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By Zeke Grader, Glen Spain
December 1956 marked the time when Californias salmon interests commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, fish processors and scientists -- finally said Enough! and joined together in a common bond to save that states rapidly dwindling salmon resource.
Earlier that year the Legislature had voted to close the wests oldest non-Tribal fishery, the century-old gillnet fishery on San Francisco Bay and the Delta up the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Fearing that ocean fisheries would be next, with trollers and then anglers in line to fall next, these long-time antagonists recognized their common fate if they did not join together to fight for the fish.
Now fifty years later, its no longer just Californias fight, but a coastwide one. For fifty years the differing sectors of the wild salmon fishery have come together in a common cause, proclaiming there should be no more losses of salmon, no more losses of fisheries, no more losses of fishermen. Its time to say loudly, clearly, unequivocally, that were not just going to protect what weve got, but were going to get back what is rightfully the fishes, what is rightfully ours, what is rightfully posteritys.
This year weve witnessed the salmon fishery off Oregon and California reduced by ninety percent over what it was just a few years ago. Were witnessing more cutbacks on fisheries off Washington because Columbia numbers are again down.
Alaskas troll fishery, too, is threatened by declining Columbia numbers. Serious threats abound to Alaskas own fish stocks from proposals to open up Bristol Bay to offshore oil drilling and to large mining operations in salmon watersheds. Weve already seen whats happened to British Columbias once vibrant salmon fisheries. Government policies there now favor those who destroy salmon streams by promoting nearshore salmon aquaculture, spreading parasites and threatening the demise of the Provinces wild salmon fisheries.
This year weve watched the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), our nations fishery agency (often better known now as NO Fisheries) being ordered about from the highest levels in the White House and its Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), ignoring its own scientists, inventing biological and economic data, declaring its intent to close the salmon fishery off California and Oregon to protect the very Klamath fish the Administrations own prior policies have nearly destroyed.
We heard earlier this years from the head of CEQ, James Connaughton, who declared the federal governments salmon policy to be one of saving fish killing dams, but shutting down the mitigation hatcheries and closing the fisheries. Federal officials work to destroy fisheries and then proclaim a national seafood deficit to justify privatizing the ocean commons for large at-sea aquaculture operations owned and run by their corporate contributors.
No single sector of the salmon fishery not the commercial fishermen, not the recreational anglers, not the Tribes, not the processors and distributors, certainly not the scientists most of whom now fear for their jobs can save it alone. It will take everyone. But, as disheartening as many of the events of this year have been, there is much cause for hope.
Weve recently heard from a new, large and highly energized angler organization the Coastside Fishing Club -- speak of the need to work together to save the salmon fisheries and recognizing the common bond with their commercial bretheren. Alaska Trollers Associations Dale Kelley, too, has spoken of the need for a coastwide effort on behalf of the salmon fishery. The Yurok, Hupa and Karuk Tribes of the Klamath Basin have become close collaborators with non-Tribal fishing interests to save the fish of the Klamath River that sustained them for 14,000 years. In a recent Seattle Post-Intelligencer opinion piece the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commissions Billy Frank recently made the compelling case for protecting salmon habitat and with it salmon fisheries.
This year, for the first time in many seasons, fish processors whose operations depend on the unloading and distribution of wild salmon began making their voices heard, as have some of the finest white tablecloth restaurants whose diners demand wild, not farmed, salmon. The animosity with fishermen over prices was forgotten, recognizing the larger loss of being without these fish at all.
It may be impossible to find agency scientists who would speak out as did the likes of John Pelnar, Dick Hallock and others in California a half century ago for what is right for salmon. There is little tolerance anymore for those in NMFS that side with fish protection when it is contrary to Administration policy. But there are many independent scientists, the retired agency scientists, and scientists within academia who can be called on to provide the technical assistance and guidance needed to protect and rebuild the runs and the fisheries.
The makings of an powerful alliance are all there. Its now time to act on it.
It is easy to become discouraged and even paranoid about the events of recent years, feeling that there is a vast conspiracy to destroy the salmon fishery. After all, salmon fishermen stand in the way of progress, blocking, impeding or making less profitable other large sectors of the economy whose activities systematically destroy salmon habitat. Standing up for salmon is no way to gain popularity in a meeting of hydropower advocates, irrigated agriculture, municipal water agencies, big timber companies, mining operators, polluters or developers. Getting rid of salmon and the pesky fishermen who defend them would certainly make life easier for these big money interests.
Salmon fishermen are not large political campaign contributors, unlike those whose activities threaten salmon. CEQs James Connaughton was not concerned with elaborating a policy for maintaining salmon populations when he spoke earlier this year at the Salmon 2100 conference in Portland. He was there to show campaign contributors who are big hydropower consumers, Columbia industrial water users, timber companies and developers that the Bush Administration would not jeopardize their interests just for these fish.
Nor was the Administration really very concerned with protecting Klamath salmon when it called for a nearly complete closure of the salmon fishery off California and Oregon this year. After all, it was their own past water policies that led to the drastic 2002 reduction in Klamath flows that in turn led to massive fish kills later that year and nearly every year since. Administration effort to close down fisheries instead of addressing the real problems in the Klamath Basin was nothing more than a blame the fishermen political diversion from their own failed Klamath water policies.
