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We Need More Wild Spawners
Felice Pace, Letter to the Editor
Eureka Times-Standard
February 9, 2007

To the editor,

Your article (Lean Year For Salmon on the Klamath) on Wednesday concerning salmon runs in the Klamath River failed to include critical information which your readers need to know to understand what is going on with Klamath River salmon management.

Your article stated that “an estimated 30,400 wild salmon reached the river to spawn...4,600 fewer than the number biologists have set as the minimum to produce a strong next generation of fish.” First of all, the 30,400 estimate is not for “wild salmon” but rather for Fall Chinook salmon. Not only are Coho not included in the count but Spring Chinook are also excluded even though ocean sport, ocean commercial and in river sport fisheries take plenty of Spring Chinook.

Spring Chinook salmon are the weakest of the runs that are not already extinct on the Klamath. Yet the Pacific Fisheries Management Council refuses to manage to sustain this run. Wild Klamath Springers are also the stock that must be used to restore salmon to the Upper Klamath above PacifiCorp and Bureau of Reclamation dams.

Because the Pacific Fisheries Management Council – usually at the urging of fishermen – regularly overallocate the Fall Chinook run, extra pressure is put on the weaker stocks like wild Spring Chinook.

Citizens should also know that 35,000 wild spawners is not sufficient to produce a “strong next generation.” The number of wild Fall Chinook spawners fish biologists have calculated are needed to produce a “maximum sustainable harvest” is over 40,000. That is the number of spawners we should be managing for. It is the number of spawners which will produce the most catchable salmon for everyone.

Salmon fisherman Dave Bitts is correct when he states that some of the best years for salmon production occurred when the number of spawners to reach the river has not met the 35,000 “floor”. He is also correct that this is due to the fact that we loose many young salmon each year to diseases related to low flows and poor water quality before they can make it out to the ocean. But these facts do not mean that we should allow Dave and other fishermen to catch more wild adult salmon and accept lower spawner numbers. That would be disastrous because sooner or later a year of low spawner returns would coincide with a following spring/summer of worse than usual water quality and flows. This would be a double whammy for the runs and sooner or later would lead to the loss of the weakest runs – the Springers, Scott River Chinook and Shasta River Chinook. When in-river conditions are bad we need even more spawners producing even more young so that a good number make it to the ocean even when there is higher than usual juvenile salmon mortality.

While we should all support the commercial salmon fishermen who – along with tribal fishermen - have born the brunt of the pain and have done the most to champion habitat protection and restoration, that support should not extend to allowing their desire to fish to result in the loss of those weakest of Klamath runs – especially wild Spring Chinook. Because of poor habitat conditions in the Klamath, Scott and Shasta Rivers we need more wild spawners, not fewer.

Felice Pace

Felice Pace has lived in the Klamath River Basin since 1975 and has been involved in Klamath River salmon management and restoration since 1986.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and as defined under the provisions of "fair use", any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment for non-profit research and for educational use by our membership.

Lean Year for Salmon on Klamath
By John Driscoll, Eureka Times-Standard
February 7, 2007

Fishing season could be crimped again if forecast stays bleak.

For the third year in a row, too few salmon returned to the Klamath River to meet a threshold set to ensure the health of the fishery in the future.

That will likely trigger an overfishing review by the federal government, which will determine whether a rebuilding plan needs to be drawn up.

An estimated 30,400 wild salmon reached the river to spawn, confirmed Pacific Fisheries Management Council staff officer Chuck Tracy, 4,600 fewer than the number that biologists have set as a minimum to produce a strong next generation of fish.

That number of spawners is substantially higher than the 22,000 predicted earlier. The good news is that there are more jacks -- 2-year-old fish that will go back to sea and return this fall and in 2008 -- in the river this year than there have been since the early 1980s.

”The jacks put a bright light on the future,” said California Department of Fish and Game senior biologist Larry Hanson.

An estimate on how many fish are expected to return to the river this fall is being formulated by a technical team in Portland, Ore., this week. That will drive what kind of sport and commercial salmon seasons will be set for much of the West Coast this coming year. It will follow last year's disastrous commercial and crimped sport fishing seasons.

Tracy said that it appears that the season could again be meager, since commercial fishers generally catch more 4-year-old fish than 3-year-old fish. The number of jacks indicates there will be plenty of 3-year-old fish, probably good for the 2008 season.

”Frankly, we don't know,” Tracy said. “The Salmon Technical Team will start talking about it. They'll be cranking through numbers as to what the forecasts are and how that plays into allocations of various fisheries.”

Estimates last year put the loss to the commercial fishing industry at about $80 million. It prompted the U.S. secretary of commerce to declare a fisheries disaster after significant political pressure from West Coast states.

The action to shut the commercial fishery and limit tribal and sport fishing may have paid off with nearly 10,000 more fish reaching the river to spawn than were projected.

”Everybody suffered last year,” said Jimmy Smith, 1st District Humboldt County supervisor and sport fishing representative to the council. “They were able, through that sacrifice, to get more fish back in the river.”

An informational meeting is scheduled for Feb. 28 in Humboldt County. The first proposals for managing this year's fisheries will be developed in March. Public hearings on the options will be held in late March, and the council will choose a plan in April, which will go on to be finalized by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Eureka commercial fisherman Dave Bitts said some of the best years for spawning have been when the number of spawners to reach the river are relatively low. Conditions in the river -- which suffers chronic disease and water quality problems and in dry years low flows -- are key for the juvenile fishes' survival. So is the availability of food in the ocean.

Bitts said it does not appear that federal agencies will intervene to deal with the problems in the river, but expected that fishermen will once again bear the brunt for a problem for which they're not responsible.

”Hammer the fishermen,” Bitts said. “That seems to be the federal policy."

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and as defined under the provisions of "fair use", any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment for non-profit research and for educational use by our membership.