Where have all the salmon gone? State committee discusses impacts of low runs
May 24, 2017
Eureka Times Standard By Will Houston
Already faced with unprecedented low numbers of returning salmon and drastically reduced fishing allowances, California’s fishing fleets and communities are not expected to find any relief in the next few years, according to testimony by a host of experts and regulators at the State Capitol on Wednesday.
“Things are going to get worse before they get better,” Pacific Fishery Management Councilwoman Marci Yaremko said at the California Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture hearing at the State Capitol on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s committee hearing — titled “Where Have All the Salmon Gone?” — brought together a host of fishery experts, tribal representatives, fishermen and state regulators to discuss what led to the low numbers of returning salmon, the impact on fishing fleets and communities and what to expect in the years to come.
The hearing was held nearly a week after the environmental organization CalTrout and UC Davis released a report stating that nearly 75 percent of the state’s 31 salmon, steelhead and trout species face extinction in the next century if current trends continue.
“We can’t afford to make more mistakes,” North Coast Assemblyman and committee Chairman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) said.
Commercial and recreational salmon fishing has been drastically reduced across the coastline this year or completely closed as is the case in waters between Humboldt County and southern Oregon.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council — which provides recommendations on commercial and recreational fishing allowances to federal regulators — expects to designate the Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon fishery as being overfished in 2018, according to Yaremko.
Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association President Roger Thomas said he has spoken with several fishermen in Eureka and Crescent City who expect to lose up to 70 percent of their annual income due to the salmon fishing closures.
Those fishermen who have ventured down to more southerly waters in the hopes of making some money this year are not having much luck, with some packing up their gear after a couple of days of little to no catch, according to Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations Executive Director Noah Oppenheim.
The associations’ president and Eureka resident David Bitts was on an advisory team that helped craft this year’s salmon fishing restrictions.
“From what I’ve heard, from the rates of catch so far, I’m not so confident we did the right thing by allowing any fishing at all because the rates of catching are very poor and efforts are dropping off,” Bitts said, before sighing heavily. “People are going to have to find other things to do.”
While other fisheries are available, such as halibut, Bitts said they will not be enough to make up for the loss of the state’s salmon fisheries.
Representatives from the Karuk, Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes traveled to Sacramento to testify on the impacts to their communities, which have relied on salmon throughout their history. The Yurok Tribe — California’s largest federally recognized tribe of over 6,000 members — was allocated 650 fish this year compared to the thousands they have received in previous years.
Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke Sr. said that this allocation will only be enough to provide some food to tribal elders and for ceremonies. Meanwhile, he said that the tribe’s and the town of Klamath’s economy will be significantly impacted as fishermen remain off the water, hotels and campgrounds go empty and tourists stop showing up.
“It’s not just the fish that are in danger of becoming extinct. It’s my people,” O’Rourke said. “It’s a people. It’s a way of life. That’s how it impacts our people. It hurts when I talk about it.”
Federal, state and tribal researchers said Wednesday that unprecedented warm ocean temperatures between 2014 through 2016, the five-year drought and federal river management practices played a significant role in the survival of salmon.
For the Klamath River Basin, Karuk Tribe Natural Resources Policy Advocate Craig Tucker attributed the decline in salmon to “150 years of bad decision-making”, poor land management and unregulated groundwater pumping and irrigation.
“I think it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that we’re basically allowing salmon to be reprocessed into timber and electricity and gold and alfalfa and, increasingly, marijuana,” Tucker said.
Yurok Tribe Fisheries Director Dave Hillemeier stated that low flows in 2014 and 2015 allowed a intestinal parasite to thrive and infect between 80 to 90 juvenile Coho and Chinook salmon on the Klamath River. Hillemeier said there is a “glimmer of hope” that this year’s heavy rains will allow more juveniles to survive.
This year’s low salmon runs are attributed to the low juvenile survival rates from years past, which are also expected to result in low runs in 2018 and 2019, federal fisheries biologist Michael O’Farrell said.
