Saturday, April 12, 2008

Salmon Fishery Closed
We have killed the salmon. Too much building. Too many manicured lawns. Too short sighted. The west coast salmon fishery has been closed.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted Thursday to ban commercial and recreational fishing of chinook salmon off the California coast and most of Oregon this year to reverse an unprecedented decline in the Sacramento River, traditionally one of the West Coast's most productive wild salmon runs.

The council also recommended that sport and commercial fishing be sharply curtailed off the Washington coast to protect depressed salmon stocks there.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is expected to approve the council's recommendations by May 1, the start of the commercial season.

"It's going to be extremely tough because for a lot of fishermen salmon is at least 50 percent of their income," said Zeke Grader, who heads the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "We need to figure out how to cushion this so people can stay afloat."

Most of the articles refuse to say what caused it. Scientists say it is unknown. We made the water a garbage dump.

There seems to be no great mystery about the collapse of the salmon fishery.

"Salmon are trapped between human population growth, economic development, degradation of environmental quality and the politics of public policy," Montgomery wrote.

There are a lot of reasons the population of salmon returning to their spawning grounds on the Sacramento River and its tributaries dropped from 800,000 six years ago to 68,000 last year.

Some say the food chain in the ocean has changed; some say global warming has made the ocean too warm for the fish, and you can find fishermen who think the fishery has been mismanaged. Maybe it was overfishing. Maybe, as Fitzpatrick thinks, the fry from fish hatcheries were dumped in the bay from pipes, and, stunned, were eaten by predators.

Then there are the dams. Over the last 60 or 70 years, California has diverted most of the flow of its water from the Central Valley to farms and Southern California.

The rivers that drain the Sierra used to flow through the valleys and into the ocean; millions and millions of gallons poured through the Golden Gate.

First Shasta Dam diverted water from the Sacramento; then the Friant Dam was built to take water from the San Joaquin River. All these rivers and their tributaries were prime salmon runs.

"You know there was a million fish run on the San Joaquin River before the water was diverted?" says Collins. "You know that at Los Banos, they caught 800,000 fish?" Los Banos is near what is now Interstate 5. The San Joaquin River near there is now almost dry; no fish could survive in it.

Then the state built the California Water Project, diverting the flows of the Sacramento and Feather rivers. One result was the collapse of the delta smelt, a small fish that is thought to be the bellwether of the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

All the salmon, returning to spawn or swimming downstream to the ocean, must pass through the delta. "The delta," said Collins, "is just a sewer now."

"Without water, the fish can't live," he said. "We sacrificed the fish for farms and to water lawns."

It really is sad.

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