"Economic losses to coastal fishing communities are staggering," Grader noted. "The salmon-based economy of Northern California and Southern Oregon has gone from $100 million a year to about $1 million a year today. The economic decline is caused primarily by the loss of fish in the Klamath River. The Klamath was once the third largest salmon producing river on the west coast prior to its water's being diverted to irrigate desert land. Diverting Klamath River waters has cost an estimated 3700 jobs related to the salmon industry in coastal communities from Pt. Arena, California to Coos Bay, Oregon, a 350 mile stretch of coast. We're hurting and the politicians are grandstanding."
The cutoff of irrigation waters to the farmers this year was precipitated by a prolonged drought and the fact that a minimum level of water is required to prevent the extinction of fish species native to the basin. Instead of addressing the real problem, some politicians are calling for abandonment of the ESA and convening of the "God Squad" which could overrule measures to keep the fish from going extinct.
Calls for convening the God Squad have been characterized by fishing interests as calls for the Gestapo. "The extinction of fish means the extermination of fishermen," said Grader. "We're looking for balance and compromise so everybody can live. We're tired of extremist politicians playing the blame game."
Fishermen point out that while they don't have access to the quantity of salmon the Klamath used to produce, the federal Bureau of Reclamation has promised more water to agriculture than it can deliver. The program is so over allocated that, according to the government's own model, farmers will suffer water shortages in seven out of every ten years.
"We support a land retirement or buyback program if willing sellers are found. Such a program has been used before to retire land formerly irrigated by Bureau of Reclamation" Grader said. "This would provide long-term water supply stability for remaining farmers as well as ensure adequate water supplies in the basin to support fish recovery," said Grader.
Solving the problems for the farmers is not going to be had by bashing the ESA but rather by a combination of initiatives including:
· Disaster relief this year for farmers
· Buyback program
· Water conservation and wetlands restoration program
· Utilization of the groundwater in the basin combined with measures to protect the aquifer
· Trade agreements that will protect American food producers, farmers and fishermen alike from imports from foreign nations that don't adhere to the same environmental safeguards that American farmers and fishermen abide by.
"Until and unless Congress hears from fishermen, their families, and the business people in coastal communities that rely on healthy salmon runs, they won't have the full story and won't be equipped to make the best decisions. We're here, we're ready, and we're eager to talk," said Grader.