Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Assns, Exec. Dir.
Stealth State Plan Would End Salmon Fishing in California
At the end of any State Administration, agencies try to ram through plans and projects they have been working on for years. That's understandable. But I'm shocked and outraged that the Resources Agency is trying to sneak through a plan that would kill California's salmon fishing industry, eliminate thousands of jobs and devastate coastal communities. That's not how they're framing it, of course: they're dressing it up as a plan to "save" the Delta and distribute water equitably. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, it's a plan to destroy the Delta and keep corporate farms in the San Joaquin Valley awash in cheap, taxpayer-subsidized water.
A week ago, the State Resources Agency released a curious document. The state insists that it is not a draft plan for the Delta, but it sure looks like one. As it stands now, this proposal would gut federal protections for salmon and other fish covered by the Endangered Species Acts. It proposes to revive a version of the Environmental Water Account, an utterly failed and now-abandoned scheme to cap the ability of fisheries agencies to limit the transport of fresh water from the Delta. And finally, the plan promotes a huge new canal and still weaker rules to allow for even more pumping. This is all driven by the desire of Central Valley agribusiness to seize more taxpayer-subsidized water, the salmon and our Bay-Delta ecosystem be damned.
As I write this post, the state is working to finalize this egregious give-away to the nation's largest corporate farms in closed-door meetings -- meetings from which fishermen and the Delta community have been banned. For fishermen, this is producing a profound and uneasy sense of deja vu: we've been here before. Whenever we have been excluded from the table, whenever state authorities and corporate agribusiness convene in secret, the salmon -- and salmon fishermen -- suffer.
For the few people who haven't noticed that wild California salmon is scarce as hen's teeth in their supermarkets, let me summarize: the state's salmon fishery is on the edge. In 2008 and 2009, the fishery was closed entirely. This year, salmon fishermen in San Francisco were allowed to fish for eight days. Obviously, no major industry can survive on eight active days of business annually, and salmon fishing is no exception. Businesses are going broke and closing their doors. Fishermen are losing their boats. Thousands of jobs have been lost. For coastal communities, this is an official, federally-designated disaster -- it is like an earthquake, but it is no natural event. It is fabricated, the product of an utterly misguided policy.
There's no mystery to this catastrophe. Time and again, scientists have told us that the major cause of our salmon declines is high water diversions in the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem -- driver of California's salmon fishery. Record water diversions have produced record low salmon runs. Disregard all the hype spewing from the media shops of corporate ag -- it's really as simple as that. Fishermen know that we can bring this industry back. But we need to take real action to restore our salmon. And that means we need to put more cold, clean water down the Bay-Delta system -- and fast.
The state's proposals fly in the face of science. For example, the current protections for the Delta - the ones that the state proposes to gut like a fish -- were developed through careful scientific peer review. Recently, the strong scientific foundation for these safeguards was verified by the National Academy of Sciences and the State Water Resources Control Board. On the other hand, the state's weak proposed replacement protections have been rejected by the scientific community. Likewise, the state's long-term proposal to increase diversions is not supported by credible science. Fish biologists have already concluded that the state's position doesn't reflect the best available science or meet legal requirements.
Here's the bottom line: the salmon industry can't survive the state's proposals. Without healthy salmon runs in the Bay-Delta, salmon fishing in California cannot endure. Frankly, it looks like the state has decided to increase Delta pumping at all costs and to hell with science, salmon and fishing jobs.
Eighty percent of California's water is consumed by agriculture. Like fishermen, farmers produce the food we all need. But our food requirements will not be met by pumping more taxpayer subsidized water to grow commodity crops while taking delicious, healthful local salmon off the consumer's plate. The real solution is for agriculture to use the vast amount of water it receives more efficiently. A few California farmers are showing how this can be done. Unfortunately, many corporate farms squander, rather than steward, their water supplies. Worse, some are selling their taxpayer-subsidized water for huge profits to private developers, then turning around and demanding still more deliveries from the Delta's government pumps.
It is time to face a simple thruth: for any river, there is a limit to the amount of water that can be diverted without causing ecosystem and fishery collapse. Every scientist and fisherman knows this. Recently, the State Water Board found that to restore a truly healthy ecosystem, diversions from the San Francisco Bay-Delta system should be cut by half. We have not only hit the limit in the Bay-Delta --we're way past it.
Fishermen understand that public resources must be managed conservatively. We have long supported science-based limits on our industry, to insure its health over the long-term. We hope and expect that agriculture and Southern California water users will recognize that we have hit limits in the Bay-Delta. After all, we have plenty of options to meet our water needs -- water conservation, reusing wastewater, cleaning up our groundwater, desalination, water transfers and more. But fish and fishermen don't have these options. If our fish don't have enough water to survive, they disappear and we're out of work.
We urge the state to withdraw these reckless proposals to kill salmon and California's salmon fishing industry. Federal agencies must step up and reject this plan as well. Solving the Delta's problems will require listening to the scientific community and recognizing that we have hit -- and passed -- responsible limits on pumping in the largest estuary on the West Coast.
The grounding fact in this issue is eloquently stated in the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein: fish gotta swim. To do that, may I add, they need enough water to swim in.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/zgrader/detail?entry_id=73372#ixzz11PI3dH8l