Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Tell Us Something We Didn't Already Know
This is disturbing news folks but it's not surprising. Tough to lay the blame at any one source but the ultimate culprit is us!
The Following article is courtesy of the Sacramento Bee
Fall Chinook Salmon on Verge of Collapse in California
by Matt Weiser
The Sacramento River's fall chinook salmon population is headed for a collapse, according to new federal data, threatening the upcoming commercial and recreational fishing season on one of the country's most important runs.
The fall chinook run in the Central Valley has long been touted as a conservation success story. As many other species declined, fall salmon spawning in the Sacramento River and its tributaries held reliably above 200,000 fish for 15 years.
But in fall 2007, the number of spawners suddenly fell to just 90,414 fish, the second-lowest total since 1973. That includes wild and hatchery-raised fish.
The news came in a memo e-mailed Monday from the director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council to council board members.
The numbers are preliminary and normally are not made public until February. But they represent a steep drop from the 2006 return of about 270,000 chinook.
"It's frightening to think how far we've fallen so quickly," said J.D. Richey, a salmon fishing guide on the American River, a key tributary that contributes to the Valley's chinook run. "It's pretty bleak."
Even more worrisome, the count of 2-year-old chinook returning to spawn in 2007 was just 2,021 fish. That is not just a record low, but also a mere fraction of 36-year average of about 40,000 fish. Early spawners, also called "jacks," are considered a reliable indicator of the number of 3-year-old fish expected to spawn in the following year.
In addition, the 90,414 total falls below the council's minimum conservation target of 122,000 fish, which may compel officials to shorten the 2008 fishing season both in the ocean and in Central Valley rivers. The council meets in Sacramento March 8-14 to begin that regulatory process for the season that begins in May.
"The magnitude of the low abundance … is such that the opening of all marine and freshwater fisheries impacting this important salmon stock will be questioned," Donald McIsaac, the council's executive director, wrote in the memo. He called the numbers "an early alert to what at this point appears to be an unprecedented collapse."
The Central Valley run includes fish that spawn on the San Joaquin River. But the vast majority of the fall chinook spawn in the Sacramento River and its tributaries. These fish mainly range north in the Pacific Ocean, supporting the fishing industry in Washington and Oregon as well as California.
In 2006, the salmon season was drastically curtailed to protect the smaller Klamath River chinook. With fishermen still recovering from that, another reduction would sting.
"It's going to be devastating," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "It could mean no fishing at all."
It remains unclear why the run fell off so sharply in 2007. But many indicators point to poor ocean health, which may, in turn, be caused by factors linked to global warming, according to researchers.
For several years, changes in wind patterns have halted or delayed deep upwelling currents in the ocean. The upwelling drives a food cycle that produces plankton, which in turn feed tiny shrimp-like krill. The krill, in turn, are the primary food for young salmon spending their first year in the ocean.
The upwelling disruptions may have contributed to a decline in krill along with their salmon predators. Krill also feed a variety of seabirds, many of which also have declined in number.
Other experts said they believe poor environmental conditions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are to blame. Six other fish species are declining there due to a combination of near-record water exports, poor water quality and competition for food from invasive species.
"It's just another piece of evidence that our management of the rivers and the estuary are insufficient to support these species," said Tina Swanson, senior scientist at the Bay Institute. "We need to do better, and really quickly."
Many anglers fear a reduced season in 2008, but it may not be much worse than what they just went through because of the poor chinook return.
Richey, for example, had only 10 percent of the usual number of clients booking salmon trips on the American River last year.
"I basically just stopped offering salmon (trips) because there wasn't anything to catch," he said.
"To me, it just felt like there was a void in the Valley. It was odd. I guess having the chinook was something I've taken for granted all these years."