Hoopa Valley Tribe Councilwoman Vivienna Orcutt questioned some of the actions taken to rectify water rights disputes between tribes and irrigators in the Klamath River Basin, such as the now-expired Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, stating that they did not do enough to protect tribal trust resources and prevent the decline of fish populations.
“We have to reverse actions taken under the KBRA that reduce flows, make the Klamath River a breeding ground for disease that left unchecked could be a lethal blow to our fisheries stocks,” she said.
A proposal to remove four hydroelectric dams from the Klamath River starting in 2020 to improve water quality and renew fish habitat is currently being considered by the federal government. But Tucker said that the hundreds of irrigation projects in the Klamath Basin are what control the flows of the river, and ultimately the fate of the fish.
The next steps
Committee Chairman and North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) opened Wednesday’s hearing by saying California is facing a new reality.
“We are in a constant fishery disaster here in the Golden State,” McGuire said.
McGuire, Wood and California 2nd District Congressman Jared Huffman have called on Gov. Jerry Brown to ask the U.S. Department of Commerce to declare a fisheries disaster for the 2017 salmon season to allow federal relief funds to make up for some of the fleet’s losses.
McGuire and other speakers also expressed concerns about potential rollbacks of environmental protections on salmon by President Donald Trump’s administration.
Senate Bill 49 is currently being considered by the Legislature would make all current federal clean air, climate, clean water, worker safety and endangered species standards enforceable under state law.
Following a wet winter, Napa River fish trap yields high salmon count
May 23, 2017
Napa Valley By Berry Eberling
Jonathan Koehler is working the biggest fish-trapping contraption on the Napa River and finding out good news about Chinook salmon after a historic rain year.
This eight-foot-diameter metal funnel floats half-submerged and rotates as currents hit the inner baffles. Fish swim inside and end up trapped in a water-filled compartment.
“It’s sort of like the revolving door at a department store, where you step into it and you have to step inside the store,” Koehler said.
It almost seems unsporting, this device called a rotary screw trap that floats on a narrow section of river about a mile north of Trancas Street. But then, this is in the name of science, not a fish dinner, and the fish stay alive.
Koehler is senior biologist for the Napa County Resource Conservation District. One of his springtime chores is morning trips to clear out the trap compartment using a net.
He’s found baby Chinook salmon aplenty this spring. And, if that seems logical following the super wet winter – fish like water, right? – it’s not necessarily so. Drought may be bad, but too much water coursing down the river during a monster storm can be bad, too.
“Eggs are in the gravel,” Koehler said. “The force of the water just physically displaces them, gets them out in the water column, and they get crushed or eaten by predators or die in some other way.”
But Koehler and other trap-checkers have counted about 2,000 young salmon this year. The fish are released to continue their journey to the Pacific Ocean, from whence some will hopefully return to the Napa River as adults in few years to spawn.
The district has been counting fish in spring using this floating fish trap for nine years and spring 2017 is proving to be a bumper year for salmon.
“It looks like it’s going to be the second highest abundance of salmon we’ve seen,” Koehler said.
A young salmon count of 2,000 seems unlikely to threaten the high-water mark of 7,377 from 2011, even though it’s still growing. But that’s much higher than 2015 and 2014, when not a single salmon entered the trap.
“We consider the Napa River system primarily a steelhead system,” Koehler said. “It’s suitable for Chinook, but we don’t seem to have a stable, self-sustaining population yet.”
Koehler had an audience on Saturday morning as he cleared out the trap’s compartment. The Napa County Resource Conservation District held an open house.
“Oooooh,” several children shrieked when he found a lamprey, which resembles an eel. Then came smiles as the creature wiggled and peered out of Koehler’s net.
The Eel River to the north is named – or, in reality, misnamed—after the lamprey, Koehler said. Explorers in the mid-1800s misidentified the fish.
