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Rebuilding North Coast Salmon Run

Napa Valley Register Opinion November 25, 2009 by David Graham, Napa, Calif

Dear Rep. Thompson: As a native of Napa, a voter, and avid fisherman of the Trinity River, I feel compelled to bring to your attention the mismanagement of both the Klamath River and Trinity River fishery by the California Department of Fish and Game and other West Coast fishery managers.

The 2008 fall salmon run on the Trinity was atrocious, with a mere 2,200 fish counted by Fish and Game making it through the Willow Creek weir. Historic weir fish counts on the Trinity have been as high 30,000 fish for this same time period. This year’s fish count through the Willow Creek weir looks to be less than 50 percent of last year’s paltry fish count of 2,200. It is time that the West Coast fishery managers change their outdated policies related to the management of this fishery. Please consider the following solutions.
Change the process by which the fish harvest quota is based:

• Base the Yurok and the Hoopa Indian Tribal commercial fishing harvest and the sport fishing quota on the number of actual fish coming through the fishery through the use of sonar counters and the placement of additional weirs on both the Klamath and Trinity rivers. This approach would allow for the West Coast fishery managers to base the permitted salmon harvest numbers for both tribes and sport fisherman on sound data versus literal “guesses,” as is the case right now. Such an approach would mitigate the risk of any over-harvest or under-harvest of salmon in any given year.. Alaska has had great results in managing both sport and commercial salmon harvests through such fishery management practices.

Enforcement and Prosecution:

• Use existing federal statutes to prosecute all people who sell or buy subsistence and non-commercial based fish.
• Enforce Hoopa and Yurok tribal salmon quota permits through oversight and statutes already in place. Currently, both tribes are self monitoring and no oversight is in place to ensure that these tribes are not surpassing their permitted harvest quotas.

• Apply pressure to tribal leaders to enforce already existing tribal fishing codes upon their own members.

• Prosecute illegal gill-netters and gill-netting techniques through the enforcement of applicable federal and state laws. Currently, Hoopa gill-netters are dropping nets that extend bank to bank, which makes it virtually impossible for salmon to make it past the nets. Also, I believe this tribe is fishing with gill nets during the day and have continued to fish with gill nets after their fish quota has been achieved. These practices are illegal according to federal and state law and the Hoopa Tribal Fishing Code.


• Pay the Hoopa market value for what their fish quota would have been had they sold those fish to the open market. The 2009 fish quota for the Hoopa tribe was 6,000 fish. Six thousand fish would equate to roughly 60,000 pounds of fish.

Assume for a moment that both California and the federal government paid an above-market price for the 60,000 pounds of salmon that the Hoopa tribe was permitted to harvest in 2009. Paying $5 per pound this year to the Hoopa tribe would equate to $300,000. Three hundred thousand dollars paid to the Hoopa tribe in exchange for their not harvesting salmon would have a huge impact on rejuvenating the salmon population three to four years down the road. By rejuvenating the salmon population it is quite possible that in certain parts of Northern California both the commercial fishing and sports fishing industries could be reinstated. Reinstatement could bring in millions of dollars to the state economy. This program could be ongoing until we have more empirical data regarding the increase in salmon population through this subsidization program and the modern counting methods as outlined above. Three hundred thousand dollars or 1.5 million over the next five years plus the additional costs of sonar fish counters and inexpensive weirs would be a small price to pay and the least expensive approach to saving our ever-so-important salmon fishing population. Finally, solutions as outlined above would not only help restore our salmon run, they would help  restore our native steelhead run because although it is illegal to keep native steelhead, gill nets do not discriminate.

In closing, the mismanagement of both the Klamath river and Trinity River fishery by the California Fish and Game and other West Coast fishery managers has gone on for far too long. We can no longer not act. Our salmon population and the surrounding businesses that depend upon on this fishery are on life support. We owe this much to our current and future generation Californians and Americans to rebuild our Northern California salmon runs.
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