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Mike Hudson: Protect Endangered Fish, Save the Fishermen
by Dan Bacher
Wednesday Aug 19th, 2009 5:41 PM
Here is a great piece written by Mike Hudson, a commercial salmon fisherman, about how protecting endangered species protects salmon fishermen. It was written to rebut the Pacific Legal Foundation's petition to convene the "God Squad" to overrule Endangered Species Act protections for the Bay-Delta ecosystem, including collapsing runs of Central Valley Chinook salmon. It is part of a broad effort by fishermen, Delta farmers, and environmental groups to counter some of the myths being perpetuated about the ESA and the Delta. Mike's piece is online at: http://www.onearth.org/node/1340.
Protect Endangered Fish, Save the Fishermen

by Mike Hudson August 19, 2009

Today a group called the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is planning to present a petition urging the government to eliminate environmental protections for salmon and other endangered fish in order to pump more water from the threatened Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem as the solution to our central valley water crisis. Whoa!

Let me start off by saying that this is NOT about a “worthless 2 inch minnow,” or an “inconsequential little worm," as some have described the Delta smelt –- it is about salmon! Protecting the delta smelt also helps protect salmon. Fishermen know that what’s good for the smelt is good for salmon and good for the health of the estuary.

I’m a commercial salmon fisherman and sometimes when I say that, people believe that I take folks out on sportfishing excursions, that’s not the case. I go out on my boat and harvest a great public resource for those who don’t have the means or ability to go out there themselves.

When I come back to port, I sell these beautiful, sustainably-caught salmon to my neighbors at the farmers’ markets in our area. My commercial fishing permit entrusts me to harvest fish in a sustainable manner because these fish belong to ALL people in our State and we do want to make sure that there will be fish to catch next year, and every year until the end of time.

I’m pretty proud of doing a good job at it.

At least I was until two years ago, when excessive water diversions from our rivers and Delta totally destroyed our industry. In 2004, the Bush Administration issued new permits to allow the Delta pumps to export more water. And as these water exports increased, salmon numbers collapsed. So commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, Tribes, and environmental groups like NRDC joined together and sued to invalidate those permits, and we successfully won better protections for California's endangered salmon and other fish.

The damage was already done. Thousands of commercial salmon fishermen like myself are now out of work. Our boats stay tied to the docks along the entire California coast all the way into Oregon while tens of thousands more good jobs are lost in businesses that surround our fishing industry.

Closing the salmon fishing season affects everyone from processors laying off their fish cutters to marine fuel docks and commercial tackle shops closing their doors. How do you think the local grocery store in Bodega Bay is doing now that all of a sudden 100 hungry commercial fishermen don’t stop by any more to purchase groceries for their next trip and thousands of recreational anglers don’t come to their community any more because there’s no salmon to be caught? Not good.

The Department of Fish and Game estimated that the closure of our commercial salmon fishery cost the state 279 million dollars and nearly 2,600 jobs in 2009, and that’s a conservative estimate at best.

It doesn't have to be this way. Our salmon are an extremely resilient species, given half a chance they will come back by the millions in just a few years time. But pumping more water from the Delta will no doubt kill off one of the last remaining wild salmon runs in the West.

Protecting the Delta and its environment, protecting these endangered fish like winter run salmon or delta smelt, protects fishing jobs like mine, and protects jobs in communities like Ft. Bragg, Half Moon Bay, and Eureka. It protects water quality for everyone whose drinking water comes from the Delta. It protects farmers and communities in the Delta, and the economies along our coast and in the Delta that depend on recreational fishermen who come from around the State, and even the world, to go fishing.

Protecting salmon and other fish like delta smelt isn't a choice between people and fish. Like farmers, fishermen are food producers, and both are ways of life that California must -- and can -- sustain. And it simply isn't true that Endangered Species are the primary reason why some farmers and communities in the San Joaquin Valley are hurting this year. The drought of the past three dry years means that water's short around the state, not just folks who take water from the Delta.

