Salmon Industry Welcomes Early Indicators of Salmon Recovery
More Delta flows paying off, salmon-industry jobs revived
Petaluma, CA – Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA) is welcoming strong early indicators that federal salmon rebuilding plans are starting to succeed. This year has seen better salmon runs and the revival of thousands of jobs that depend on an abundant salmon fishery. Federal Delta protections are helping not only salmon, but also other fish dependent on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Salmon industry representatives stressed that salmon runs still have a long way to go before the industry can maintain the thousands of family-wage jobs, millions of pounds of seafood production, and world-class recreational opportunities it traditionally provided until a few years ago.
Thanks to rebounding fall chinook salmon numbers, this year has seen a modest salmon season in California, and a poor salmon season in Oregon. Fishing communities in both states are dependent on Central Valley salmon runs. Fishing businesses and families have suffered through three previous years of devastating fishing closures due to a salmon population crash driven largely by over diversion of Delta water to agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley and other water users.
Positive signs this year include:
• Good salmon returns to the Mokelumne River. Chinook salmon counts on the Mokelumne River are way up, with some daily counts at or near all-time records. This is largely due to a ten-day closure of Delta diversion gates from October 4th to the 14th. When open, the gates have historically interfered with salmon migration.
• Salmon counts in the Feather River, the Sacramento River’s largest tributary, have already surpassed last year.
• The state’s Delta smelt fall trawl survey showed a welcome uptick in the highly endangered Delta smelt population, indicating that better water management may have slowed or halted the Delta-estuary ecosystem’s rapid decline.
“In the middle of the economic recession facing the whole nation, we’ve got many of our salmon industry jobs back this year, and for that we’re thankful this year.” said Golden Gate Salmon Association President Victor Gonella.
The improvements seen this year are largely the result of several factors including key court rulings in 2008 and 2009 won by Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Council attorneys representing GGSA member group Pacific Coast Federation of
Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), as well as other salmon advocates.
After driving the Delta and fish species to collapse by taking too much water, water managers were forced under court order to reduce their diversions.
In 2009 and 2010, new and improved federal rules limiting diversions took the place of the court orders and will hopefully prevent the wholesale massacre of salmon and Delta fish that took place during the last decade. Water users in the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere who covet the water needed by salmon to thrive have attacked these improved federal protections.
“These science-based, common-sense Delta protections are starting to work,” said GGSA director and Pro Troll tackle owner Dick Pool. “It’s absolutely vital that we keep these protections in place to allow the rebuilding of our salmon runs and the return of the tens of thousands of jobs our industry supports.”
In the Mokelumne River, managers have counted more than 3,300 chinook at the Woodbridge Dam, up from 946 in 2010. The ten-day closing of the diversionary Cross Channel Gates is a main reason these salmon can successfully find their way home this year.
The closure comes after three years of tireless lobbying by GGSA director Dick Pool.
Since counting began in the Feather River on September 1, salmon numbers already outpace the 45,000 counted for all of 2010. By comparison, in 2008 and 2009 the count came in at about 6,000 and 5,000 respectively. Returning 2008 and 2009 year class fish faced hostile freshwater diversion rates in the Delta in 2006 and 2007 when they tried to navigate to sea. Many died in the Delta as a result.
“These Delta protections are partly about the timing of pumping and partly about the volume of water going south,” said GGSA director and PCFFA executive director Zeke Grader. “One critical issue for salmon fishermen is, if the pumps run too high during the outmigration of young salmon in the late winter and spring, the little fish just get hammered. At other times of the year when salmon are not present, pumping restrictions are not as critical for salmon survival.”
Trucking of fish from Central Valley hatcheries to release sites safely west of the deadly influence of the Delta pumps also helped restore the salmon numbers seen this year.
Even with protections in place, millions of native fish have been killed in the deadly Delta pumps in 2011.
“Even with the current federal protections in place, attempts to seize Delta water by water users south of the Delta continue to threaten the salmon we need to make a living,” said GGSA director and charter boat captain Roger Thomas. “We’ve only reduced, not eliminated, the damage caused by the Delta pumps. As long as the pumps interfere with the natural flows of the bay and Delta we’ll need to continue physically transporting hatchery juvenile salmon in tanker trucks.”