A group of
Central Valley irrigation districts that supply
water to farms and cities have filed a lawsuit
against federal fisheries managers seeking to
stop the first full commercial salmon fishing
season off the California coast in years.
San Joaquin River Group Authority filed the suit
on Thursday in federal district court in Fresno.
It argues that the National Marine Fisheries
Service and its related agencies violated their
duty to protect the threatened Sacramento River
fall run of Chinook salmon by allowing a full
If the fish continue recent population
declines and become a federally endangered
species, the authority's members would be forced
to release more of their water to increase river
flows, said Allen Short, the authority's
coordinator who is also general manager of the
Modesto Irrigation District.
"The potential that additional water would
have to be released to address dangers for
endangered salmon could have a negative impact
to our agriculture and industrial customers,"
The authority is comprised of irrigation
districts in Modesto, Merced, Turlock, Oakdale
and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District,
among others. San Francisco is also a member of
After predictions of a more robust salmon
return this year, commercial fishermen on May 1
opened the first full-length season since 2007.
Cancelled seasons in 2008 and 2009 and a
shortened season in 2010 left many fishermen
struggling to make a living.
But federal fisheries managers estimated
730,000 Chinook would return to the Sacramento
River this fall. This run of salmon provides
many of the fish caught off California and
southern Oregon, and has been plummeting in
numbers in recent years.
The lawsuit filed Thursday is just the latest
salvo in the battle between fishing and
agriculture interests over the reasons behind
the precipitous declines of fall run Chinook
salmon in recent years.
The rebound that accounted for this year's
commercial season is in part because of improved
ocean conditions, each side agrees.
But in 2008, a federal court imposed
restrictions on the huge delta pumps that move
water to farms and cities while litigation over
the fate of the salmon and the tiny Delta smelt
These restrictions, which allowed more water
to flow in the Sacramento and San Joaquin
Rivers, give the fish a better chance of
surviving the swim through the delta and out
through the Golden Gate to the Pacific Ocean.
Some believe this year's expected rebound is not
just a coincidence, and the improved flows are
Zeke Grader, president of the Pacific Coast
Federation of Fishermen's Association, a
commercial fishing industry group, said the idea
that fishing is a threat to the overall health
of the salmon fishery is misguided.
The winter and spring runs of Chinook salmon are
already on the endangered species list and are
not impacted by commercial fishing, he said.
"I've never seen anything quite so mean-spirited
as this," Grader said of the lawsuit. "Here they
come along trying to blame us and trying to
close us down. Isn't it enough our fish were
destroyed? Now they try to tell us we can't