We’re out on the water, but we’re really feeling the heat.
Salmon, and the fishing community, are in trouble. This year, fishermen are seeing some of the worst landings ever of California king salmon. The fish we’re catching are scrawny and hard to find.
California’s drought is being felt by fishermen along the entire Pacific Coast. The Sacramento River alone produces 90 percent of California’s salmon harvest, as much as 70 percent of Oregon’s and a significant portion of Washington’s.
California is suffering from the worst drought in centuries. Washington and Oregon are feeling similar pain. Because of the drought, the rivers where salmon spawn, where baby salmon grow, and from which cities and farms take water, are stretched to their limits.
For four years, low flows and lethal temperatures in California rivers have killed salmon eggs and juvenile fish before they can swim out to sea, grow and return to spawn – a process that takes three years. In this fourth drought year, fishermen are now seeing the impacts on salmon hatched in the first dry year. Worse impacts are coming.
Nevertheless, Congress is considering legislation to undermine laws that protect salmon, in order to divert more water for a few California industrial irrigators.
The House recently passed H.R. 2898, the “Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015” by Congressman David Valadao (R-California). More accurately, it is the “West Coast Salmon Fishery Elimination Act.”
The bill aims to increase diversions by weakening laws that require adequate flows for fish. Most of this water would go to wealthy agribusinesses that are posting record sales during the drought.
The bill does nothing to relieve the suffering experienced by commercial and recreational fishermen, or the many businesses and communities that rely on salmon. In fact, the bill seems designed to magnify those impacts.
The bill also does nothing about water scarcity. California’s water shortages are caused by drought, not salmon protections. The path to reliable water supplies lies in conservation and water recycling. That’s the focus of another bill, H.R. 2983 by Congressman Jared Huffman (D-California), which also includes a plan to protect salmon during droughts. Unfortunately, the House hasn’t given Huffman’s bill a hearing.
Congress must choose between real solution or environmental damage planned for rich growers at the expense of salmon and fishermen. If the phony “drought relief” provisions in H.R. 2898 become law, it will cast a dark cloud over our industry in California, Oregon and Washington.
Hot water is killing salmon on many Northwest rivers. Bacterial and parasitic infections are on the rise. Hatcheries are losing fish. In three years, the Washington and Oregon fleets will feel the pain experienced by Northwest salmon runs today. Congress should reduce that pain – not increase it.
Because of the integration of West Coast fleets, all fishermen suffer from damaged salmon runs wherever they are. Washington, Alaska and Oregon should oppose congressional efforts that would harm California’s salmon runs. Doing so will protect our fishing fleet and our future.
Joel Kawahara is a Seattle commercial salmon fishermen and board member of the Coastal Trollers Association as well as the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.