Only Nine Coho Return to Storied CA Salmon Stream

Earthjustice fights back in court

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Northern California’s Shasta River was once the most productive salmon stream for its size in the Golden State. But just nine Shasta coho salmon made it home last year to spawn. Even worse, all of the returning fish were male. Talk about a tough dating pool.

There wasn’t much water in the river to greet the few fish that showed up. Local ranchers had withdrawn so much water that stretches of the river went completely dry.

Scientists now believe that two out of the three year-classes of Shasta coho have become functionally extinct. Next door in the Scott River, only eighty-one coho returned last year. Illegal dams, water withdrawals, and unchecked livestock grazing in streambeds are destroying these rivers.

Last year, Earthjustice began fighting back in court, leading a coalition of tribes, conservationists, and commercial fishing groups to get enforcement of state laws designed to protect struggling salmon in both watersheds. Last week, Earthjustice filed additional papers to stop a controversional state plan that allows continued de-watering of the Scott and Shasta.

Meanwhile, the California Farm Bureau has counter sued to prevent regulation of water withdrawals despite the ecological disaster in both rivers. The dire situation in the Shasta and Scott—both tributaries of the Klamath River—echoes the larger pattern in the Klamath Basin, where coho have declined to roughly two percent of their historic abundance. Despite the fact that these streams contain some of the most important coho habitat left in the Klamath Basin, water use along the two rivers remains largely unregulated.

Earthjustice will continue to work towards curbing runaway water use and habitat degradation in the Scott and Shasta watersheds as a critical step towards restoring our invaluable salmon runs and all the jobs salmon support.

Jim McCarthy worked with Earthjustice attorneys to shine a press spotlight on West Coast salmon and water issues.