Protect the Delta, Protect Fishing Jobs

Yesterday, recreational and commercial fishermen issued a press release (see below) warning that California’s, and much of Oregon’s, salmon fishery will likely be closed again in 2010, because of record low numbers of returning Central Valley salmon.  Despite approximately 30 million salmon smolts being released from hatcheries each year, fewer than 40,000 adult salmon returned to the Sacramento River in 2009, far fewer than 2008’s record low returns.   Only a decade ago, before the state and federal water projects ramped up pumping from the Delta to record levels, more than 700,000 salmon returned. 

Yet from most press accounts, you wouldn’t know that our salmon – and fishermen and fishing communities -- are disappearing.

Instead, the press is filled with farmers and others demonizing "six minnows."

Instead, every woe in the Central Valley is blamed on the Endangered Species Act. This despite the fact that California had record crops of processing tomatoes and rice last year, despite the fact that the agricultural trade press is reporting that State data shows that less than 1,500 jobs were lost statewide in agriculture, and despite the fact that more than 75% of the water supply impacts last year were due to drought.

Instead, some claim we are putting fish before people.  It is not true. Protecting the Delta protects thousands of fishing jobs and the economic livelihood of communities across California and Oregon, as the Chronicle reported today, and as commercial fishermen say here

The collapse of salmon populations in the Central Valley, and the utter devastation of the fishing industry, is why I do what I do to protect and restore the Delta and our rivers.  We are fighting to help ensure that future generations can see a wild Chinook salmon swimming upstream to spawn. To ensure we can take our kids out fishing for salmon or steelhead, and that our children can do so with their children.  To ensure that someday, we can once again cook a California salmon on the barbeque and share it with friends and family.  

We may not be able to return to the days when the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers ran so thick with salmon that you could practically walk on their backs, or spear them with pitchforks. But this is our heritage at stake.  This is why I fight for the Delta.

When we wrote Fish Out of Water, NRDC’s report about how water management threatened the permanent closure of California’s salmon fishery, many people were skeptical. Even I was skeptical at first.  Now, Peter Moyle, the State's preeminent fishery biologist, was quoted today saying that listing fall run Chinoook salmon under the ESA "should be seriously considered."

Let's not let fishermen's sacrifice be in vain.  We cannot weaken environmental protections in the Delta, or we will lose these fishing jobs, and communities, forever (not to mention driving species to extinction).  Instead, let's work together on real solutions that benefi everyone that depends on the Delta, like investing in the Virtual River to meet our water needs.


For Immediate Release: February 11, 2010

Contact: Zeke Grader, PCFFA, 415-606-5140
               Dick Pool, Water4Fish, 925-963-6350

Fishermen Worry About Future of Central Valley Salmon Runs

Record Low 2009 salmon return caused by delta pumping

San Francisco, CA  --  The Pacific Fisheries Management Council has just released numbers showing California’s once abundant salmon runs came in at a new all time record low in 2009. 

The Council reports “In 2009, a total of 39,530 natural and hatchery SRFC [Sacramento River Fall Chinook] adults were estimated to have returned to the Sacramento River basin for spawning….The 2009 adult escapement estimate is the lowest on record and continues the declining trend in SRFC escapement despite the 2008 and 2009 closures of nearly all ocean Chinook fisheries south of Cape Falcon…”

The Council’s report shows that federally protected runs of winter and spring run chinook both came in at less than 5,000 individuals each.  The San Joaquin River is in particularly bad shape with just under 2100 salmon representing perhaps the last of their race there. 

“Salmon have been part of California for thousands of years and this report shows we’re losing them,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.  “If we wipe our salmon out, we’ll also be wiping out generations of fishing families from the central California coast to northern Oregon that have all relied on king salmon from the Sacramento River to make a living.  Why are San Joaquin agricultural operators selling their water to southern California developers and then demanding more water from the Delta?”

The last three years of salmon returns have each set new record lows and coincide directly with three of the highest years of delta water diversions.  Delta pumping kills juvenile salmon migrating through the delta to the sea.  It takes three years for surviving salmon to return as adults and to realize the full destruction caused by the pumps.  

“We’re watching our salmon disappear in exact concert with a 16 percent increase of delta water diversions over the last decade,” said Dick Pool.  “The full throttle pumping of delta waters is wiping out valuable salmon worth over a billion dollars to the commercial and sport fishing sectors.”

All salmon runs and many other fish species in the Delta collapsed in 2007 after a dramatic increase in pumping of water to points south.   As a result, regulators closed all ocean fishing of chinook (also known as king) salmon in California and most of Oregon in 2008 and 2009 to save the salmon.  The Central Valley stocks typically provide 90 percent of all king salmon harvest off California and 60 percent of all king salmon harvested off Oregon in both sport and commercial fisheries.

Southwick Associates have estimated that the closure has cost an estimated 23,000 jobs and $1.4 billion in the California economy.  California has over 2,000 small and medium businesses that derive most or all of their income from the recreational and commercial salmon industry. These businesses include 1,200 commercial boats, 11 manufacturers, seven wholesalers, 904 retailers, 230 guides and charter boats, 74 marinas and hundreds of boat dealers and marine parts and service centers.  

Behind those statistics lies enormous suffering by families along one thousand miles of Pacific Coast.  Boats are tied up on docks, marina businesses have closed, homes have been lost to foreclosure.    West Coast restaurants that once featured locally caught salmon, are increasingly turning to imported fish as local harvests decline.

Agricultural employment in the seven county area impacted by the pumping restrictions was actually up between 2008 and 2009, and the California almond industry had record shipments of 1.39 billion pounds in 2008-2009, up 10 percent over 2007-2008.  Over the same period, the Oregon and California salmon industries experienced near total shutdown.   

On average, San Joaquin Valley agricultural contractors got 80 percent of their contract allocations last year, although there were some localized shortages primarily due to drought. In comparison, average Westside deliveries in the past two decades has been about 60 percent of full allocations

A key issue has been the wreckless 16 percent increase in delta pumping over the last decade above levels of the 1990’s. 

The report of the Pacific Fishery Management Council report is available at: