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Fishery council calls for removal of dams
Action proposed to restore Klamath River salmon runs

Bob Krauter
Capital Press California Editor  4/14/2006

One day after it approved the smallest salmon fishery season in the history of the West Coast, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to support the removal of four dams on the Klamath River.

The council, in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, recommended decommissioning and removing four lower Klamath River dams to restore habitat for runs of Klamath salmon.

“When the council was discussing this issue, we heard a lot about poor habitat conditions for salmon in the Klamath River,” Don Hansen, PFMC chairman. “We also heard compelling testimony from many people – commercial and recreational fisherman, environmentalists, communities – calling for a solution to the habitat problems there.”

The four dams, Copco 1, Copco 2, Iron Gate and J.C. Boyle, are currently up for relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The PFMC letter to the commission stated, “Habitat and fish passage in the Klamath Basin are significantly affected by the presence of dams. Lack of fish passage at the Klamath Project facilities blocks access to more than 400 miles of migration, spawning and rearing habitat for salmon, steelhead and Pacific lamprey.”

Siskiyou County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong said it would be premature to decommission the dams because of the substantial impact it would have on her county and local residents.

“The hue and cry has been raised to tear down the dams on the Klamath. Siskiyou County believes that it would be rash to rush into removal of the Klamath River dams,” Armstrong said. “There are more than 1,600 property owners around Copco Lake behind the lower complex of dams. In addition to providing low-cost renewable energy from hydropower, these facilities provide roughly $750,000 a year in tax revenue.”

Armstrong said there is no compelling data to demonstrate that dam removal is the best answer to assist in the recovery of fish. She added that alternatives, such as fish ladders, trucking and other means of bypassing the dams have not received enough attention. She urged new approaches to solving the problems on the Klamath “before all of our economies collapse.”

The council’s action on the Klamath River dams came on the heels of its decision to close most of the 700 miles along the Oregon and California coast to commercial salmon fishing for much of May, June and July.

Hundreds of people testified before the council, including large numbers of commercial and recreational fishermen. John Coon, deputy director of the council, said they were able to avoid a total closure with an emergency rule that allows the fishery to remain open.

“The council really struggled with trying to keep the infrastructure in place and to keep the communities from dying on the vine and still achieving a meaningful salmon spawning escapement in the Klamath that would not impact that stock in an overly negative way,” Coon said. “But this was also a message that ‘we’re putting fish in that river and we want water in the river.’ Maybe we will luck out with Mother Nature this year, but we can’t count on Mother Nature. We’ve got to clean up the problems in that basin with the dams and the diversions, and disease and so on.”

Roger Thomas, a member of the council and a representative of the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association, a group that represents commercial passenger fishing vessels that serve recreational fishing interests, was relieved by the decision.

“Looking from the standpoint of the fishery that I am in, we are satisfied, but I have many friends and members of my association that also fish commercially and it is dire straits for them, a serious disaster economically,” Thomas said. “Lots of facilities like ice plants and fuel docks in the various harbors are going out of business because they have fisheries that no fishermen can fish in their particular area. Many of these fishermen won’t be back next year because of it. It is really a sad situation.”

For years, fishing and environmental groups have blamed diversions of water for farming and the operation of dams for harming fish habitat in the river. Marcia Armstrong and farming and timber interests have countered the criticism with examples of voluntary habitat restoration efforts of farmers and ranchers, especially those in the Scott and Shasta River Valleys of the mid-Klamath, which is considered a prime spawning ground for salmon.

Bob Krauter is the Capital Press California editor based in Sacramento. Reach him via e-mail at bkrauter@capitalpress.com.



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