On Tuesday, a Fresno judge issued a mixed ruling on a federal salmon rebuilding plan critical to the survival of struggling Central Valley salmon runs as well as to the livelihoods of fishing families and communities throughout California and coastal Oregon.
While Judge Oliver Wanger upheld the science underpinning the plan’s fundamental finding – that massive freshwater export pumps in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta harm salmon and must be restricted when vulnerable young salmon attempt to migrate through the Delta – he also sent the plan back to the government for a better explanation of several aspects, including specific export limits.
The ruling comes on the heels of an expert National Academy of Sciences review that validated the science behind the salmon plan, also known as a biological opinion.
As some salmon runs, especially endangered winter-run, are at their lowest levels in decades, it is critical to maintain the salmon plan’s protections while the government reworks some elements.
Meanwhile, there is mounting evidence that the biological opinion will be a big win-win for both fishermen and California farmers.
Unlisted fall-run salmon have rebounded and fishermen and fishing businesses are back at work this year, bringing welcome jobs, economic activity and seafood production to the region. This is perhaps partially attributable to limits on Delta exports put in place in 2008 for the Delta smelt which also benefit salmon. Previously, fishermen were forced off the water for three years after a massive salmon collapse due in large part to poor Delta water management.
Thanks in part to the plan’s flexibility, San Joaquin Valley counties served by Delta exports saw record farm revenues in 2010. This year has seen record Delta water exports and San Joaquin apple growers are already celebrating a phenomenal crop. All this has occurred while Delta salmon protections have been in place.
The Central Valley salmon still have a ways to go to full recovery, and while the federal plan may require some additional tweaks, the facts are clear: our farmers can thrive alongside salmon and fishermen. That’s a win-win we should all support.