Steelhead, lamprey, California roach, prickly sculpin, three-spined stickleback and other native fish are among the more prominent species trapped in the Napa River in recent years. Non-native invaders such as pumpkinseed and fathead minnow are among the minority.
“Which is a good thing,” Koehler said. “It shows the ecosystem is fairly intact that way.”
In contrast, non-native fish dominate the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Koehler also nets and removes vegetation and debris from the fish trap compartment.
“This is a dirty job,” he said.
But he’s smiling on this recent, sunny day. After all, he’s standing on a device floating in a 30-foot-wide section of the bubbling Napa River, with sedges, willows and other vegetation along the steep banks shielding the outside world.
This piece of heaven could get even better for fish. If all goes as planned, the annual spring fish counts in future years will show that restoration projects and fish-sensitive farming methods are improving the Napa River habitat.
“That’s the hope,” Koehler said. “That’s the big hope.”
Yurok officials to speak at fisheries hearing
May 23, 2017
Crescent City Triplicat
Yurok and Karuk officials are on the list of speakers to appear at a joint hearing of the California Senate and Assembly on Wednesday addressing the failing Klamath salmon fishery.
“Where have all the salmon gone?” is the title of the meeting May 24 at the State Capitol, to be led by Sen. Mike McGuire, chair of the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture.
“California’s iconic salmon fishery, and the thousands of families who depend on the fishery for their livelihood, are in crisis,” said a release from Sen. McGuire’s Office Monday. “There’s been an unprecedented collapse in California’s salmon population, tribal allocations are at an all-time low, and there’s a budget shortfall fix that the CA Fish and Wildlife Department is advancing which will devastate an already struggling fishing fleet.”
The meeting will feature 19 expert speakers, from a wide range of involved agencies around the state, including Yurok Tribe Chairman Thomas O’Rourke Sr. and Yurok Tribe Fisheries Director Dave Hillemeier.
Sen. McGuire said in the release that the hearing “will focus on the impact of the drought, poor ocean conditions and diseases that have decimated the California salmon population.”
McGuire said balancing DFW’s $20 million budget shortfall on the shoulders of the fishing industry is unconscionable and he plans to fight the proposal.
The Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture hearing will be held Wednesday, May 24 from 1 to 5 p.m. in Room 2040 of the State Capitol building and will be livestreamed at www.senate.ca.gov.
Doug Obegi — Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council
S. Craig Tucker, Ph.D. — Natural Resources Policy Advocate, Karuk Tribe
Dave Hillemeier — Fisheries Director, Yurok Tribe
John McManus — Executive Director, Golden Gate Salmon Association
Russell Perry, Ph.D. — Research Fisheries Biologist; Western Fisheries Research Center, United States Geological Survey
Nathan Mantua, Ph.D. — Landscape Ecology Team Leader; Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA
Michael O’Farrell, Ph.D. — Research Fish Biologist; Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA
Kevin Shaffer — Chief; Fisheries Branch, California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Marci Yaremko — California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Director’s Designee, Pacific Fishery Management Council
Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr. — Chairman, Yurok Tribe
Dave Bitts — President, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations
Roger Thomas — President, Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association
Leaf G. Hillman — Director; Natural Resources, Karuk Tribe
Marc Gorelnik — At-Large Member, Pacific Fishery Management Council
John Carlon — President, River Partners
Kevin Shaffer — Chief; Fisheries Branch, California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Noah Oppenheim — Executive Director, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations
David Goldenberg — Chief Executive Officer, California Salmon Council
More information about the hearing can be found on the Joint Commission on Fisheries and Aquaculture page at http://fisheries.legislature.ca.gov/
Kent Lake water flow study to look at fish impact
May 22, 2017
Marin Independent Journal By Mark Prado
With one report saying the state is facing an unprecedented loss of fish species, a local group has won $158,000 to look at how water released from Kent Lake affects local coho salmon and steelhead trout.
