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California Salmon Crisis Closes West Coast Fishery
3/17/2008
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Closure of Oregon-to-Mexico Salmon fishery blamed on river diversions, ocean warming, and pesticides; Alaska projects huge harvest in 2008

by Randy Hartnell and Craig Weatherby



We’ve received many calls and emails last week from customers who were alarmed by headlines announcing closure of the entire west coast to Salmon fishing.

This move came in response to a steep drop in the number of King (Chinook) Salmon from California’s Central Valley, whose rivers provide most of the Salmon caught from Oregon to Mexico.


(The photo above portrays a biologist from California State University, holding a big Central Valley King Salmon.)


As someone who spent more than 20 years as a fisherman in Alaska, my heart goes out to the fishing folk who’ve been hit so very hard by the collapse of California’s King Salmon run.


Fortunately, the Alaskan fisheries that supply our Salmon remain very robust. In fact, as we report elsewhere in this issue, Alaska projects a large Salmon harvest in 2008.


You will find some more reassuring information on our Sustainability page and in our report on the Marine Stewardship Council’s November, 2007 decision to re-certify the Alaskan Salmon fishery through 2012.


All of our fresh-frozen Salmon (Sockeye, Silver and King)and some of our canned Sockeye Salmoncomes from the certified-sustainable Alaskan Salmon fishery.


Most of our canned Sockeye comes from the Canadian fishery in British Columbia (BC), which is in excellent shape and approaching independent certification of its sustainability.


Populations of Pink Salmon in parts of BC are threatened by lice from fish farms sited near migratory rivers, but we have never purchased Pink Salmon from BC.


We support the folks in BC who are fighting to save badly threatened Broughton Archipelago Pink Salmon runs from swarms of sea lice generated by industrial Salmon farms sited near migratory rivers (For more on this topic, see “A Bold Plan to Save Wild Salmon”).


And we’ll tell you how to help support the fight to save California’s wild Salmon: see “How to Help California’s Kings”, below.


Pacific coast King Salmon runs suffer sudden collapse

Last week, state and federal wildlife officials decided to close seven Pacific coast zones to commercial and sport Salmon fishing.


The closure encompasses the entire King Salmon fishery, which ranges from Oregon's Cape Falcon to the Mexican border.


This drastic action follows several years of steady declines in the numbers of King (Chinook) Salmon in the waters off California and Oregon.


King Salmon that originate in California’s Central Valley account for some 90 percent of wild Salmon landed in California and much of the Salmon caught in Oregon and Washington, so fishermen in all three states will be hit hard.


The 2007 Central Valley King Salmon “run” was the second smallest since 1973, and the 2008 run is expected to be even smaller. Some 800,000 adult Salmon returned to the Central Valley to spawn in the fall of 2002 versus only about 90,000 last fall.


The Pacific Fishery Management Council projects that only 59,000 Salmon will come back to spawn during the 2008 Sacramento River fall run, which peaks in September and October.


The closure will be a heavy blow to the 1,000 commercial fishermen who work the waters from Santa Barbara to Washington State.


Closure of the fishery will likely drive up our wholesale costs for wild Alaskan Salmon, but we will try to hold the price line as best we can.


What happened to California’s King Salmon?

The causes of the Central Valley King Salmon collapse remain uncertain, but many fishermen and environmental groups blame rises in the amounts of water diverted from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farms and cities to the south, which are suffering drought conditions.


In 2005, coalition of commercial and recreational fishing groups, conservation organizations and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe filed suit to challenged federal approval of changes to water management throughout California.


The environmental legal-action group EarthJustice provided the lawyers, and the case is just now coming to a critical stage.


As EarthJustice attorney Mike Sherwood told the Associated Press, “It’s proof that the operation of these water projects is harming Salmon. It may put more pressure on state and federal agencies to do something” (Chea T 2008).


The suit challenges an October 2004 “biological opinion” by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which concluded that it was safe to remove Salmon habitat protections and increase water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.


The plaintiffs claimed that many threatened populations of Salmon were jeopardized by the new water-use policy… and the collapse of California’s King Salmon fishery suggests that their fears may have been well justified.


Some scientists believe that the recent King Salmon collapse may have more to do with changing conditions in the ocean, due to global warming or other unknown factors.


Others point to the large load of pesticides and other chemicals used in the watersheds that feed the Salmon rivers.


How to help save California’s King Salmon

Customers have asked how they can help save California’s King Salmon.


We have three suggestions:

1. Support EarthJustice in their fight to save California’s King Salmon. EarthJustice has a “How to Help” page here. You will find limited information on the two relevant lawsuits here and here.

2. Write the White House to urge action by federal agencies to ensure sufficient water to support Salmon runs in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. You will find contact information here.

3. Write to members of California’s Congressional delegation to urge them to ensure that sufficient water remains in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to support the state’s Salmon runs. California residents can find and contact their own Representatives here. You will find contact information for California’s Senators here.


We hope a solution is found soon, so that King Salmon do not disappear from California’s rivers.



Sources

  • Alaska Department of Fish and Game. State Releases Alaska Statewide Salmon Forecast for 2008. March 7, 2008. Accessed online March 12, 2008 at http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/news/2008/3-7-08_nr.php
  • Chea T. Dwindling salmon run shocks scientists, dismays fishermen. Associated Press. February 3, 2008.
  • Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Alaska Salmon Re-Certified for Sustainable Fishing. Accessed online November 5, 2007 at http://www.msc.org/html/ni_322.htm
  • Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). British Columbia Salmon.  Accessed online November 5, 2007 at http://www.msc.org/html/content_493.htm
  • Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Certified Fisheries.  Accessed online November 5, 2007 at http://www.msc.org/html/content_484.htm

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