If one looks at the facts, one will quickly find out that the average rainfall in California has stayed the same over the last 100 or so years. There have always been periods of drought and periods of excessive precipitation, but overall the amount of available water in our state always stays the same. Just a decade ago, the diminished rainfall we’re experiencing today -- 70 to 80 percent of the historical average for three years running -- would not even have been considered a drought.

What has changed is that corporate agriculture made a transition away from annual crops to higher value perennial crops such as almonds, for example. And agriculture will soon have to deal with the facts of nature that dictate that one should not proliferate permanent crops in a State that has an intermittent water supply.

If we were to take salmon and smelt entirely out of the equation and let them go extinct, as some farmers have called for, what would they get? Five percent more water than they have now. This does nothing to fix the underlying problem and we will very soon find out that the extra 5 percent evaporates as quickly as a drop of water on a hot stone by just planting a few more acres of trees – and then who are we going to blame after the “minnows” are gone?

While fishermen have fishing seasons, gear restrictions, limited entry fisheries, and other restrictions to make sure the fishery is sustainable, farmers do not. Maybe it is time to think about ideas like “tree limits”, “limited entry crops”, or “individual farming quotas” to help our water supply be used in a sustainable manner.

In California, the public owns the state’s water and its fisheries. These resources are not private property. The federal Central Valley Project was been built and paid for by the federal taxpayer, it also belongs to the people. Those who use our resources must do so responsibly. Our water and our fish are a public trust that gets handed down from generation to generation, and it is unfortunate that we have to rely on “big government” to uphold that trust, but it can’t be helped as long as some do not act responsible.

The Pacific Legal Foundation describes itself as a defender of property rights, limited government and free enterprise. If PLF believes in free enterprise, they should start by defending California’s salmon fishermen – small businessmen and women who depend on healthy rivers.

The Endangered Species Act helps us balance our needs and desires in a way that enables all to live in the same State and share its resources as good neighbors would. Abolishing the Endangered Species Act so that one interest group takes precedent over another group of citizens is about as stupid of an idea as suspending drunk driving laws on the 4th of July because some want to drive after a few extra cocktails.


Below is the press release from the Pacific Legal Foundation:

PLF PRESS RELEASE

PLF’s "Save our Water" Petition Is Submitted; More than 12,000 Signers Call for ESA "God Squad" to Convene to Address California’s Water Emergency

Sacramento, CA; August 19, 2009: Pacific Legal Foundation’s "Save our Water, Save Our Jobs" petition campaign came to a conclusion today, with notification to both Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Obama Administration that more than 12,000 petition-signers want the federal Endangered Species Committee – the so-called "God Squad" – to be convened to deal with California’s government-caused water emergency.

"This year, San Joaquin Valley farmers, farmworkers, businesses, rural communities, and cities, have suffered a terrible blow because of draconian water reductions due to harsh federal environmental regulations," said PLF President Rob Rivett said. "Recently, new federal Endangered Species Act restrictions have been proposed that will worsen this water crisis in California. The 12,000-plus names on Pacific Legal Foundation’s ‘Save our Water’ Petition show that the public realizes that California is facing a water emergency, and emergency action is required."

"The Endangered Species Committee must be convened to save the California economy from even more destructive water cutbacks than have already been imposed by government regulators," Rivett continued.

The petition drive is part of PLF’s initiative, utilizing provisions of the Constitution and the Endangered Species Act, to halt the crippling water reductions. PLF is the leading litigator for a balanced approach to environmental regulations. On behalf of several San Joaquin Valley farmers, PLF attorneys are prosecuting a federal lawsuit against environmental regulations, relating to the Delta smelt, that have drastically cut the flow of water in the Central Valley.