The Marin Municipal Water District — the agency that operates the Kent Lake reservoir — is under a 1995 state Water Resources Control Board order to release water periodically to aid federally endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout. Peters Dam was built across Lagunitas Creek in 1954 to create a water supply, but resulted in less water for the species.
Now the Olema-based Salmon Protection and Watershed Network has received the $158,000 grant from the Wildlife Conservation Board to look at timing of the water releases. The cost of the study is $223,000, with the $65,000 difference being provided by SPAWN members and volunteers.
“This study is intended to provide recommendations to water managers who can maximize the benefit of stream releases by fine tuning the amounts, magnitude, frequency and seasonality needed to best activate floodplains downstream that allow juvenile salmon to grow and flourish,” said Preston Brown, SPAWN’s watershed conservation director. “We know a lot more now than we did almost a quarter century ago when water releases were mandated.”
SPAWN officials said it could be the current water releases — which are generally based on rainfall — are maximizing habitat for fish, but they think it is worth a hard look.
“We are not working with SPAWN on this grant, but we support scientific analysis regarding flows in Lagunitas Creek watershed,” said Lon Peterson, water agency spokesman.
He noted the agency’s Lagunitas Technical Advisory Committee is the venue to discuss water flows. SPAWN intends to bring its findings to that committee.
SPAWN will join the University of California, Berkeley, and use topographic mapping, hydraulic modeling, real-time hydrologic measurements and comparisons of current and historic flow as part of the study set to start later this year.
“All this does is inform, there are no requirements,” said Todd Steiner, who heads the fish protection group.
The grant announcement for Marin comes as a new report shows nearly half of California’s diverse types of native salmon and trout are headed toward extinction in 50 years unless environmental trends are reversed, according to a team of scientists.
Nearly three-fourths — 21 of 31 types — will disappear unless people figure out how to manage harm linked to dams, water diversions, habitat damage, global warming and other problems, said the scientists from UC Davis and the CalTrout conservation group in the recently released report.
The bleak outlook was softened by a note of hope: Scientists say there is time to save the fish.
Government, landowners, regulators, farmers, water agencies and others need to mount a series of long-term measures to make the fish more resilient by improving their habitat from headwaters to rivers to bays, the group said.
So far only one member of California’s diverse salmon family — a big spotted fish called the bull trout — has disappeared. The bull trout was last seen in 1975 in the McCloud River north of Redding. With 31 remaining salmon types, California has the most diversity of any state in the lower 48 states.
“If we don’t act, we face losing our native salmon, steelhead and trout species,” said Curtis Knight, executive director of CalTrout, a nonprofit group. “This would be tragic, not just because we would lose these iconic species, their beauty, their mystery, but as importantly, we would lose what they signify — cold, clean water, healthy rivers, a better California.”
Report: California salmon, steelhead, trout species face extinction within next century
May 16, 2017
Eureka Times Standard By Will Houston
A harrowing report released by the environmental nonprofit organization California Trout and the University of California Davis on Tuesday states that nearly 75 percent of the state’s 31 salmon, steelhead and trout species are likely to become extinct within the next century if current trends continue.
The report — titled “State of the Salmon II: Fish in Hot Water” — identifies climate change and California’s recent five-year drought as being the main contributors to the decline of wild salmonid populations.
California Trout Executive Director Curtis Knight said during a Tuesday morning teleconference that the report provides a “renewed sense of urgency” to change current fisheries management practices. Some of the report’s recommended strategies to reverse the trends protecting salmonid habitat strongholds like the Eel and Smith Rivers, restoring habitat through projects like removing four dams from the Klamath River and continuing to collaborate with landowners and regulatory agencies to find solutions.
We still have time,” Knight said. “We still have 31 kinds of salmon, steelhead and trout in this state. The science certainly says we don’t have forever. Half could be gone just within two of our generations. But we do still have time and we are optimistic that, with some effort, we can have a future for California that involves these fish and healthy watersheds.”
