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Saving Trinity River Salmon from the Killer Ich

A federal judge lifted his order Thursday, August 23 and will now allow additional flows from the Trinity River, saving Chinook salmon from ich.
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A federal judge lifted his order Thursday, August 23 and will now allow additional flows from the Trinity River.

“Releases are designed to prevent a potentially serious fish die off from impacting salmon populations entering the Klamath River estuary,” Judge Lawrence O’Neill concluded.

“There is no dispute and the record clearly reflects that the 2002 fish kill had severe impacts on commercial fishing interests, tribal fishing rights and the ecology, and that another fish kill would likely have similar impacts.”

According to the Eureka Times-Standard, O’Neill cited Yurok Tribe fisheries biologist Josh Strange, who testified that Ichthyophthirius multifiliis—a fish disease commonly called “ich”—is more prevalent in warm, still water. When an expected 272,000 returning Chinook salmon returned, they would likely meet lethal conditions if those flows were not released.

“The Trinity River is our vessel of life and the salmon are our lifeblood. We applaud the decision to release this water to avert a fish disaster, however this lawsuit demonstrates the need for long-term solutions to the fisheries crisis in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers,” said Hoopa Valley Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten in a press release.

But the crisis may not be fully averted. If tribal monitors, in collaboration with U.S. Fish and Wildlife begin to see high numbers of diseased fish, the tribe will look to have the flows doubled for up to seven days.

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It was the federal Bureau of Reclamation that authorized flows start August 13, but the Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority said that would decrease water available to farmers for irrigation and sued the bureau.

San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority Executive Director Dan Nelson agreed that a long-term solution to the issue is needed. “While no one knows whether or not this action will alter what would have happened in its absence, it is clear that in order to move beyond this current conflict we must all work together to develop a lawful long-term approach to managing these requests that is balanced and scientifically supportable,” he said in a press release.

Hoopa Valley Tribal Vice Chairman Ryan Jackson told the Eureka Times-Standard that the judge’s decision was a victory for both tribes and fisheries.

“Without the salmon, we wouldn’t be who we are today,” Jackson said. “We are river people. We will fight to defend the fish and the waters that run through it.”

Hoopa Valley Tribe

Hoopa Valley Tribe children protest outside the courthouse in Fresno, California on August 21.