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Fishermen Worry About Future of Central Valley Salmon Runs


Record Low 2009 salmon return caused by delta pumping


February 11, 2010 -- 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  http://www.pcouncil.org/salmon/salsafe09/salsafe09.html