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A Healthy Fishing Industry Is Just One of the Benefits of Strong Endangered Species Protections

Kate Poole

Posted May 13, 2013 in Living Sustainably, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places, U.S. Law and Policy

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Friday is Endangered Species Day – a day to celebrate the incredible diversity of our planet and the bounty it provides.  It also happens to fall during that time of year when we’re itching to get outside and revel in the return of spring.  So, this year, why not celebrate by firing up the barbecue and grilling up some wild salmon for your family and friends, bought fresh off the boat at Half Moon Bay’s Pillar Point Harbor?  Throw in some asparagus and strawberries from California’s Delta, and you have the makings of a feast.   

And, while it might not be obvious, your feast will be a tribute to the thousands of men and women whose livelihoods are supported and enhanced by endangered species protections in the San Francisco Bay-Delta.  Protecting the Delta’s threatened and endangered native fish helps ensure that sufficient fresh water flows through the Delta to sustain the Delta’s abundant agricultural economy.  Those protections also benefit fall run Chinook salmon, which forms the backbone of the quarter-billion dollar commercial salmon fishery off the coast of California and Oregon, as well as a large part of the recreational fishing industry in California.  Here’s Dick Pool, owner of Pro-Troll Products, a company that creates and markets innovative fishing and marine products, to tell you more about the importance of these protections to him and his industry: 

As Dick notes, all runs of Chinook salmon in California have crashed since 2002, due in large part to the operations of the state and federal water projects that divert too much water out of the Delta and fail to provide sufficient flows for salmon rearing and migration.  In fact, California’s Chinook salmon populations are less than a quarter the size that state and federal law mandated that agencies achieve by 2002.  Here’s a graph depicting salmon population trends in relation to this legal requirement:

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As you can see from this graph, our salmon populations began to recover from the beating they took in the 2000s when a court imposed pumping and other restrictions on the state and federal water projects to protect threatened and endangered fish in 2008. The Endangered Species Act is helping folks like Dick and the California fishing industry to survive.  That’s a result worth celebrating, this Friday and every day.    

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Comments

MikeMay 14 2013 02:31 PM

NRDC continues to beat the drum over impacts on endangered salmon and in doing so, often neglect other important information. The constant drum beat of blaming the pumps for the decline of Delta fisheries is misleading and does little to provide useful information that may actually help find a solution to the Delta's woes.

As a start, 20 years of pumping restrictions have done nothing to improve conditions for fish. One would think that if a supposed solution isn't achieving the desired results then logic would tell you to look for another solution. But that's not in NRDC's playbook.

In fact, the National Research Council reported in March of 2012, "Consideration of the large number of stressors and their effects and interactions leads to the conclusion that efforts to eliminate any one stressor are unlikely to reverse the declines in the listed species."

That is as clear as it gets. You can't focus on solely one thing to improve ecological conditions in the Delta but Kate Poole chooses to quote Dick Poole and blame the State and federal water projects that "divert too much water out of the Delta."

When you superimpose the chart used in Kate's blog on a Sacramento River Chinook escapement, ocean harvest and river harvest chart you see a remarkable similarity in the trend over the past 24 years of data---www.farmwater.org/nrdcsalmondata.pdf. You also see that fishermen routinely take 50 to 90 percent of the fish in the system. I wonder how that affects fish populations. Couple that with recent data showing that 93 percent of the hatchery salmon released on the Tuolumne River never make it past the mouths of predatory bass in the Delta and one has to wonder whether the pumps are really the problem after all.

Mike Wade
California Farm Water Coalition

Kate PooleMay 14 2013 04:24 PM

Mike,

I believe your beef about the primary stressors to salmon health is with the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community rather than NRDC. The recent PPIC report on scientist and stakeholder views of the Delta (http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_413EHR.pdf) shows that scientists agree that reducing exports and improving flows are among the few high payoff/high confidence actions available to us. Indeed, figure 2 from that report shows that close to 80% of scientists view flows as one of the two most important stressors in the system, while fish management barely registered with only 2% of scientists viewing that as a top two stressor.

You're also ignoring the results of the graph prepared by the Golden Gate Salmon Association and NRDC, which shows that salmon decline when export limits are weakened (as they were in the early 2000s), and recover when those limits are strengthened.

Finally, we have never proposed ignoring other stressors, but do believe we should focus most of our efforts on addressing the stressors that have the biggest impact. Again, the PPIC report shows that exporters are particularly out of line with scientists on the question of which stressors have the biggest impact. See, in particular, figure 7 of the PPIC report which shows that exporter views are negatively correlated with scientist views for two out of three categories analyzed, while environmental advocates are most closely aligned with scientists in their views of stressor impacts.

Kate

P.S. Dick Pool spells his name differently than me and is not related.

Michael CoatsMay 15 2013 12:50 PM

Hey Mike, actually there have only really been four years of pumping restrictions and they showed an immediate turn around from the total collapse that shut the fishery down for the first time in history in 2008 and 2009. Salmon stocks immediately rebounded (remember they're three year fish, i.e. 2009 first pumping restrictions equals 2012 decent salmon returns and yes, they were)

By the way, the stressors our friends at the National Research Council reported on can all be traced to a lack of clean cold water flowing east to west, the likes of which the Bay Delta evolved around. come on Mike, even you know that Delta flows now run unnaturally north to south at many times of the year.

Tell you what, let's agree to an extra big release of water down the Tuolumne to carry the juvenile salmon right past those that like to eat them, kind of like the way nature provided before your friends decided to block the natural flows of the rivers. Open the reservoirs for a few days, just to experiment (actually it's been done plenty on the Sacramento and we know it works). We can tell you when and for how long. We'll bet our boats that salmon survival will jump, especially if the extra water stirs up some natural sediment that provides the camo needed by those baby salmon. We have no doubt you and your ilk are experts at industrial 21st century agriculture but it's pretty clear you really don't have a handle on basic salmon biology. Who would expect you to?
Lastly, almonds can grow most places, wild chinook salmon not so much.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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