Despite surge in fall chinook run, Sacramento fish protections still needed
Sacramento River salmon
The excitement for the return of wild king salmon to restaurants and stores this spring and summer is nearly matched by anxiety.
People fear that this now-rebounding seafood mainstay and regional jobs powerhouse will be decimated by politically driven efforts in Congress to gut science-based protections for fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Basin.
That hope mixed with anxiety was reflected in a letter sent today by sustainable seafood luminaries from across the nation, urging President Obama to protect one of America's last great remaining natural food sources—the wild salmon of California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Basin.
The letter lauded President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their leadership in improving access to healthful, nutritious, local food. They urged their continued leadership—by ensuring the future of healthy, abundant and self-sustaining populations of Sacramento salmon.
As recently as 2002, the Sacramento produced nearly 1.5 million king salmon. In 2009, it produced barely more than 39,000. Although there are other contributing factors, major reasons for the collapse include salmon eggs dying in low, warm water, and the young salmon that do hatch dying in huge numbers as a result of excessive freshwater export pumping from the Sacramento Bay-Delta. Experts agree that fishermen are not to blame for the massive collapse.
For the last several years, fishing closures driven by the Sacramento salmon collapse have strangled ocean fisheries and fishing communities from California to Washington.
Thanks to lawsuits won by Earthjustice attorneys, federal agencies began implementing peer-reviewed plans to restore struggling fish populations in 2008. These plans also provide benefits to the non-endangered, commercially valuable Sacramento king salmon demanded by consumers.
The young king salmon protected during the 2008-2009 outmigration are now returning with an estimated adult run of 729,893. While the 2011 forecast is welcome, many coastal businesses could still face economic ruin if science-based salmon restoration efforts are derailed by political pressure from water interests and their allies in Congress.