The ‘Last Generation of Salmon Fishermen’?

California tribes and fishermen stated Thursday they will be calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a fisheries disaster because of the dismal forecast for this year’s salmon season.

“There is a lot of tears and there’s a lot of questions about how am I going to feed my family?” Yurok Tribe General Counsel Amy Cordalis said during a Thursday teleconference, relaying concerns brought up by tribal members. “People are in distress.”

Four Yurok Tribe girls garbed in traditional ceremonial clothing stand before the mouth of the Klamath River on April 6, 2016, during the signing ceremony of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. One year later, Klamath River tribes state that dam removal will work to remedy the conditions that led to this year’s record low return of Chinook Salmon (Will Houston / The Times-Standard)

These statements came exactly a year after top state, federal and tribal officials gathered at the mouth of the Klamath River to sign a renewed agreement to remove four dams from the river. The agreement seeks to improve water quality for fish and downstream communities such as the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley tribes.

Tribes and other organizations see dam removal and changes to the federal government’s management of the river as being key solutions to the underlying causes of this year’s low salmon return.

“The solution for this problem is to remove the Klamath dams now,” Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Noah Oppenheim said. “We need to revive cold water for fish and fundamentally re-evaluate the way we treat water in California.”


Last month, the Pacific Fishery Management Council — which recommends fishery management measures to federal regulators — forecast the lowest return of spawning Chinook salmon to the Klamath River on record at about 12,000 fish. The council began meeting Thursday to finalize its recommendations, all of which include a full closure of commercial and sport fishing in Klamath Management Zone, which runs from the Oregon-California border to Humboldt Bay’s south jetty. Salmon fisherman further south also expect major reductions in their harvest.

The council is expected to finalize its recommendations by April 10.

Tribal fishery scientists such as Michael Belchik of the Yurok Tribe stated the low return of spawners is the result of several severe years of drought conditions and river management practices, which caused the waters to warm and become hot beds for toxic algae and deadly parasites. In 2014 and 2015, up to 90 percent of juvenile Chinook salmon on the Klamath River are estimated to have died from an intestinal parasite, believed to be a major cause for this year’s low run, as were poor ocean conditions.

“All these things together conspire to create a real catastrophe for fisheries,” Karuk Tribe Natural Resources Policy Advisor Craig Tucker said.

After conservation groups as well as the Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes sued the federal government last year for the deadly outbreaks, a federal judge ordered the dam-controlling U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and National Marine Fisheries Service in February to develop new flow plans to prevent future outbreaks. The following day, the bureau ramped up flows on the river.

The new flow plan as well as significant winter rainfall came as hopeful signs for Belchik, but he was wary to say how successful spawners will be when they enter the river in late summer.

“But that doesn’t help us right now with the terrible run that we’re having,” he said of the rainfall. “We can’t overemphasize how much trouble we’re in once the spawning numbers get this low.”


Following a poor salmon season last year and a disastrous crab season in the 2015-16 season, Oppenheim said the state’s fishing fleet will need to “stand tough.”

“This means fishermen are going to be facing hardship unlike anything they have ever seen,” he said.

Some fishermen say that the fleet will have to look to other species to make a living.

“The long-term health of salmon is more important than just one season,” Reel Steel Sportfishing owner and captain Tim Klassen of Eureka said in a Thursday statement. “We’ve been through this before and it hurts, but if we don’t do something soon to improve our salmon runs, we will be the last generation of salmon fishermen in California.”

North Coast tribes, which have throughout their history relied on the Klamath River’s bounty, now fear a potential collapse of the Chinook salmon species on the river.

“If we don’t have enough spawners the fish won’t be able to reproduce and that’s sort of a one-way direction toward extinction,” Cordalis said.

Yurok Tribe Fisheries Department Director David Hillemeier said in good years the tribes would be allocated nearly 100,000 salmon by the Pacific Fishery Management Council for harvest. This year, Cordalis said they anticipate receiving 650 fish for the entire 6,100-member tribe. This equates to about one fish per every 10 tribal members and is one-tenth of what the tribe was allocated last year, which at the time was the worst allocation the tribe had ever received.

Cordalis said this year’s low harvest will not only exacerbate economic issues in their already impoverished community — she said about 80 percent of the tribe lives below the federal poverty line — but will also cause the cultural and social fabric of the tribe to “fall apart.”

“What we’ll be doing is dividing salmon into one-eighths and distributing them to tribal members,” Cordalis said with a worried laugh.

Congress will consider providing millions of dollars in relief funds for the Yurok Tribe, the California crab fleet and seven other fisheries across the West Coast in the coming weeks. Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker declared a fishery disaster for the nine fisheries earlier this year, opening them up for relief funding.

At a Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture meeting in Sacramento last week, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton “Chuck” Bonham stated he will likely have to request the governor declare a fisheries disaster for this year’s salmon season.


Many of the hopes to restore the Klamath River and its fish runs are encompassed in a single agreement known as the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. The agreement, finalized in 2010, would remove four hydroelectric dams owned by the Oregon-based company PacifiCorp from the river by 2020.

The first version of the agreement failed to advance through Congress because of opposition by House Republicans. On April 6, a coalition of federal, state and tribal officials signed a renewed version of the agreement that would not require Congressional approval and would instead go through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The agreement must first acquire water quality certifications from both Oregon and Washington before it can be considered for final approval, which is expected to occur by 2019. Supporters of the agreement also anticipate a court challenge.

The removal project will cost about $450 million, with $250 million coming from California’s $1 billion water bond Proposition 1 and the remaining $200 million from PacifiCorp ratepayers.

At the signing ceremony last year, then U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell stated that “coming together is our only path forward.”

“While today is a historic day in the Klamath Basin, it is just the first of many steps needed to restore the water and the fisheries resources of this basin, as well as the communities that rely upon them,” she said.

Solutions to decades of water rights disputes between tribes and Klamath Basin ranchers as well as restoring habitat on the river for endangered fish are still being vetted and will likely require congressional cooperation. Previous attempts to address the issues through legislation have failed.

“I do believe that by working together, by using science, by using data, by updating the river’s operating system, we can find a way to make our communities up and down the river sustainable,” Cordalis said.

Article by: Will Houston
Published: April 6, 2017, by The Eureka Times-Standard
Read original here.