Sacramento, CA April 6, 2017 – California and Oregon tribal, commercial and sport fishing communities are waiting for a final decision on this year’s salmon season but it is apparent that a near total closure of California and Oregon’s coast is inevitable.
“This is the worst year in history for Klamath salmon,” says Amy Cordalis, Yurok Tribal General Counsel. “There is no mystery as to why. The effects of an unprecedented drought were exacerbated by dams and diversions. This year, Yurok, Karuk and Hupa people will have little to no salmon for the first time in history. Although the fish are important economically, they are more important as an irreplaceable part of our identity as people who care for the river.” Cordalis is also a Tribal member and fisherman.
The disaster stems from a crash of Klamath salmon stocks, but in order to protect the few Klamath fish that are in the ocean, fisheries regulators have little choice but to close or nearly close the economically valuable commercial and sport fishing seasons along the length of the Northern California and Oregon coastlines. This will impact tribal and non-tribal families alike.
According to Noah Oppenheim, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), the consequences of this catastrophe will be widespread. “When you combine a five-year drought with terrible water management, this is what you get,” says Oppenheim. “Many fishing families will suffer this summer. It’s been one fisheries disaster after another. Even if Klamath stocks were healthier, we would likely see fishing restrictions due to below average returns to California’s Central Valley. Salmon, the West’s original water users, are paying the highest price for this tragic water management failure.”
Although the outlook for 2017 is grim, Tribal and commercial fishermen have some cause for optimism. Water managers are currently developing a plan to increase river flows to mitigate for fish disease outbreaks, and last year, Berkshire Energy (operating locally as PacifiCorp) proposed an ambitious plan to remove the lower four Klamath River Dams, a product of years of negotiations with basin stakeholders along with state and federal agencies. Many consider this the largest salmon restoration project in history.
“PacifiCorp’s dam removal plan gives me hope for the future. They know that dam removal is in the best economic interests of their shareholders and customers.” explains Leaf Hillman, Natural Resources Director for the Karuk Tribe. “And I know dam removal is in the best interests of the Karuk Tribe.”
Hillman lives downstream of the dams and notes that the Klamath dams, “generate relatively small amounts of electricity, provide no irrigation diversions, and offer little in the way of flood control.”
The dam removal plan requires no federal spending; PacifiCorp is contributing $200 million and California’s Proposition 1 committed up to $250 million in additional funds as needed. The dam removal proposal is now awaiting approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Dam removal is scheduled to occur in 2020. A multitude of studies, including a 2012 Environmental Impact Statement concluded that Klamath dam removal is safe and will dramatically benefit Klamath fisheries and water quality
For some, this season is reminiscent of 2006 when over 700 miles of the California and Oregon coasts were off limits to salmon fishermen. Many small businesses and salmon fishermen went bankrupt that year. Estimated economic damage from that closure was over $100 million.
A final recommendation by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) regarding this year’s fishery closures will likely be released in the next few days. A final decision by the Secretary of Commerce will follow soon after.
“This announcement means we’re going to have to fish for other species in order to make a living, that’s a fact,” said Tim Klassen, captain of the charter fishing vessel Reel Steel, fishing out of Eureka. “The long term health of salmon is more important than just one season. We’ve been through this before and it hurts, but if we don’t do something soon to improve our salmon runs, we will be the last generation of salmon fishermen in California.”