Shortly after the report was released, North Coast Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) announced that the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture that he chairs will hold a public hearing May 24 at the state Capitol to discuss what he called the collapse of the state’s salmon populations and fisheries.
“The 2017 salmon season is anticipated to be one of the worst on record including predictions of the lowest return of Klamath River salmon in history,” McGuire said in a statement. “This collapse has had disastrous impacts on our fisheries, our commercial and recreational fishing industries and on tribes, whose commercial fisheries will be closed and subsistence and ceremonial fishing severely curtailed.”
Tuesday’s report is the second “State of the Salmon” report released by California Trout. Since the first report was released in 2008, the number of fish species expected to become extinct within the next 50 years increased by 180 percent — from 5 species in 2008 to 14 species in the newest report.
Using scientific literature and regulatory agency reports as a basis, the report ranked the 31 salmon and trout species on their level of concern for extinction using seven criteria: area occupied, estimated adult abundance, environmental tolerance, genetic risk, dependence on human intervention, anthropogenic threats and climate change.
Among the species identified in the report as being at a critical risk of extinction are upper Klamath River and Trinity River spring-run Chinook salmon, central California coast Coho salmon, Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Southern California steelhead trout, Kern River rainbow trout and McCloud River Redband trout.
Fall-run Chinook salmon on the upper Klamath and Trinity rivers were ranked as having a moderate level of concern.
Each fish species in the report is given its own section that provides details on the overall status of the species, the threats it faces and specific conservation actions that could be taken to prevent their decline.
For Klamath-Trinity River Chinook salmon, the report calls for the removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, which is currently being considered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Other actions include restoring habitat on the Salmon, New and South Fork Trinity rivers, reducing erosion and reducing water diversions for agricultural uses.
UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences fish researcher and report co-author Robert Lusardi said that genetic diversity has allowed salmonids to persist through many disasters through their nearly 50 million years of existence. However, he said declining populations caused by climate change, interbreeding with hatchery fish and declining habitat is chipping away at their genetic diversity.
“If you want to give the fish the tools best to persist through a rapidly changing climate, the way to do that is to improve population diversity throughout the state,” Lusardi said.
State fisheries hearing
Commercial and sport ocean salmon fishing along much of the North Coast including the Trinity and Klamath rivers is closed this season after the Pacific Fishery Management Council predicted about 12,000 Chinook salmon would return to the region, which is the lowest prediction on record.
North Coast representatives like McGuire, 2nd District Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) and 2nd District Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) have already called on Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a fisheries disaster just a few weeks into this year’s salmon season.
Meanwhile, the Yurok Tribe fishing fleet and the California crab fleet are still awaiting Congress to appropriate relief funds for the disastrous 2015-16 crab and salmon seasons.
The theme of the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture hearing on May 24 is “Where Have All the Salmon Gone?” and will feature speakers such as Yurok Tribe Chairman Thomas O’Rourke, federal and state fisheries biologists and Karuk Tribe natural resources policy advocate Craig Tucker.
The hearing will also discuss a proposed fishing landing fee increase proposed by the state to close a nearly $20 million shortfall in the California Department of Fish and Wildlife budget for the upcoming 2017-2018 fiscal year.
The landing fee has not been increased since 1993. Brown is proposing to raise landing fees by as much as 1,300 percent in order to close the deficit gap. Landing fees are collected on a per pound basis of the amount of seafood fishermen catch or land.
Wood, McGuire and fishing organizations have been outspoken in their opposition to the proposal.
“Frankly, it’s disturbing that California Fish and Wildlife administration — after all of the feedback they have received from the fleet who are losing their boats, homes and struggling to make ends meet – is continuing to ram this damaging proposal through,” McGuire said in a statement.
The full report can be found online at caltrout.org/sos/
The May 24 fisheries hearing will be livestreamed online at www.senate.ca.gov.