Sunday, March 30, 2008

Salmon Numbers and Salmon Politics - The Pacific Fisheries Management Council comes to Eureka April 1st!

The Pacific Fisheries Management Council will hold a hearing at the Red Lion Inn in Eureka on Tuesday April 1st beginning at 7 PM. The hearing will focus on the potential closure of all ocean salmon fishing coast-wide. But also at play will be Salmon numbers, Salmon politics, the proposed Klamath Agreement and the fate of Klamath-Trinity River Spring Chinook. These topics are explored below.

On November 30th last KlamBlog reported concerns that the number of Fall Chinook salmon returning to the Klamath and Trinity Rivers would not meet the "floor" of 35,000 naturally spawning Fall Chinook salmon which has been established by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council. As some readers pointed out at the time, we were wrong! The run was late but when it came it was fairly robust. 2007 spawner survey results for Klamath-Trinity River Basin Fall Chinook have now been released. The results confirm that KlamBlog was wrong about the numbers but it also shows that our concern was right on the money.

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) estimate that 59,500 Fall Chinook salmon spawned naturally in the Klamath, Trinity and their tributaries in 2007; according to the reports, almost twice as many Fall Chinook spawned naturally in the Trinity and its tributaries than spawned naturally in the Klamath and its tributaries.

59,500 Fall Chinook natural spawners is not only well above the spawner escapement "floor" it is also well above the 41,000 Klamath-Trinity Fall Chinook natural spawners which the PFMC has determined will produce the "maximum sustainable fisheries". Translate from fish speak, what this means is that, if we allow 41,000 or more Klamath-Trinity Fall Chinook to spawn naturally, we will produce the maximum number of fish which can be caught 3 and 4 years from now without damaging future fisheries.

Readers may wonder why the PFMC is not managing for a maximum Klamath-Trinity Fall Chinook fishery. This would be a good question to ask the Commission when it comes to Eureka's Red Lion Inn on April 1st at 7PM. There is more on that meeting below. But first....

Along with the good news, the 2007 Klamath-Trinity Fall Chinook spawner survey reports contain some very bad news. Grilse (aka "Jack Salmon" or "Jacks") are sexually mature salmon which return to the river after only two years in the ocean. The number of grilse returning to the Klamath-Trinity has been found to be a good predictor of the next year's run size. That's because most of the salmon "run" these days is composed of fish which are three years old. Therefore, a large number of grilse this year indicates that a large number of 3 year old fish will return next year. Of course the opposite is also true – a small number of grilse returning indicates a small run next year.

According to DFG and PFMC reports, a total of 1,661 grilse returned to the Klamath-Trinity River system in 2007. This is the smallest grilse return since the DFG and cooperators began monitoring the Fall Chinook run systematically in 1978. The only year with a similarly small grilse run was 1991 when, according to DFG reports, 1,755 grilse returned to the Klamath-Trinity.

All Klamath-Trinity salmon stocks are regularly in trouble due – most fisheries scientists believe – to poor water quality, disease and dewatering in the main stem and major tributaries like the Scott and Shasta Rivers. These poor habitat conditions - combined with natural mortality and predation - wipe out most Klamath-Trinity downstream migrating and resident juvenile salmon in most years.

Occasionally, however, we will see a larger salmon run in the Klamath-Trinity River Basin. Most fisheries scientists believe this is the reflection of the occasional "good water year" - i.e. a year when the snow pack is deep and consequently when flows in the rivers and streams - and therefore also water quality - are better than normal. When a good water year leads to survival of most juvenile salmon, the Klamath-Trinity will typically have a good run of salmon 3 and 4 years later. Interestingly, it is the lack of these "good water years" which salmon biologist Bill Trush cited when he told the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors that the much debated proposed Klamath Agreement would not lead to the recovery of Klamath-Trinity Salmon.

The 2007 collapse of salmon production, however, was not limited to the Klamath-Trinity River Basin; it appears to have been coast-wide. This may prompt a coast-wide salmon fishing ban or at least much reduced salmon seasons from the Canadian border south through California.

And that looming salmon fishing closure is the main reason the PFMC is coming to Eureka on April 1st. While much of the talk will focus on the economic impact a fishing closure will entail for coastal communities, perhaps those testifying will also focus attention on the failure of federal and state governments to protect and restore salmon habitat. So long as the government allows the dewatering of streams and rivers, allows timber corporations to clearcut unstable slopes and build salmon killing roads, and allows agriculture and other industries to pollute and degrade water quality, salmon will continue to struggle for survival.

