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Schwarzenegger, Feinstein and Nature Conservancy Capture Cold, Dead Fish Awards
by Dan Bacher
Friday Feb 6th, 2009 5:04 PM
In spite of fierce competition among opponents of fish restoration, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Dianne Feinstein and the Nature Conservancy managed to capture the annual Cold, Dead Fish Awards.
Schwarzenegger, Feinstein and Nature Conservancy Capture Cold, Dead Fish Awards

By Dan Bacher

The competition among the candidates for Cold, Dead Fish Awards in 2008 was fierce as corrupt politicians, agribusiness leaders, corporate polluters and their allies launched a full-scale offensive on the imperiled fish populations of California and the West.

Bruce Anderson, the hilarious social and political satirist who edits the Anderson Valley Advertiser in Mendocino County, once quipped, “When the barricades go up, I’m shooting in all directions.”

Well, the barricades are now up in the Western Fish Wars and anglers and those who care about fish and the environment are being forced to shoot in all directions!

The year was highlighted by the continuing decline of California fisheries, with little effectively done by the state and federal governments to halt the collapse of Central Valley salmon and Delta pelagic (open water) fish populations. The recreational and commercial salmon season in ocean waters off California and Oregon closed for the first time in 150 years in 2008, due to the unprecedented collapse of Central Valley fall run chinook salmon that was first disclosed through a leaked memo from the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) in January 2008.

The year ended on an equally sour note when the Department of Fish and Game’s fall 2008 midwater trawl survey on the California Delta documented the lowest ever recorded abundance of Delta smelt, Sacramento splittail, threadfin shad and American shad and an alarmingly low abundance of longfin smelt and juvenile striped bass.

While the anti-fish policies of the Schwarzenegger and Bush administrations were largely responsible for the continuing collapse as they increased water exports out of the Delta until a series of federal and superior court orders began to curb water diversions, they couldn’t have accomplished their environmental mayhem without their enablers in the Democratic Party.

One of the biggest enablers of Schwarzenegger’s war on fish is Phil Isenberg, a Democratic career politician and former assemblyman who has become one of Schwarzenegger’s key environmental hatchetmen. At the same time he did the Governor’s bidding as the chair of the Blue Ribbon MLPA Task Force in imposing elitist no fishing zones upon sustainable commercial, sport and tribal fishermen, he also served as chair of the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force.

As chair of the Delta Vision panel, Isenberg enthusiastically supported a peripheral canal diverting water around the Delta to agribusiness and southern California as the “solution” to the collapse of Delta’s fisheries, in spite of protests by members of the group’s stakeholders advisory panel. For his deplorable role in promoting the Governor’s plan to destroy the Delta, Isenberg receives the “Spineless Political Hack” of the year award.

Faced with the decline of the Delta smelt, Westlands Water District, Kern County Water Agency and other agribusiness contractors came up with a “solution” to deflect attention from the role that water exports have played in the collapse of the native fish - construct a Delta smelt hatchery! They leaned on State Senators Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), Dean Florez (D-Shafter) and Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) to sponsor SB 994, the “Delta Smelt Preservation and Restoration Act of 2008.”

Thankfully, a broad coalition of environmental, tribal and fishing groups, including the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Planning and Conservation League, California Trout, Federation of Fly Fishers, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Friends of the Trinity River, California Striped Bass Association and Earthjustice, launched a successful campaign to defeat the bill, contending that it attempted to sidestep the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. For sponsoring this legislation, Steinberg, Florez and Ashburn, along with Westlands and the Kern County Water Agency, are bestowed the “Rotting Delta Smelt” award. Good work, guys!

While Steinberg, Florez and Ashburn did the bidding of agribusiness, the “Coalition for a Sustainable Delta,” largely comprised of Kern County water agencies, tried to refocus attention from the real reasons for the decline of Delta smelt and endangered salmon and steelhead – water exports and water pollution – to the “evil” striped bass.

They launched a lawsuit on January 29, 2008, alleging that striped bass prey on salmon, steelhead and Delta smelt and that predation has illegally contributed to the catastrophic crash of pelagic and salmon species populations over the last five years. They failed to acknowledge that salmon, smelt and striped bass have coexisted successfully for over 120 years and that all three species are the victims of increasing water exports and decreasing water quality. For their misguided effort to place the blame on the stripers rather than themselves for the fish species decline, the “coalition of the killing” are handed the “Blame the Stripers” award!

