Tribes brace for another abysmal salmon season
Schwartz, Herald and News 4/17/21
the Northwest regional director for the Pacific Coast
Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, is running out
of adjectives to describe how bad things have gotten for
the West Coast’s salmon fisheries.
Due in part
to years of drought in the Klamath Basin, hundreds of
miles of ocean will be completely closed to commercial
fishing boats this summer.
attitude of fishermen, Spain said, is: “Oh God, not
Pacific Fishery Management Council, which advises the
Department of Commerce rules for the ocean salmon season
each year, announced
Friday that no one may take
Chinook salmon from the California portion of the Klamath
Management Zone, which stretches from the Oregon/California
border south to Horse Mountain.
portion of the zone — from the border north to Humbug
Mountain — will be severely limited during June and July,
with each boat allowed to catch only 20 fish per week until
a total of 300 Chinook are caught in June and 200 in July.
“That’s only a
token,” Spain said. “That isn’t even enough to pay your gas
fisheries operate on three-year cycles. Juvenile fish that
travel from the river to the sea usually spend three years
in the ocean before returning to fresh water to spawn. Jack
salmon, which eagerly return after two years, provide a
representative sample of how many fish have survived to make
up the bulk of the following year-class.
managers used last year’s jack numbers to estimate how many
salmon will be migrating from open ocean to rivers this
Spain said poor
salmon returns on the Klamath River are largely responsible
for stringent rules as far south as Monterey, Calif., and as
far north as the Columbia River. That’s because salmon from
the Klamath can travel hundreds of miles to the north or
south beyond the KMZ. Management decisions are made based on
the lowest-performing rivers.
stock is the weakest link. The weakest stock puts the cap on
how many can be caught,” Spain said. “The Klamath is the
weak stock again this year, as it has been for several
years. It’s a ripple effect up and down the coast.”
Because of the
fishery’s three-year cycle, current woes can’t be chalked up
to this year’s drought. But Spain said recreational and
commercial anglers are concerned about what a disease
outbreak and subsequent fish kill on the Klamath this summer
would mean for future stocks.
Salmon on the
Klamath River must pass through a gauntlet of warm, stable
water just downstream of Iron Gate Dam, where massive
colonies of annelid worms release millions of spores of C.
parasite occurs naturally in most river systems in the
region, its levels in the Klamath can get high enough to
infect as much as 90% of all juvenile fish that hatch in the
summer. Scientists blame the Klamath River dams, which slow
the flow of water and stabilize its naturally dynamic
hydrology, allowing the worms on the riverbed to flourish.
Spain said this
year isn’t the worst in terms of salmon returns, but given
how few fish are headed into the river to spawn this summer,
a disease outbreak could decimate the year-class that’s
supposed to return in 2024.
That’s led the
Yurok Tribe to cancel their commercial salmon-fishing season
this year for the fifth time, according to a news release. C.
shasta spore concentrations at various monitoring
stations on the river have jumped up in the past two weeks,
and it appears that the Bureau of Reclamation will not be
able to release enough water out of Link River Dam to
produce a flushing flow event intense enough to scour the
worms from the river bed below Iron Gate. If spring
continues to be bone-dry with no significant rainfall, there
may not even be enough water to effectively dilute the
spores the worms release.
“In the next
few months, many juvenile salmon are expected to die from
the disease if additional flows are not released to flush
the pathogen out of the river,” the Yurok release read.
Closing the tribe’s commercial fishery is an effort to let
as many salmon spawn as possible to have a higher number of
juveniles that aren’t killed by C.
The Yurok Tribe
also noted that Reclamation’s temporary operating
procedures, released Wednesday, did not include tribal
consultation, and that disaster relief for Tribes in the
Basin has been minimal.
Tribe is suffering significant economic damage on top of the
extreme cultural and social impacts of failing fish runs,”
said Frankie Myers, the tribe’s vice chairman. “While we
have never and will never put a dollar value on our fishery,
there is a clear disparity in the federal relief to Tribes.”
For Tribes, a
lack of fish isn’t just an economic loss. Salmon are a
cultural touchstone and a crucial way for tribal people to
feed themselves and strengthen their communities.
“While we are
sympathetic to our upstream neighbors, many Yurok families
are also unable to pay basic bills due to the fishing
closures. We don’t have enough salmon for our ceremonies or
to feed our elders as we have since time immemorial,” said
Yurok Counsel Amy Cordalis.
Spain said the
KMZ closure will disproportionately affect small, family
fishing operations, whose boats tend to be too small to even
leave the zone. Eureka, Crescent City and Brookings, all
contained within the zone, simply have no option to fish
when stocks are this low. Many have given up.
“We’ve lost 80%
of our boat permit holders in the California fishery since
1976,” Spain said.
necessarily mean there are fewer boats out there. Those who
don’t quit may consolidate into larger fishing conglomerates
or acquire permits to fish for multiple marine species in
multiple states, making the environment tougher for
small-time producers. And the fleet of boats and people are
aging: Fewer kids want to take on their parents’
their lives invested in this business, and there’s no
product,” Spain said.
has worked to lobby the federal government for drought
relief for farmers in the Upper Basin impacted by water
shortages, Spain said the relief mechanism for fishermen
isn’t as immediate. The Secretary of Commerce will only
declare a fishery failure at the end of the season, which
advocates use to ask Congress for money. That puts them on a
two to three-year waiting list. But similar to Klamath Basin
farmers, the relief package is never enough to fully recover
the costs of a failed production season.
on opposite sides of a water tug-of-war, Spain said the
parallels between farmers in the Upper Klamath Basin and
fishermen beyond the mouth of the Klamath River are
“We have the
same problems as the small family farmers do in the Klamath
Basin,” Spain said. “We’re the same kind of people:
Blue-collar, work-a-day food producers, and we’re being
crushed by these environmental disasters that aren’t of our
Spain and the
Yurok Tribe both called for sustainable, long-term solutions
made outside courtrooms. Scientists expect the removal of
four aging dams on the Klamath River to improve conditions
for salmon, but an agreement of how an ever-dwindling supply
of water should be divvied up is still needed.
“All of this
points to the need to find equitable and durable solutions
that result in sustainable communities from the top to the
bottom of the Klamath Basin,” Myers said.
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