Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
This spring, commercial salmon fishing has been closed on about seven hundred miles of the Southern Oregon and Northern California coast. In the same area the salmon sport fishery was also drastically curtailed. The reason NOAA fisheries has given for the closure of nearly half of the Pacific coast to salmon fishing is to prevent incidental take of Klamath River Chinook Salmon anywhere along the coast. This fishing season closure is an economic disaster for the coastal fishermen and their communities just as the turn off of irrigation water in 2001 was an economic disaster for our Klamath Basin farmers and community.
Near hysterical media reports continue to quote environmental and political activists blaming the low numbers of returning Chinook salmon that resulted in the closures on conditions in the Upper Klamath Basin.
Last Thursday, I traveled to Coos Bay with seven other representatives of the Upper Klamath Basin irrigators. We met with about 50 southern coastal salmon fishing boat owners and coastal political leaders including Senator Joanne Verger and Representatives Wayne Kreiger and Arnie Roblan. The meeting was arranged to discuss the Klamath River salmon issues by Klamath County Commissioner Bill Brown and Coos County Commissioner John Griffith.
During the nearly five hours of presentations and discussions, not a single fisherman voiced blame that conditions in the Upper Klamath Basin caused the salmon fishery closure. In fact, these fishermen blamed the fishery mismanagement by state and federal agencies that have resulted in a perfect federal regulatory storm. They compared their current plight to the unjustified 2001shut off of irrigation water to the 1400 farm families in the Klamath Project.
They said that the alleged poor salmon runs are a government contrived regulatory crisis. A calamity has only been manufactured by applying management that alleges that hatchery fish are somehow different than natural fish. No visible or genetic difference exists between natural and hatchery fish other than the man made markings on the hatchery fish.
Salmon hatcheries have been virtually shut down to prevent alleged competition with so called natural fish. These hatchery reductions are in direct contradiction to their purpose. That purpose was to mitigate salmon production reductions resulting from habit losses such as dams. This travesty continues in defiance of a federal court order prohibiting such regulatory slight of hand.
Additionally, the fishermen identified sea lion predation, unfavorable ocean conditions, and the huge, up to 600 foot long international factory fishing and canning vessels working off our Oregon and California coasts as other significant causes of this yearís low salmon numbers. They characterized these huge vessels that continue to harvest salmon just off our coast, as "the most efficient fish killing machines ever devised by man". They suggest that the more than 300 resident sea lions at the mouth of the Klamath River conservatively kill more than 25,000 Chinook salmon each year during the fall run. Finally, these multigenerational professional fishing families recognize that periodic changes in ocean conditions have governed the size of salmon runs for decades.
These professional fishermen stated unanimously that environmental activist Glen Spainís Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen Association neither represents them or their interests nor the interest of any other fishermen that they know.
Collectively we came to understand that farmers and fishermen are not the enemy and that we must be united in our opposition to the open attacks on our culture and our economies.
The meeting ended in mutual pledges by the irrigators and the fishermen to actively work together to save our natural resources industries.
To that end planning is ongoing to identify and create media events that will focus on the fishermenís plight and concentrate on the real causes of the decline in Klamath River Chinook salmon runs. Meanwhile, coordinated efforts are being made to obtain immediate state and federal disaster relief for these independent businessmen caught in a nightmarish regulatory crossfire.
I want to thank the Klamath Courier Newspaper for traveling with us and for their excellent coverage. No other Upper Klamath Basin media covered this historic event.
Senator Doug Whitsett
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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