While ocean conditions may be beyond our ability to control, we should never forget that the recurring "salmon crises" in the Klamath-Trinity River Basin remain substantially within our power to remedy. The key to RECOVERY is protecting and restoring habitat; and the key to habitat restoration is ending those activities and practices which degrade and destroy habitat.

As the Petey Brucker song reminds us: "Habitat. Habitat. Got to have the habitat!"


There is another important salmon topic that may come up Tuesday evening in Eureka. That topic is the fate of the other Klamath-Trinity Chinook stock - Spring Chinook (aka "Springers"). Once the dominant run in the Klamath-Trinity system, Spring Chinook now teeter on the verge of extinction. While Springers suffer from the same poor habitat conditions that affect Klamath-Trinity Fall Chinook and Coho, there are other causes for the Springers dire condition. These include:

  • In a decision which many fisheries scientists consider politically motivated, the National Marine Fisheries has refused to recognize Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook as a separate species. This has resulted in the Springers being disqualified from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. Remarkably, No fishing or environmental group has challenged the NMFS decision denying protection for Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook!
  • While paying lip service to the need to manage Klamath-Trinity Springers, the PFMC has failed to produce a Spring Chinook Management Plan. The practical result is that the California DFG retains sole discretion over how many wild Springers will be taken by sport fishermen in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers and also that Springers will continue to be targeted in ocean sport and commercial fisheries. Remarkably, No fishing or environmental group has challenged the PFMC's failure to produce a Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook Management Plan!
  • Bowing to pressure from a handful of guides and sport fishermen, the California Department of Fish and Game and the California Fish and Game Commission have steadfastly refused to protect wild Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook from being taken by sports anglers. Fishing for wild Springers continues to be allowed in the Klamath mainstem including the mouth of Blue Creek and other cold water refugia where wild Springers tend to congregate. Take of wild Springers is also allowed in the Main Stem Trinity between the South Fork and Canyon Creek even though the wild Springer runs in the New River, North Fork Trinity and Canyon Creeks teeter on the brink of extinction. Remarkably, No fishing or environmental group has challenged the DFG's refusal to protect wild Springers from take by sport anglers!

Why have the fishing and environmental groups who claim to champion Klamath-Trinity River salmon not challenged these decisions? Readers may want to inquire of the groups which are member of the Klamath Basin Coalition. According to its web site ( the Klamath Basin Coalition is "dedicated to conserving and restoring the biological resources of the West's once-great Klamath Basin". Members of the Coalition are:

  • American Rivers
  • Defenders of Wildlife
  • Earthjustice
  • Friends of the River
  • Institute for Fisheries Resources
  • Klamath Basin Audubon Society
  • Klamath Forest Alliance
  • National Center for Conservation Science and Policy
  • Northcoast Environmental Center
  • Oregon Wild
  • Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations
  • Sierra Club
  • Klamath Riverkeeper
  • The Wilderness Society
  • Trout Unlimited
  • Waterwatch of Oregon
Some of these groups do not work on salmon issues. But many of them do. Why then have none of the groups - or the Coalition as a whole - challenged decisions by NMFS, PFMC and the CDFG which continue to threaten Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook with extinction? It is a good question and one whose answer can provide insight into the hidden underbelly of salmon politics. KlamBlog may explore this "hidden underbelly" in a future post. But today our focus is the upcoming PFMC-NMFS decision on the 2008 Pacific Salmon Fishing Season and the April 1st hearing on that decision in Eureka.

While state and federal failure to protect and restore salmon habitat and the fate of Klamath-Trinity Springers may come up on Tuesday evening in Eureka, the main focus of the April 1 PFMC meeting will be the three options the Council is considering for management of Fall Chinook coast-wide. Two of the options involve a complete closure of ocean salmon fishing. The options are described and analyzed in the second of two PFMC "Preseason Reports". You can read that report or download it at:

The first preseason PFMC report provides background for the options and decisions including the 2007 salmon run information presented above. You can read or download that report at:

PFMC will make a final decision on their recommendation for the 2008 Fall Chinook season at their April 8th meeting in Seattle. This recommendation will then go to the National Marine Fisheries Service which technically makes the final decision. NMFS typically adopts the PFMC's recommendation.

The PFMC is accepting written comments on the three options until 4:30 PM Pacific Time on April 1st. Here's the contact information:

Pacific Fishery Management Council
7700 NE Ambassador Place, Suite 101
Portland, OR 97220-1384
Main Number: (503) 820-2280; Toll Free: 1-866-806-7204(503)
Fax: (503) 820-2299
Web site:

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