2011-02-04 "Sacramento River Salmon Run: Nowhere Near Normal or Recovered" by Dan Bacher
Is is extremely important to note that 163,181 salmon does not represent recovery for the Central Valley chinook run, and it is not even close to what would be considered normal or status quo for one of the mightiest salmon river systems remaining in North America, according to Jim McCarthy, salmon activist. Below is McCarthy's excellent analysis of the just released salmon spawning returns on the Central Valley rivers.
Stories are starting to appear regarding the Central Valley chinook salmon returns.
You can see the chinook numbers here at page 11, in the "Fall Run Summary I": [http://www.calfish.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=Kttf%2boZ2ras%3d&tabid=104&mid=524]
Given the fact that we have seen some of the lowest salmon returns ever recorded on this river system in the last three years, 163,181 fish returning is positive news after an extremely bleak three years for fish, fishermen, and the many fishing communities dependent on the Central Valley system.
However, it is extremely important to note that 163,181 does not represent recovery for the Central Valley chinook run, and it is not even close to what would be considered normal or status quo for one of the mightiest salmon river systems remaining in North America.
Certainly, this 2010 return did not provide normal harvest opportunity for California commercial salmon fishermen in 2010 - this year saw California's third federal salmon fishery disaster declaration in a row.
What is "normal" for the Central Valley? Looking at the historical numbers on the same chart referenced above, the 10 year (1997-2006) pre-disaster return averages roughly 475,000 fish. This number is a useful reference point for "normal" when we are talking about this chinook salmon population.
To translate this ten year average into food production, please refer to spreadsheet tab D-4 on the "Economic Data" link available on the Pacific Fishery Management Council website here: [http://www.pcouncil.org/salmon/background/document-library/historical-data-of-ocean-salmon-fisheries/ ]
For example, California commercial salmon fishermen delivered an annual average of 4.2 million pounds of dressed salmon (made up of roughly 90% Central Valley chinook) to California ports over the 1997-2006 period. This figure does not include Central Valley fish caught by Oregon fishermen (who normally rely on Central Valley chinook for 60% of their catch from Garibaldi, OR south) or landings
by sport fishermen in both states.
Obviously, this represents a lot of delicious seafood, recreation, jobs, and economic activity for people in both states. (It should be noted that this average production number would be considerably higher but 2006 saw massive salmon fishing closures and a federal fishery disaster declaration due to the federal water policy-driven collapse of the Klamath River chinook run.)
Moreover, the federal government has established a goal much higher than 475,000 for "normal" in the Central Valley. Federal agencies have a legal obligation under the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) to achieve around 750,000 Central Valley spawning chinook
per year under this law's "salmon doubling" requirements. See the link below for a recent discussion of this standard from a commercial fishing group's perspective: [http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/zgrader/detail?entry_id=81705#ixzz1D29uvyF8]
In this context, 161,181 is nowhere near a "normal" or "recovered" level for this run.
Another important element to consider when looking at the return numbers for all Central Valley salmon runs is the impact of trucking young salmon around the Delta on their way to the sea. Currently, some hatchery fish are trucked around the Delta to avoid the high salmon
mortality caused primarily by Delta freshwater export pumping.
Trucking does seem to influence this year's numbers. For example, spring and winter run returns are still both depressed. Springers came in at the lowest on record since 1993. Of the spring run return, by far the biggest component is from the Feather River hatchery. 50 percent of the Feather River springers smolts have been trucked since 2005, according to the hatchery manager. Were it not for trucking of these hatchery fish the springer returns would be much lower.
Winter run are the lowest since 2000. None of these fish are trucked.
Over the long term, we don't want to have to rely on trucking to save and rebuild our salmon runs. A big part of the solution will be for state and federal water managers to take a more balanced approach in how they operate the Delta's massive pumps. They must leave enough freshwater to flow through the Delta and bay to support our salmon runs instead of sending the water salmon need to junior water rights holders in the western San Joaquin Valley.
Regards, Jim McCarthy
2135 San Jose Avenue
Alameda, CA 94501
jmccarthy.consulting [at] gmail.com