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Dead Runs

by DAN BACHER

The closure of the Sacramento and other Central Valley rivers to salmon fishing this year is now official.

The California Department of Fish and Game announced on July 2 that the 2008 recreational salmon fishing closures in the Central Valley would go into effect on Thursday, July 3, to protect the imperiled Sacramento River fall Chinook salmon.

The announcement was expected after the Fish and Game Commission voted to close all Central Valley rivers and streams to the retention of salmon with one exception on May 9. A federal regulatory body, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), in April closed all commercial and recreational salmon fishing on the California and Oregon coast for the first time in history. The ocean and river closures are the result of state and federal water policies that have resulted in the unprecedented collapse of Central Valley fall chinook salmon populations.

“No Chinook are allowed to be kept anywhere on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers or any of their tributaries, including the American and Feather rivers,” according to the Department. “The only exception is from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31 in the Sacramento River between the Red Bluff Diversion Dam and Knights Landing for a one-salmon bag and possession limit.”

The Central Valley fall chinook population, the driver of West Coast salmon fisheries, has collapsed from over 800,000 fish in 2002 to less than 60,000 fish this year. A number of factors are believed to be responsible for the collapse, but none is more significant than massive increases in water exports out of the California Delta to subsidized agribusiness and southern California in recent years.

Other factors behind the collapse include poor ocean conditions, declining water quality in the California Delta resulting from agricultural waste water and municipal sewage discharges, and the absence of acclimation pens for hatchery salmon released into San Pablo Bay in 2005 and 2006.

“While catch-and-release fishing for salmon is not prohibited, the salmon regulations were purposely structured as a zero-salmon bag limit to keep fishing open for other non-salmon species. The trout, steelhead, sturgeon, striped bass, black bass, sunfish and catfish fisheries are major recreational inland fisheries in the Central Valley,” said Rob Titus, DFG fishery biologist.

“The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) requests that the public use a very conservative approach toward salmon this year and refrain from any catch-and-release fishing that specifically targets salmon,” he warned. “If the self-regulating conservative approach fails and excessive SRFC catch-and-release mortality is observed, additional regulatory measures may be enacted. One of the possible measures could be closure of all recreational fisheries in the specific areas where SRFC inhabit.”

While the salmon season has been closed in the ocean and reduced in the Central Valley, the Smith, Klamath and Trinity rivers remain open to salmon fishing. “These temporary closures will help to ensure the future of ocean and inland salmon fishing for present and future generations,” said Titus.

More information on 2008 California salmon fisheries can be found at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/news/issues/salmon.

As Central Valley and coastal communities are devastated by salmon closures resulting from absymal fishery and water management by the Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations, fishing and environmental organizations are campaigning for the passage of legislation, Assemblywoman’s Lois Wolk’s AB 1806, to stop future fishery failures like this year’s salmon disaster. This landmark legislation would provide full mitigation for the direct and indirect losses to the salmon, steelhead, striped, bass, delta smelt and other fish populations of the California Delta caused by the operation of the state and federal water projects.

The bill passed out of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee on Tuesday, June 24 on a vote of 5-3. The bill will now go to the Senate Committee on Appropriations. For more information on how you can support this badly needed legislation, go to the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance website, http://www.calsport.org.

DAN BACHER can be reached at: Danielbacher@fishsniffer.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

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