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Irrigator petition to delist Klamath coho salmon rejected
by Dan Bacher
Wednesday Sep 12th, 2012 7:28 PM
“Hopefully this will put to rest the assertion that achvuun* (the Karuk word for coho) are not native to the Klamath Basin," said Karuk Tribal Chairman Buster Attebery. "Our People have harvested this fish for time immemorial and now it’s time to focus on recovery.”
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Irrigator petition to delist Klamath coho salmon rejected

by Dan Bacher

The federal government has decisively rejected the latest bid by the Siskiyou County Water Users Association (SCWUA) to remove Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast coho salmon from the Endangered Species list.

This is the fifth time in 3 years that SCWUA and Richard Gierak, the Petitioners, have unsuccessfully attempted to delist coho, a fish that until several decades ago was abundant in the Klamath and other California coastal rivers.

The take of coho (or silver) salmon is prohibited in all California ocean and river fisheries to protect central coast and southern Oregon-northern California coast coho stocks. Both stocks are in severe decline and are listed under both the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) published its denial in the Federal Register on Monday, September 10 (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-09-10/pdf/2012-22209.pdf).

The attempt by these groups to mount a legal and scientific argument in favor of delisting failed to meet any reasonable standard of merit, according to NMFS.

"We find that the petition does not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted," NMFS stated.

Key to the Petitioners’ claims is the assertion that the coho are "not native" to the Klamath and California .

"Coho were not native to California waters," the latest petition stated. "Failed plantings in 1895, 1899 by Fish & Game were then followed by introduction of Coho Salmon from Cascadia, Oregon which appeared to have a minimal effect of survival in California waters." (http://www.siskiyoucountywaterusers.com/announcements.html)

However, NMFS addressed this claim back in their denial of previous petitions in October 2011. The argument is based almost solely on a 2002 Fish and Game reference to a 1913 California Fish and Game Report that NMFS found to be taken out of context, according to a statement from the Karuk Tribe.

A NMFS 2007 response to earlier petition stated, “The quotes that the petitioners provided from the 2002 California Department of Fish and Game report, taken from the 1913 California Fish and Game Commission report, are taken out of context. The 2002 report actually concludes the opposite of the petitioners: that coho salmon are native to the upper Klamath River system, and historically occurred there prior to hatchery stocking.”

Earlier petitions also revealed "an utter failure" by the Petitioners to understand which specific Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU) of coho was even relevant to the discussion.

The Petitioners tried to correct this shortcoming in the most recent petition, but NMFS responded that the additional information provided wasn't relevant to the petition.

“We carefully analyzed this additional information and found that it is: Not relevant to the petitioned action… not supported by literature citations or other references in the Petition…and therefore constitutes unsupported assertions; or it simply does not support the petitioned action (e.g., information about coho and Chinook salmon fishing seasons in Oregon streams that are not within the range of this ESU)," according to NMFS.

“Hopefully this will put to rest the assertion that achvuun (the Karuk word for coho) are not native to the Klamath Basin," said Karuk Tribal Chairman Buster Attebery. "Our People have harvested this fish for time immemorial and now it’s time to focus on recovery.”

The Klamath was once the third most productive salmon river in the U.S. with up to 1.1 million adult fish spawning annually, including chinook, coho, pinks and chum salmon as well as abundant steelhead.

For thousands of years Native People, including the Klamath, Karuk, Hoopa and Yurok Tribes, sustained themselves on the bounty of the river.

Unfortunately, the once abundant Southern Oregon-Northern California coho are now listed as "threatened" on the federal Endangered Species List, and are considered "endangered" by the states of California and Oregon.

According to the Klamath Riverkeeper, less than 70% of streams where coho historically lived in the Klamath Basin still contain small populations of coho, and in some places, such as the Trinity River, wild coho stocks are at as little as 4% of their previous numbers (NRC 2004).

It is also difficult to tell to what extent hatchery production of coho supplement wild stocks, though one study estimated that 90% of adult coho returned to Iron Gate and Trinity River hatcheries for spawning (Brown 1994).

"Many factors can be blamed for the Klamath’s decline, but none are greater than the dams which stand between salmon and their home spawning grounds in the Upper Basin," according to the Karuk Tribe.(http://www.karuk.us/press/bring_salmon_home.php)

For more information, contact: Craig Tucker, Klamath Coordinator, Karuk Tribe: 916-207-8294.