The presidential administration of George W. Bush was undoubtedly the worst-ever for fish and wildlife in U.S. history. The administration’s anti-environmental policies and war against fish resulted in the Klamath fish kill of 2002, the collapse of Central Valley king salmon and the dramatic decline of Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other Delta species due to massive increases in water exports and numerous other environmental disasters. The administration for eight years persisted in continual attacks on the Endangered Species Act as key administration officials bent science to fit the dictates of agribusiness and huge corporations.

While promoting no fishing zones as the “solution” to environmental problems and letting corporate polluters, the timber industry and water diverters off the hook, the administration closed all commercial and recreational salmon fishing in 2008, severely restricted commercial salmon fishing in 2006 and slashed ocean rockfish seasons. For his “scorched earth” policy in regards to our nation’s and state’s fisheries, George W. Bush proudly receives “The Good Riddance, W” award.

Finally, the voters in November 2008 delivered a strong message for “change” at the ballot box, electing Barack Hussein Obama president by a wide margin. While some of his environmental appointments are promising, the appointment of Jane Lubchenco as head of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is alarming, especially when you consider that Obama campaigned on a promise of “no lobbyists” in his cabinet.

Lubchenco, a marine biologist and professor of zoology at Oregon State University, is considered an “expert” on overfishing and climate change. Obama said that her appointment was part of his plan to “restore science” to the nation’s top environmental posts, but a review of her actual record suggests otherwise.

Lubchenco is the vice chair of the board of Environmental Defense, an organization known for advocating “market solutions” to environmental problems. Her group is pushing for the privatization of public trust resources through an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program on the Pacific Coast, a cynical campaign to make fishermen into sharecroppers.

Lubchenco is also an aggressive advocate for huge marine protected areas, preferring to blame the victims of fishery declines rather than water diversions, water pollution and other habitat degradation that have led to the collapses. She founded an institute, with Hewlett-Packard money, to encourage scientists to “become more engaged in public policy debates,” according to the Washington Post; in other words, to lobby! President Obama, for choosing a practitioner of “political science” such as Lubchenco, receives the “No Lobbyists?” award!

Finally, although George W. Bush ravaged fish and the environment during his long eight years in office, there is one man who has exceeded even Bush’s fervor in his war on fish and the environment - California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who the media celebrates as the “Green Governor” for his incessant grandstanding on “global warming” and “green energy.” Since being elected in 2003, Schwarzenegger has:

• Allowed the Department of Water Resources to pump record levels of water out of the Delta, resulting in the current Central Valley salmon and California Delta pelagic species decline.

• Vetoed numerous environmental bills, including a badly needed bill by Lois Wolk that would provide for emergency fish rescue plans.

• Consistently slashed funding for game wardens in the field while California has the lowest ratio of wardens to residents of any state in the nation.

• Directed the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board to continue to grant waivers to agricultural polluters, in spite of the dire condition of Delta fisheries.

• Fast-tracked a controversial Marine Protected Area (MPA) process that kicks sustainable fishermen and seaweed harvesters off the water while refusing to deal with pollution and other factors leading to fishery declines.

However, his greatest passion is to make the Delta a polluted “fish-free” zone by building a massive peripheral canal and more dams that will cost an estimated $12 to $24 billion that the state of California doesn’t have. After announcing his plan to build the canal in June 2007, he held a series of press conferences with his political cronies to tout his plan while strong arming the Bay Delta Habitat Conservation Plan and Delta Vision processes to produce a pre-determined result – a canal that will result in more exports out of an estuary that will only survive if less water is diverted.

Arnold can’t accomplish this feat without help. To do this, he has enlisted Senator Diane Feinstein, a longtime friend of corporate agribusiness, and the Nature Conservancy, a hierarchical organization reviled for its greenwashing schemes and privatization efforts throughout the world, as his chief collaborators.

Although a broad coalition of environmental, fishing and tribal groups has successfully prevented the “Triumvirate of Destruction” from pushing Schwarzenegger’s canal//dams scheme through the legislature to date, you can expect increasing pressure by Schwarzenegger and his staff upon conservation groups and politicians of all persuasions to join the Governor’s “big ditch” campaign. For forming their dark alliance to build the peripheral canal, Schwarzenegger, Feinstein and the Conservancy are each proudly bestowed the “Cold, Dead Fish” award for 2008!

If you want to get active in the battle to restore the fish populations of California and the West, go to http://www.restorethedelta.org, http://www.calsport.org, http://www.water4fish.org and http://www.fishsniffer.com.