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Government announces salmon restoration actions

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SAN FRANCISCO – The National Marine Fisheries Service recently announced changes the agency will require in the operations of the state and federal Central Valley Water Projects to protect the salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The new rules, primarily governing movement of water through the Sacramento River and Bay-Delta Estuary, are designed to protect the spring and winter chinook salmon runs as well as other species.

The actions are expected to require changes in the state’s reservoir operations, changes in river flows and changes in the way delta water is unnaturally redirected to giant pumps that send it hundreds of miles to the south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Members of the salmon fishing industry are hopeful for better results after years of steady declines in the salmon populations and no ocean salmon fishing seasons in 2008 and 2009 due to a lack of fish.

“We are hopeful the actions of the National Marine Fishery Service will begin the turnaround of these species which are nearing extinction,” said Paul Pierce, who represents the Coastside Fishing Club and serves on the Pacific Fishery Management Council Salmon Advisory Subpanel. The courts demanded a better plan and the agency has responded. With three years of scientific work by NMFS, we now have a better idea how and where the destruction of the salmon is occurring. Based on this science, the agency should direct the changes necessary to see that these fish survive. We support their decisions and we look forward to seeing positive changes.”

Dick Pool is a manufacturer of salmon fishing equipment and leads the Water4Fish advocacy program which now has 70,000 supporters who have been asking for changes in the states’ water management to benefit salmon. Pool echoed Pierce’s thanks and congratulations to the NMFS and added, “These changes are exactly what we have been looking for. We have been operating on an environmental disaster course for salmon and these actions are the beginning of the turnaround.

“Fishing is big business in California. There are 4.2 million recreational fishermen in the state generating $4.8 billion in economic impact and supporting 41,000 jobs. Salmon are a big part of this. There are 904 retailers and 327 other businesses that drive their income from the $1 billion salmon industry. These businesses and their leaders join us in supporting the leadership provided by NMFS and the other fishery agencies in mapping some solutions.”

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“There are approximately 500,000 recreational salmon fishermen in California,” said Roger Thomas, president of the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association, which carries 200,000 salmon fishermen a year. “They are passionate about their sport and are livid about what has happened. I am sure they all join me in congratulating the National Marine Fisheries Service in the bold actions to begin the restoration process.”

Roger cautioned, “These actions are designed to protect only two of the four salmon runs of the Central Valley. We hope the fall run which has been the largest and the backbone of the ocean and river fishery for decades will also benefit from the new rules.”

Dave Bitts, president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said, “This year I can’t fish at all, mainly because water in California follows money, and fishermen don’t have the megabucks available to the San Joaquin grower interests. This isn’t about either fish or farms. It’s about how we use our limited, vastly oversubscribed water resources wisely in order to have both. Continuing to hand out huge volumes of public water dirt cheap is not the answer. If you continue taking so much water that salmon go extinct in California, what wild creatures will be next?”

Most salmon run problems have resulted from the over subscription of water from California’s rivers, reservoirs and the delta. These problems have to be solved not only for the environment but for all sectors of the California economy. The vast majority of natural water sources have already been tapped. Climate change will compound the problems.

The fishery groups are strong supporters of the major new sources of water that have been identified but are not being implemented fast enough. These include water conservation, water recycling and groundwater management. We urge the state and federal governments to provide the leadership, incentives and financial resources to significantly speed up these developments.

“Today we will find out if we ever will get our salmon back in any numbers to speak of. We have had all the laws on the books for decades now, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and others,” said Mike Hudson, commercial fisherman and executive director of the SalmonAid Foundation. “Sometimes it’s not that the rules are not in place, but the lack of commitment to enforce them. It is not too late to bring our salmon back. I’m cautiously optimistic that today is the day that may start meaningful restoration of this fantastic fish. If the fisheries service decides to do the right thing today, I and thousands of my fellow fishermen will applaud them.”