California Requests Emergency Help for Salmon Fishermen, but Fails to Enact Solutions—Baykeeper Statement

Apr 7, 2023

Acting Governor Eleni Kounalakis yesterday requested federal emergency disaster relief support for California’s salmon fishing industry. The Pacific Fishery Management Council, the federal body that recommends best practices for West Coast fisheries, is calling for a full closure of the ocean salmon season off California and parts of Southern Oregon based on 2023 abundance forecasts of key salmon stocks  This action follows projections that indicate Central Valley Chinook salmon abundance is at historic lows.


If approved, a Federal Fishery Disaster Declaration would begin the process of providing needed relief to fishing communities negatively affected by a closure.


Central Valley Chinook salmon are the backbone of the California and Oregon ocean fisheries. They require adequate fresh, cold water to flow from their mountain spawning grounds through SF Bay and to the ocean, where they grow and mature. The best available science demonstrates that existing water quality and endangered species requirements are inadequate to protect our salmon. 


The Newsom administration has repeatedly weakened environmental safeguards that require dam operators to provide sufficient cold water for salmon egg incubation and, in each of the last 3 years, state agencies waived requirements for Central Valley river flow into San Francisco Bay that are intended to protect salmon.


SF Baykeeper science director, Jon Rosenfield, PhD, issued the following response:


"California’s salmon fishing, coastal, and tribal communities need emergency federal support in the face of the collapse of California Chinook salmon populations. This disaster was avoidable and is the direct result of decades of unsustainable water use policies, including those championed by the Newsom administration. 


"Throughout his administration, Newsom has stood in the way of efforts to strengthen protections for Central Valley rivers, the San Francisco Bay estuary, and our salmon. Newsom’s water and fish management policies are the real disaster. 

If Newsom is serious about helping California’s salmon fisheries and the communities who depend on them, he will urge the State Water Board to complete long-delayed, science-based updates to the Bay-Delta water quality control plan.


"Instead, Governor Newsom has preferred to  appease privileged water districts at the expense of our rivers and San Francisco Bay. If he stays on this course, salmon fisheries will remain closed and San Francisco Bay’s endangered fish species will continue to slide towards extinction. 


"The responsibility for this year’s tragic fishery closure rests with the governor, but this doesn’t need to be the state’s destiny—Newsom just needs to encourage his agencies to develop a science-based plan for long-term water sustainability."  


To find out more about California's water crisis and the policies that resulted in this avoidable fishery disaster, watch the award-winning documentary River's End on PBS.


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