Adding to the feeling of paranoia is the fact that the Administration is still actively pushing a large ocean aquaculture development bill. Fish farmers would be the major beneficiaries of the elimination of wild capture fisheries, and salmon fishermen have long been among the most vocal critics of salmon farms. Getting wild salmon off the market would help to avoid unfavorable comparisons to farmed fish and all the environmental baggage that comes with their production.
Thats the conspiracy many imagine. But conspiracies involve planning and intelligence. That, frankly, seems in short supply today in DC or in the political decision-making regions of these agencies. Rather than some grand conspiracy, what were probably watching is an Administration that is simply making it up as it goes along, acting out of what it senses as expedient and not from any master plan. What we have to do is convince the Administration that the elimination of wild salmon and its fishery is not in anyones interest.
The actions needed to save and rebuild our salmon stocks, and with it our salmon fisheries, are all well known. The biggest difficulty is not in knowing what needs doing, but in finding the financial resources to do it from a federal government that has plunged deeply in debt and from state coffers with little to spare. The only way to effectively secure that funding is to put together a grand salmon coalition that will pressure for the changes needed and lobby hard for the monies necessary to make it happen.
On the Klamath, which has stolen all the headlines this year, the elements of recovery are fairly straight-forward. In the short term there has to be a plan in place that can be acted on to prevent any more die-offs from the parasites and poor water quality conditions in the river. This is probably a combination of studies (fish health), monitoring of fish and water quality, and whatever emergency intervention is needed to prevent more die-offs.
In the longer term its a matter of removing the four old PacifiCorp hydropower dams that are now up for relicensing. These dams not only block fish migration to the upper reaches of this basin but, worse, create serious water quality problems. The shallow reservoirs heat up nutrient rich water, causing algal blooms and hypoxia and creating dead zones in the river.
The federal fish agencies the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, NMFS and the Bureau of Land Management -- have all recommended tough conditions for relicencing PacfiCorps Klamath unit, which may help to hasten dam removal. Dam removal followed by assurances of adequate water flows are the foundation for rebuilding the Klamath River and returning salmon to the upper basin as well as to ports such as Fort Bragg, Eureka and Brookings. The Pacific Fishery Management Council itself has recommended dam removal as the best option for salmon in the Klamath River.
On the Columbia, the critical factor there is the operation of the federal hydropower dams for fish passage and protection, coupled with the removal of the four lower Snake River Dams. These lower four Snake River dams just dont pencil out, particularly given the damage they do to salmon and the relatively few benefits they provide (all easily replaceable), and they have to be removed. In fact, it is far cheaper in the long run to remove those four lower Snake dams than to keep them. Dam removal can be a painstakingly long process, as weve seen on the Elwha, the Rogue River and Battle Creek, but it can and does happen. Remember it only took one day to remove eight dams on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers when the U.S. invaded Iraq.
In the Central Valley on the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, the key is to keep moving forward with rebuilding salmon populations. There has been considerable progress made in the Sacramento, witnessed by the high returns to that system in recent years, but there is still much to be done. The San Joaquin may soon have fish flows again below Friant Dam for the first time in 60 years to begin the process of repopulating that once great salmon river.
But despite the progress on the Sacramento and the favorable court decision on the San Joaquin, threats to salmon still abound. The Delta ecosystem is collapsing, which could soon affect juvenile salmon migrating through that waterway. Making matters worse, there are plans afoot to increase freshwater diversions from the Delta, a system that is already running a deficit of 1.6 million acre-feet annually needed to maintain estuarine function in the Delta and San Francisco Bay.
Coho along much of the coast as well as some chinook runs have been listed under the Endangered Species Act for over a decade now and there are still no recovery plans. NMFSs policy of list and languish has to be changed. Enforcement of the ESA on other than fishermen is needed to recover these stocks and protect their habitat. To date, with the exception of Sacramento winter-run chinook that are recovering, ESA enforcement has been weak and there are no plans in place for recovering many of these once economically important runs.
In Alaska, where habitats have remained largely pristine, there are proposals afoot that could threaten the worlds largest remaining wild salmon runs. While fishermen still have not gotten compensated for the damage done by the Exxon Valdez spills, there are again plans to drill for oil in Bristol Bay. Ashore there are proposals for mining operations on some critical salmon streams and there are always those proposing new logging operations in the great rainforests of this region forests that also provide critical habitat for the salmon our fisheries depend upon.
For fishermen along the west coast who may never fish Alaskan waters, keeping Alaskan wild salmon coming to market is important for maintaining the wild salmon market for Washington, Oregon and California fishermen. This is all the more important this year when much of the salmon season in the lower 48 is closed.
There is nothing that can spur action as much as a crisis. And were in a crisis now. If Connaughtons speech was the sinking of the Reuben James, then certainly the decision to close much of the Oregon and California coast due to the calamity in the Klamath was our Pearl Harbor.
Now it the time we must act. We know who are allies should be and they recognize the need for common action. We also know what needs to be done and that if we dont do it, no one will. Now is the time for our grand alliance, now is the time to say no more salmon losses, now is the time to strike back.
Zeke Grader is the Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens Associations (PCFFA), the west coasts largest trade association of commercial fishing families. Glen Spain is PCFFA's Northwest Regional Director and Director of its Salmon Program. PCFFA can be reached at its Southwest Office at PO Box 29370, San Francisco, CA 94129-0370, (415)561-5080, and at its Northwest Office at PO Box 11170, Eugene, OR 97440-3370, (541)689-2000 or by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. PCFFAs Internet Home Page is at: www.pcffa.org.
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