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Indybay Feature
Bay-Delta salmon population just one fifth of mandated goal
by Dan Bacher
Wednesday May 15th, 2013 8:24 AM
“After two closed salmon fishing seasons in 2008 and 2009, and a token season in 2010, fishermen are fishing again, but we remain far below the abundant runs required by law,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association and GGSA board member. “Stronger Delta pumping restrictions are paying off but we have to finish the job and get these salmon runs rebuilt.”

Photo of commercial salmon fishing boat outside of the Golden Gate by Dan Bacher.
Bay-Delta salmon population just one fifth of mandated goal

by Dan Bacher

As Governor Jerry Brown continues to push for the construction of the peripheral tunnels under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) a new analysis released on May 13 by the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reveals that the salmon fishery is limping along at only 20 percent of the population goal required by state and federal law.

The landmark Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA), passed by Congress in 1992 under political pressure from a big coalition of recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and environmentalists, set a goal of rebuilding salmon runs to almost a million adult fish by 2002. It also mandated the doubling of other naturally spawning anadromous fish populations including green sturgeon, white sturgeon, Central Valley steelhead, striped bass and American shad by 2002.

For the first time, the CVPIA made fish and wildlife a purpose of the federal Central Valley Project. Unfortunately, the state and federal governments have failed to enforce the CVPIA and other laws mandating the restoration of Central Valley salmon and other anadromous species - fish that migrate from the ocean to spawn in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries.

"More than a decade past the law’s deadline, the salmon fishery continues to struggle due, in large part, to excessive pumping of fresh water from the Bay-Delta that deprives salmon of the cold, flowing rivers and healthy habitat they need to thrive," according to a joint release from GGSA and NRDC.

“After two closed salmon fishing seasons in 2008 and 2009, and a token season in 2010, fishermen are fishing again, but we remain far below the abundant runs required by law,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association and GGSA board member. “Stronger Delta pumping restrictions are paying off but we have to finish the job and get these salmon runs rebuilt.”

The groups say these results are only "marginally better" than the 12 percent of salmon produced in 2011, when NRDC and GGSA released the first analysis of the Central Valley Chinook salmon population goals.

The CPVIA specifically directs the U.S. Department of the Interior to protect, restore, and enhance fish in the Central Valley of California. That means rebuilding salmon populations from 495,000 to 990,000 wild adult fish by 2002, according to Grader.

“This year our industry will only get a fraction of what our state and federal governments are supposed to be producing," said John McManus, executive director of GGSA. “We’re having a hard time living on 22 percent of the legally required salmon population. Balance could be restored by reallocating a fairly small amount of water which would give us healthy salmon runs, healthy local food, healthy communities and a healthy economy.”

Central Valley Chinook salmon declined drastically from 2003 through 2010, reaching a record low of 7 percent of the required population level, according to McManus. This decline in the fishery corresponded with a 20 percent increase in water diversions from salmon habitat over levels from the preceding quarter century. The largest water exports from the Delta in California history took place from 2003 to 2006 and in 2011.

Although the Central Valley salmon numbers have increased since the unprecedented collapse of 2008-2009, forecasts suggest 2013’s salmon returns will again fall far below what the law requires.

Kate Poole, Senior Attorney with NRDC, said, “Many large agribusinesses in California will get 100 percent of their contract water supplies this year, despite the low snowpack and lack of rain. California’s struggling salmon population and the fishing industry will not be so lucky. The Interior Department and the State are providing fishermen only 22 percent of their promised yield. It’s possible to get salmon back on track, but federal and state agencies need to dramatically step-up restoration efforts in order to achieve it.”

The groups say if current laws were enforced, a restored salmon fishery would "generate billions in new revenue and add thousands of jobs from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. These jobs are tied to commercial fishing men and women, fresh and salt water recreational anglers, coastal communities, tribes, fish processors, equipment manufacturers, marinas, and food and hospitality services."

State and federal agencies can step-up their efforts to restore salmon by acting on the following recommendations:
• The Department of the Interior should reform Central Valley Project water contracts and revamp its salmon rebuilding efforts in response to a scathing independent review. Specifically, Interior should better manage water and restoration funds dedicated to salmon recovery, incorporate the latest scientific information and appoint a manager to be accountable for the progress of the restoration program.
• The State Water Resources Control Board should set stronger standards to protect salmon in the San Joaquin River and the Bay-Delta ecosystem, in proceedings to revise these standards that are currently underway.
• The California Department of Water Resources should incorporate salmon doubling into the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process.
• The California Department of Fish and Wildlife should launch an ambitious state salmon restoration effort.
• The U.S. Department of the Interior should aggressively implement NRDC’s agreement to restore the salmon run on the San Joaquin River.

