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Denis Peirce: Don’t go overboard with rules on salmon

Last year was a poor one for salmon runs in California, as well as most of the northern Pacific rim. The Sacramento River run was down by 90 percent from historic averages. The Oregon runs were down by close to 70 percent.

Similar poor returns were noted in Alaska and the Pacific coast of Russia.

The buzz word adopted by many in the media is the “collapse” of the salmon fishery. “Collapse” congers up images of the last salmon swimming up our river system. Is the salmon run in bad shape? The answer is a definite yes. Is there a precedent for it to recover? The answer to this is also yes.



The Sacramento River run for 2007 was 25,000 fish, down from the high of 800,000 in 2002.

There have been many years in the last 60, since Shasta Dam was completed, that the runs fell below the 25,000 mark. The worst year was 1965, with virtually no fish coming back to the Sacramento River. Most recently, 1988 and 1992-94 were years in which the salmon return was as low as last year. Similar low returns occurred in the late ’50s and the drought years of the ’70s




Last week, a meeting was hosted by the DF&G in Santa Rosa, billed as an information exchange, that in effect was the start of a 2-month process that will culminate with the setting of the 2008 salmon fishing regulations. Salmon fishing seasons are developed through a collaborative regulatory process involving DF&G, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Department of Commerce.

There are a host of potential causes and/or contributing factors for the current decline in salmon numbers.

The absence of the nutrient upwelling off the California coast last year attributed to the jet stream shift cut off the usual salmon food source. The presence of oxygen depleted “dead zones” off the coast are another limiting factor. And the voracious predation by stripers of the juvenile salmon moving down river in April and May certainly does not help.

The ever-increasing diversion of delta water to Central and Southern California is cited by many in this state as the No. 1 cause. Often, the pumping reaches such proportions that the delta flow is reversed and many fish are sent south down the canal. Currently, a large scale battle is brewing in the never ending water wars. The decline of the salmon and other delta fishes is the basis for trying to reduce the diversion of water southward.

As much as I would like to see the delta restored, the reality is that the majority of the people are in the south and the water is in the north.

I expect that the conclusion of the two month salmon regulation review will result in the severe curtailment of sport and commercial fishing.

During the last two years the salmon have been in a precipitous decline. In 2006, the commercial salt water fishery was shut down off the coast. In 2007, the fishing was so poor that the party boats and river guides gave up on salmon and pursued other species. This recent lack of fishing pressure did not restore the fishery and the coming official fishing restrictions in themselves will not either.

Water volume and quality are the biggest factors that we have the possibility of affecting. The list of these problems and potential solutions are beyond the scope of this column.

An upcoming event of great significance to the salmon population is the proposed water flows on the Sacramento River during April. To conserve water supplies the Sacramento is not expected to have an increase in flows coincidental with the release of the juvenile salmon from the hatchery. I expect the stripers to harvest a bumper crop of salmon in a lowered river volume.

I do support a dramatic, but not a complete, curtailment of salmon fishing in our state. As the stock of fish declines we must try to retain the “seed stock” that will be the basis for the eventual rebounding of the fishery. I believe that this is in large part is a cyclical phenomenon. Nature does not proceed in a linear fashion.

My reason for not wanting salmon fishing halted completely is that the history of fishery regulation shows a pattern of once something is closed, it is not reopened.

I recently heard an argument for the closing of the Lower Yuba to fishing to prevent anglers from potentially walking on salmon eggs. If such a proposal were adopted, the odds of this prohibition being rescinded in the future would be slim or none.

A compromise I would back is to curtail fishing if the rule included a sunset clause.

The basic assumption should be that the anglers of the state have a right to fish, within reasonable limits. A cut off of a fishery ultimately removes the constituency to protect that resource and is not in the long term best interest of the salmon.

Denis Peirce writes a weekly fishing column for The Union and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. He may be reached via e-mail at denisp@theunion.com


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