High profile support for meeting the water emergency head-on

Among those who gathered in support of the "Save our Water" petition drive, at a press conference on the west steps of the California State Capitol in Sacramento: Congressman George Radanovich (R-Fresno); State Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Merced); Denise Davis, a vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce; Dave Puglia, senior vice president of Western Growers; San Joaquin Valley businessman Piedad Ayala, with the Water for All organization, who came with a number of farm workers; and Fresno County farmer Bob Dietrich.

In an online statement urging support, the California Chamber of Commerce warned of the urgent necessity to protect water systems "from measures that will inflict serious economic and social harm on millions of Californians." (Http://www.calchamber.com/Headlines/Pages/CalChamberUrgesBusinessestoSupportPetitiontoSaveWaterJobs.aspx.)

In his own online statement of support for the effort, Rep. Radanovich said it sends a message: "when it comes to water policy, humans come before fish." (http://radanovich.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=136830.)

The Endangered Species Committee – and the Klamath Valley precedent

Provided for as an emergency expedient within the Endangered Species Act, the Endangered Species Committee is a panel of federal cabinet officials who can countermand ESA restrictions that cause excessive destruction to jobs and the economy.

A governor may formally petition for the convening of the Committee. PLF’s "Save our Water" petition urges Governor Schwarzenegger to submit such a request, and urges President Obama to make sure his administration acts favorably on it.

PLF is well-versed in the law relating to the Endangered Species Committee. Eight years ago, in 2001, farmers in the Klamath Valley faced a devastating ESA-caused drought. Water was being withheld from farms and communities – and a vast agricultural region was left bone dry – in a misguided federal scheme to help sucker fish.

PLF attorneys represented two local water districts in a formal petition to the Secretary of the Interior, to take the extraordinary step of convening the so-called "God Squad," because the situation was so extraordinary, so dire. Ultimately, the petition was not successful because our clients were deemed not to have standing under the ESA to submit the request. However, the federal government revisited the scientific basis for the water cutoff, and ended up easing the regulations so that water again was made available (unfortunately, only after much economic hardship).

Unlike the water districts in that case, the governor of a state has explicit authority in the ESA to formally ask for the convening of the "God Squad." This is why the "Save our Water" petition is directed to the governor, as well as to the Obama Administration. The deadline for the governor to submit a petition to the Department of the Interior is September 2, 2009. PLF attorneys stand ready to help in the preparation of a petition, if the governor decides to go forward, according to PLF President Rob Rivett.

The water crisis in the San Joaquin Valley

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has imposed devastating cutbacks on water pumping into California’s main water system as part of a regulatory scheme to protect the Delta smelt. These water cutbacks have contributed to an estimated loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the idling of more than 250,000 acres in farmland. Some rural communities are experiencing stratospheric unemployment, such as Mendota’s 40 percent rate.

Now, sweeping new reductions in water supplies loom as part of a "biological opinion" relating to several other species, including chinook salmon and steelhead. These further cuts in pumping and water supplies are estimated to remove an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water, the amount that is required to serve two million people annually.

"California should be known for the Rose Bowl, not a Dust Bowl, but there’s danger of a Dust Bowl being created in the Central Valley by extreme ESA regulations," said PLF President Rob Rivett. "Instead of stimulating jobs, federal environmental officials are turning recession into depression and stimulating economic hardship for businesses, farms, and families. California is faced with an emergency, and summoning the God Squad is a justified and needed response to meet the crisis."

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Pacific Legal Foundation (http://www.pacificlegal.org) is the leading legal watchdog for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulation.

On May 21, 2009, PLF attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of several Central Valley farmers against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging federal authority to regulate for the Delta smelt, which has led to sharply reduced pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

A brief video about PLF’s history and mission, including comments by former U.S. Attorney General Edwin J. Meese III, can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnBSlRQwxKU.

Contact: Rob Rivett
President
Pacific Legal Foundation
rlr [at] pacificlegal.org
(916) 419-7111
http://www.pacificlegal.org
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