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Editorial: Klamath in crisis
response by Dan Keppen, Klamath Falls
response from Greg Addington, Klamath Water Users, and Pacific Legal Foundation

With salmon in abundance, fishing fleet runs aground on shoals of water politics

July 3, 2005 Sacramento Bee

A healthy stock of salmon is busy swimming out in the Pacific Ocean, but authorities have restricted commercial fishing operations throughout Northern California because of problems in one river.

That would be the Klamath, where an anemic population of salmon return each year to spawn.

Salmon return to the river of their birth to end their life cycle, spawning just before they die. Between birth and death, the fish live in the ocean. And while they're in the ocean, the salmon that were born in the Klamath mingle with those that started life elsewhere.

There's no way a fisherman knows which is on the hook. A regulator can't tell, either. So to protect the precious few salmon that are bound for the Klamath, the only recourse has been to curtail ocean salmon fishing altogether.

The decision to limit commercial salmon fishing has these mom-and-pop businesses angry and frustrated, and understandably so. Consumers aren't getting much of a break on salmon prices either. The situation smells of White House politics and misplaced priorities.

Once one of the West Coast's biggest salmon fisheries, the Klamath begins in Oregon before snaking south to California, then west to the ocean. Along the way, considerable water is taken from the river to sustain thousands of acres of farm land, much of it devoted to potatoes.

The Klamath simply doesn't have the water to deliver what the farmers desire and leave enough in the river for healthy steelhead and salmon populations. Up and down the river, key tributaries that once sheltered these fish are inhospitable because of excessive groundwater pumping and historic logging practices, among other human alterations.

The Klamath crisis can be wrongly portrayed as a fish-vs.-humans matter. In truth, it's more of a humans-vs.-humans competition, with commercial fishermen and Indian tribes downstream pitted against farmers upstream. The Bush administration has tended to favor upstream interests in Oregon, a state that is more likely to back a Republican for president, over those in California, which favors a Democratic stronghold.

A more balanced management policy would focus on restoring the salmon fishery, because it is the most high-value crop that the Klamath's water sustains. But the situation along the Klamath is anything but balanced. It is a mess. And now so is the entire salmon season for commercial fishermen off the coast. So many fish, so little fishing, so little regard for common-sense water policies.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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