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April 04, 2006

Tidepool Editor's Pick: Comeback for the Klamath?

Klamath Three strong and informative pieces on Oregon’s battered Klamath River ran in Sunday’s papers. All of them, especially an article in the Washington Post, are worth reading.

Both the Oregonian and the San Francisco Chronicle frame their stories around the economic impacts of the Klamath situation: How the depleted and polluted river -- which the Chronicle says may be the West Coast’s sickest -- has offered up a record low of chinook this year, which could lead to a ban on fishing.

Last week, hundreds of fishermen from Santa Rosa, California to Astoria, Oregon protested the proposed ban. Oregon congressman David Wu threatened to dump smelly salmon carcasses on the steps of federal agencies in Seattle, and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski tabled an emergency summit on the situation. He plans to seek disaster aid for the fishermen if the ban goes through (and shore up support as he faces an increasingly difficult reelection fight). The economic cost for Oregon alone could total $40 million.

The Washington Post approaches the story from a hopeful angle. "For the first time in the nearly eight decades since the river was dammed, Indians and commercial fishermen, environmentalists and federal fish scientists agree that there are sound reasons to believe in the comeback of a river that once supported the third largest salmon runs on the West Coast."

Amidst the fishing commotion, as the Post explains, two decisions came down from the federal government last week that bode well for the future of the Klamath and all who depend on it. In crisis lies opportunity, as it’s said.

Finally, an interesting bit of trivia about the Klamath:

In 2002, the Post reports, Karl Rove was instrumental in making sure the river irrigated drought-stricken crops, which led to low flows, which led to massive fish kills, disease and low spawning, which means less chinook for everyone now.

Former Tidepool publisher Seth Zuckerman provides useful insight into the Klamath’s woes here.

P.S. - Tidepool.org is Northwest Environment Watch's daily online news service. Sign up here.

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Hundreds of recreational anglers attended the PFMC meeting, after a rally, in Sacramento on Tuesday. In just one hour today, commercial fishermen will also be holding a rally at the PFMC meeting at the DoubleTree Inn. I'm heading over there now to check it out. Word has it that the decision on the options will be made later today or tomorrow.

Here's the press release from the commercial fishermen.

PR E S S   R E L E A S E
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA)
and the
Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen’s Association (SBCSFA)
For Immediate Release: April 5, 2006
For more information:
Mike Hudson, President SBCSFA, (510) 528-6575 (h), (510) 407-0046, Email: [email protected]
Zeke Grader, Executive Director PCFFA (415) 561-5080 x224; Cell: (415) 606-5140
Commercial FISHERMEN Rally and speak at final PFMC public input meeting about the 2006 Salmon Season
      Fishermen stage rally at Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) Meeting, ask Council to adopt emergency regulations that would provide for a meaningful salmon season while minimizing fishery impacts on Klamath salmon stocks
               Doubletree Hotel
                  2001 Point West Way
                  Sacramento, CA
               Thursday, April 6, 12 noon
Sacramento, CA - Despite large over-all numbers of fall chinook salmon, particularly the very large runs coming back to the Sacramento River, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC), meeting in Sacramento this week, is considering a total ban on ocean commercial salmon fishing for 2006 from south to Point Sur to Oregon’s Cape Falcon, nearly 700 miles of coastline, including what were once the most important salmon ports outside of Alaska.
Yet many fishermen’s groups say such a draconian step of banning all fishing is unwarranted, and would cause enormous economic damage while providing very little conservation benefit.
“We are asking the Council to adopt an emergency rule that would enable the fleet to go fishing in places were Klamath salmon are very rare, places where some fishing could legitimately be done without having any real impact on the survival of Klamath Salmon stocks” said Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) 
Dave Goldenberg of the California Salmon Council stated “The current management system mandates that 35,000 wild Salmon return to spawn in the Klamath River every year. However, this is a goal not to prevent extinction, but to ensure maximum productivity of the stock. The Klamath fall chinook are not listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.”  Thus there may be some flexibility in applying this standard.
“The Klamath River has proven times and times again that record numbers of offspring result from years with low returns of adult spawners”, said longtime fisherman Sunny Maahs, “In 1992 only 12,000 adult Salmon came back to the river. The offspring of these 12,000 Salmon produced a near-record run of Salmon in 1995.” 
Dave Bitts, another longtime salmon fisherman, a member of the Klamath Fisheries Management Council and PCFFA’s expert on the Klamath, agrees with Maahs’ testimony and adds, “Through the emergency rule, we would tap into 10% of the available biomass of this year’s salmon run with very little Klamath impact. The easy question to ask is: Is saving an extra 3,000 Klamath salmon worth putting the whole coast out of business? – The answer is NO.” 
Most fisheries experts agree that over-fishing is simply not the problem in the Klamath. Ocean and in-river salmon harvests have long been tightly regulated. The problems, they say, are all within the Klamath River.  Years of artificially low flows and the effects of warm water reservoirs behind several fish-blocking dams have encouraged fish parasites to spread throughout the middle part of the river, killing off the juvenile salmon in spring 2003 right after low flows had already killed off 79,000 adult spawners in fall 2002 in a massive fish kill.  The salmon thus suffered a “double whammy” from these two back-to-back losses that have greatly reduced this year’s returning adults – which are primarily the few remaining survivors from the fish kills of fall 2002 and spring 2004.  Neither problem was caused by fishing.
After the fish kill in fall 2002, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) itself predicted that, as a result of this lost reproductive potential, the numbers of returning fish would be way down during 2005, 2006 and 2007. This prediction is now coming true.
Last year these Klamath declines triggered severe fishing restrictions closing half the season that cost the California and Oregon economies over $50 million in economic losses. If the season is cancelled altogether this year, the additional losses could exceed $150 million.
“Mother Nature has provided plenty of rain this year to flush pollutants and parasites out of the river,” said Mike Hudson, President of the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen’s Association. “A federal Judge has recently decided that the Bush Administration’s plan for Salmon recovery was severely flawed, and ordered immediate water releases to the Klamath.  All this will help Klamath salmon survive in future years.  Furthermore, the federal agencies are now mandating fish passage at all Klamath dams, which will make hundreds of miles of lost spawning grounds available to the salmon once again. We are finally on the right track.  For that they should cut us at least a little slack.”

Posted by: Dan Bacher | Apr 6, 2006 11:04:24 AM