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Double Standard on Salmon Losses?

California Ag Network 5/27/10
  Los Banos, Calif., (May 27, 2010) California's salmon population is so endangered that the National Marine Fisheries Service NMFS) has determined that we cannot afford to allow more than one percent of the endangered juvenile winter-run fish to be lost in the pumps that deliver water to California's farms and cities. So why then does this same federal agency say it is okay for fishermen to kill 20 percent of the far less numerous adult salmon this year?

That's what the public water agencies that serve two-thirds of California's population are asking in a letter to the Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke, who oversees NMFS for the Obama Administration.

"It's great that the commercial and recreational fishermen will be allowed to catch salmon again this year," said Dan Nelson, Executive Director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority. "But the fishermen, the fish and all the rest of us who depend on these water supplies would be much better off if there were one standard, not two, and the rules applied equally to all."

In their letter, Nelson and Terry Erlewine, General Manager of the State Water Contractors, point out that according to NMFS' own figures, ocean harvesting in recent years has taken an average of 25 percent of the endangered winter run of Chinook salmon while losses at the pumps have averaged about one-tenth of the one percent mortality that NMFS restrictions allow.

The regulations for commercial and recreational salmon fishing that were adopted April 15 limit the take of endangered adult winter run to 20 percent in 2010.  But because only 1-4 percent of the salmon survive to reach adulthood in the ocean, those losses to ocean harvesting will likely have a much larger impact on the species' ability to reproduce.

The federal government's restrictions on pumping have this year caused the loss of more than 800,000 acre-feet of fresh water that might otherwise have been put into storage. Instead, more than 25 million Californians are being allocated less than half of their water supplies this year.

"Our letter identifies two important steps that NMFS can take right now to improve its management of the salmon fishery," Nelson said.  One involves closer monitoring of the genetic stock of the fish that are being harvested, using genetic tools that NMFS' scientists have already developed.  In addition, adoption of the same hatchery selective harvest strategies that are already successfully in use off the coast of northern Oregon, Washington and British Columbia would significantly improve the protections for wild salmon.

In order to approve salmon fishing this year, the letter notes that NMFS bypassed the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act as well as the standards set by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

"We appreciate the economic and cultural significance salmon fishing has for many communities in California," Nelson said. "But the incongruity of NMFS decisions and its failure to follow established federal procedures compels us to ask for an explanation. California deserves to know how these problems are going to be rectified in the future."
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