Media contacts: Serena Ingre, 415-875-6155, singre [at]; Michael Coats, michael [at], 707-935-6203.

For more information, go to or

Meanwhile, the Brown and Obama administrations on May 8 set a formal deadline of October 1 for the release of the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels and accompanying environmental documents for public review and comment. The construction of the 35 mile long twin tunnels under the Delta could hasten the extinction of Central Valley chinook salmon, Delta smelt and other fish species, according to state, federal and independent scientists.

Other threats to salmon recovery include Congressman Jim Costa's legislation to exempt the Central Valley and State Water projects from Delta pumping restrictions required under the Endangered Species Act to protect Central Valley salmon and Delta smelt. (

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Beeline
Wednesday May 15th, 2013 6:41 PM
The total amount of funding obligated to finance the "improvements" under the Central Valley Project Improvement Act was 1.013 billion dollars as of FY2008. In light of the consistently low salmon population it does not seem that the above huge expenditure has done much good.

Historically the salmon population in the Sacramento River system was almost beyond belief. I think our government officials have conveniently forgotten the history of the Sacramento River. Maybe it's time to remind them.

The following quotes paint a picture of what the natural river system was capable of.

"Last July (1871) hundreds of salmon, averaging 15 pounds apiece, were caught in the Little Sacramento with a hook and line, near Fryes Hotel, at Upper Soda Springs (just below present day Dunsmuir)". from Livingston Stones report 1874.

In 1888 the U.S. Fish Commission estimated the 1 million salmon were using the McCloud river to spawn. This sub population was comprised mainly of winter/spring run Chinooks which are now facing extinction.

In 1890 the California Fish Commission called the McCloud river "the best salmon breeding river in the world". (report from 1890, page 33). The same report states " It is a well known fact to fish culturists that the winter and spring run, during the high, cold waters, go to the extreme headwaters of the rivers if no obstructions prevent, into the highest mountains".

And there was the quote from Livingston Stone (1878) the fish culturist that observed salmon up close on the McCloud river. "I have never seen anything like it anywhere, not even on the tributaries of the Columbia. On the afternoon of the 15th of August there was a space in the river below the (fish) rack about 50 feet wide and 80 feet long, where if a person could have balanced himself, he could actually have walked anywhere on the backs of the salmon, they were so thick".

It took only a few years to begin to imperil a species that was doing so well. Railroad building and mining obstructed passage of the fish and at the same time they were being caught by the thousands. Canneries sprung up along the lower Sacramento which shipped salmon around the world for pennies a pound.

The building of Shasta dam cut off just over 200 miles of good spawning habitat and left 25 miles downstream to support all four runs. With only about 11% of the Sacramento River habitat left the runs began to fail. Well duh! Homer Simpson could have figured it out. The hatchery system bumped the failing populations up a bit. The hugely expensive temperature control curtain behind Shasta dam made the water about 4 to 5 degrees colder and cleared the way for more power generation, which doubled, but did little to revive the salmon's numbers. A lot of money was spent on modifying the Red Bluff Diversion dam but to what end?

Money is being spent to clear the "environmental obstacles" for irrigation and power generation projects which supports a few engineer firms and farming operations but the salmon still suffer.

When it came time to designate the endangered winter run chinooks Critical Habitat, the NOAA conveniently forgot about the 200 miles of habitat upstream from Shasta dam. To my knowledge no government entity has attempted to lift salmon past the dam in an effort to restock the historical habitat even though their fisheries biologists agree that it is necessary to establish two sub populations upstream of the dam to save the endangered winter run.

This is it folks. Either something real gets done to re-establish the salmon behind the dam and protect the fall runs as well or forget it.

Write to Mr. Obama at the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC 20500 and tell him to get with it.

Never forget that "it is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error" Justice Robert Jackson
by Micheal Beach
(beachin2 [at] Saturday May 18th, 2013 3:45 AM
Over the last century,we have done our best to drive the salmon populations into extinction. with the major emphasis on human convenience. and little emphasis on salmon survival. when all this controversy kicked off in the 90,s and the survival was looking bleak for salmon . I felt if the people that were in a responsible position to reverse the damage to the salmon populations. were so ignorant , that they couldn't do the right thing . and ensure the salmons future . and the mr costas and the lobbyists and the rich speculators. were to get their way. and all the work of the congress and Mr Obama and the laws passed were going to be ignored. or danced around . rather then letting the salmon populations return to where they should be.if were not going commit ourselves to doing whats right . why don't we just shut up about it. save our wallets . and let all the salmon just die off. maybe pave some of their old spawning grounds. and build some condos . or cap off the streams and sell drinking water.

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