What a winter! Pretty much everything we could have asked for in the way of water. I remember back in December waxing poetic about the first few indications of rain. Now look at us. Drenched!
In Sacramento, of course, the wheels are turning in the fisheries management universe. The fate of California’s most glorious ocean resource is being decided even as I write this. I will not deign to take a position on this ever-polarizing subject. But I will say this: There were 39,000 returns of Sacramento River Fall Chinook (SRFC) in 2009. There were an additional 9,000 jacks. (Before the last three dismal years the average yearly number of jacks--two year olds-- was about 30,000, the number of jacks is used to determine how many fishable 3 year olds are in the ocean). Both of these (recent numbers of jacks and other spawners) represent record, or near-record, lows--and it's been this way for two consecutive years. Two consecutive years without any fishing pressure whatsoever!
As I understand it, the totals from three/four years ago were better. And now, because those fish from three/four years ago have (ostensibly) grown up, many fishermen and fishing organizations are pointing out that the ocean population is “harvestable.” Only problem, as we here at the MFN see it, is this: what’s coming next? If we go hog wild on the one generation that is (or I should say, might be) doing well, what’s our savings account going to look like when the few fish that spawned in the last three years reach adulthood. Also, projections of late are coming in way off the mark. Last year’s projected total of spawners was actually over 120,000 and look what happened? 39,000 spawning adults… you gotta be kidding me. One fish for every weekend warrior with a Grady White—actually less than one if we put it that way. We here at the MFN pose this rhetorical question: If we take into account that something we are as yet unaware of is killing these fish (more likely it’s a combination of factors, or “death by a thousand slices” as one biologist friend of mine recently put it) is it possible that the 245,000 “projected” adults in the ocean is a gross over-estimation? Like the 120,000 predicted 2009 spawners? Despite who’s to blame, (“It’s not us” say the fishermen. “It’s not us” say the farmers. “It’s not us,” say the manufacturers and sprayers of pesticides. “It’s not us,” say the water users in So Cal. “It’s not us,” say the global warming deniers. “It’s not me,” says the governor. “It’s not us,” say the hapless citizens, bloggers and TV watchers) despite the legality of fishing it, despite the well known fact that fish populations naturally tend to fluctuate, despite the fact that California’s king salmon resource is, in effect, an artificial one, and has been for years… despite all this… if there is even an outside chance that we could seriously damage this faltering fishery’s future should we be fishing these creatures at all?
I said I wouldn’t deign to take a position, but I guess it’s pretty obvious where I stand. Nevertheless, I am totally and completely open to being schooled, edu-ma-cated, and otherwise spoken to and disagreed-with in a calm and civil manner (fancy that!). Look, there is nothing we here at the MFN nerve center would like better than to fish for those 245,000 projected salmon with a clear conscience… though we tend to think it’s a moot point… it probably ain’t gonna open anyway.
Wait, I’m not done. Anticipating that someone out there is going to raise the old “fish populations naturally fluctuate” argument mentioned above, I offer the following...
What if I told you of a native California, andadromous salmoniform species, that even as late as 1981, was commonly caught in the Klamath, Mad and Smith rivers—but is now virtually extinct? A species once known for its ridiculous abundance, for its delicate and flavorful flesh, a species sacred to the Indians and of great historical importance to the West Coast of North America. If you’re like most, you’d probably say, “huh, must be a type of salmon I’ve never heard of.” Here’s a quote from the Yurok Fisheries Council about fishing for this particular species in the Klamath in the 1970s:
“The magnitude of runs was so great, according to fishers, that a continuous mass of fish lined the banks and as many fish as one could physically manage was pulled onto the river’s bank…”
In other words, the Klamath was once kind of like this:
Yes, I've posted this before... what can I say? It speaks to me.
Most fishermen have never even heard of the eulachon, (AKA: hooligan, candlefish, or Columbia river smelt… if interested go here, and scroll down: candlefish). But it’s a perfect example of how these supposed “fluctuations” can actually end in catastrophe. I bet in 1985 it looked like the eulachon populations on the Klamath were fluctuating naturally. But now, pray tell, what does it look like?
I’ll go ahead and answer that: it looks like the eulachon is extinct in California.
I just offer this as a reminder. Sometimes these “fluctuations” are a one-way ticket to hell.
From way out in the avenues this is Lombard Of The Intertidal, (outraged, barely fish literate, hoping I'm wrong) for The Monkeyface News, signing out.