being rushed, and that it quite
reasonably wants to delay them until after recovery plans are complete. Yet only 17% (=33) of the 195 critical
habitats it has been forced to designate occurred prior to a recovery plan. And in 25 of those 33 cases, it was
the Bush administration that was at fault for violating federal guidelines to issue recovery plans within three
years of listing. The Bush Administration is playing a cynical and deadly game by asking to delay critical
habitat until after recovery plans are complete, then refusing to complete the recovery plans.

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