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Dan Bacher: Feds kill fall salmon eggs on Sacramento River


By: Dan Bacher

Photo of de-watered "redds" - salmon nests - on the upper section of the Sacramento River, courtesy of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.
December 16, 2013 - The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is one of the biggest killers of salmon and salmon eggs in California every year - and this year is no exception.

The Obama administration has continued and expanded the Bush administration war on salmon and other fish, as evidenced by the Bureau's sharp cut in reservoir releases that has left the eggs of recently spawned fall-run Chinook salmon high and dry in the upper section of the Sacramento River from Redding to Chico.

The death of millions of salmon eggs has drawn sharp criticism from fishing groups, including the Golden Gate Salmon Association and California Sportfishing Protection Allliance.

Louis Moore, Bureau of Reclamation spokesman, responded to the news of the de-watering of salmon nests by claiming that "water must be stored in Shasta Lake to meet the needs of agriculture, industries and municipalities," according to the Chico News & Review.

"But no one is making an operational decision without regard" for salmon, he told the publication. That a great number of fish was lost "is really unfortunate. (http://www.newsreview.com/chico/feds-kill-baby-salmon/content?oid=12247227)

Representatives of fishing groups didn't buy the Bureau's claim that the agency didn't make a decision "without regard" for salmon, pointing to the Bureau's history of policies killing salmon and salmon eggs, including both those listed under the Endangered Species Act and those not listed.

According to a news release by the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA), "As expected, an almost 35 percent reduction in water releases from Lake Shasta into the upper Sacramento River during the prime salmon spawning month of November has left many salmon nests, or redds, high and dry. This likely killed millions of incubating salmon eggs which is certain to hurt salmon returns in future years."

Reclamation reduced water releases into the upper Sacramento River from 6000 cubic feet per second (CFS) on November 1 to 3750 CFS on November 25, according to the GGSA. Many fall run salmon built redds, in October and early November in the shallows during higher water conditions. The river shrunk as reservoir releases dropped leaving some redds full of dead eggs.

GGSA worked with the Bureau of Reclamation and other parties throughout 2013 to avoid this. "In early September there was a general agreement to drop the higher flows on or about October 1 many fall run salmon begin spawning," said GGSA Executive Director John McManus. "This would allow the fall run to lay their eggs in a water level that could be easily maintained for three months when the eggs hatch and the baby salmon emerge from the gravel."

"However, several federally protected winter run salmon spawned later than normal in August," McManus said. "The US Fish and Wildlife Service, in conjunction with the National Marine Fisheries Service, concluded high water must be maintained into early November to protect the winter run eggs. This decision was made knowing that reducing reservoir releases in November would kill at least some of the later spawning fall run offspring. Shrinking the river in November may have also caused loss of juvenile salmon stranded in isolated pools disconnected from the river."

Big drops in November water releases are believed to have cost 15 percent of last year's fall run eggs and 23 percent from the year before, McManus said. State fishery biologists believe that up to 40 percent of the egg's of this year's fall run fish eggs have been killed.

This carnage took place after a spring when over half of the winter-run chinook salmon perished in canals and drainage ditches in the Sacramento Valley and after a summer when the Department of Water Resources and Reclamation released massive quantities of water down Central Valley rivers to export to corporate agribusiness, developers and oil companies.

"Once salmon have laid their eggs in the river, it's up to water managers to keep them safely under water until they hatch," noted McManus. "After all, humans control the amount of water released from upstream reservoirs. Killing the offspring of naturally spawning salmon is what you don't want to do if your goal is to reduce reliance on hatchery fish and rebuild wild runs. It's hard to rebuild natural runs when water releases are managed this way."

The GGSA called on the Bureau of Reclamation to expand its current year-ahead water planning to account for the needs of all Sacramento River salmon, both ESA listed and non-listed runs.

"The Bureau needs to provide adequate flows for fall run salmon spawning, incubation and emergence and for water released in the spring needed to flush juvenile salmon out of the river and delta system," McManus noted. "Conditions are different every year and GGSA will be working in 2014 to protect next year's spawn."

The recent killing of salmon eggs takes place as the Obama administration continues and expands some of the worst environmental policies of the Bush administration, just as Governor Jerry Brown continues and expands some of the worst environmental policies of the Schwarzenegger administation.

The Obama administration's horrible environmental policies including exporting record amounts of water out of the Delta in 2011, killing record numbers of Sacramento splittail at the Delta pumping facilities in 2011, backing the construction of two massive fish-killing tunnels under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, promoting the privatization of fisheries through the "catch shares" program, and fast-tracking the approval of genetically engineered salmon for human consumption. (http://www.sacbee.com/2013/01/23/5135045/obama-continues-or-surpasses-bushs.html)

Many fish populations have collapsed to record low levels in the past few years, due to massive export of Delta water to corporate agribusiness, developers and oil companies under the Obama and Brown administrations.

The most recent salmon egg and fish carnage occurs as part of a long history of water exports and poor water management by the state and federal water agencies. Since the State Water Project began exporting water in 1967, water exports have increased by more than 60%; outflow to the Bay has declined by more than 40%, according to Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA).

"Since 1967, the flow and water quality standards protecting the Delta – inflow, outflow, export ratios, salinity - have been violated hundreds of times, without a single enforcement action taken. Likewise, water rights, area of origin and watershed protection statutes have been ignored," said Jennings at a press conference against the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels on Monday, December 9.

And since 1967, Delta fisheries have collapsed. "Populations of Delta smelt are down 98.9%, striped bass 99.6%, longfin smelt 99.7%, American shad 89.1%, threadfin shad 98.1% and splittail down 99.4%," he disclosed.

Anadromous fisheries have experienced similar declines. For example, steelhead and winter-run salmon are down 91.7% and 95.5%, respectively, Jennings noted.

"And now, the architects that orchestrated this catastrophe propose to divert more water around an estuary already hemorrhaging from lack of flow. Moreover, they want to build the tunnels now and decide how to operate them later. This is a death sentence for the estuary," Jennings concluded.

For more information, contact the Golden Gate Salmon Association, http://www.goldengatesalmonassociation.org, and California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, http://www.calsport.org.


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