Amid Delta Tunnel Conflict, Gov. Newsom Releases Plan For Salmon Restoration (Updated)


As Gov. Gavin Newsom’s push to greenlight the controversial Delta Tunnels plan has received plenty of blowback from the salmon fishing industry and conservation/environmental groups over fear over further declines of anadromous fish. Today, Newsom released a statement vowing to “restore populations of salmon amidst hotter and drier weather exacerbated by climate change.” Such a bold plan could be both promising to some and hypocritical to others skeptical of the governor’s political agenda.

Here’s Gov. Newsom’s press release:

Governor Newsom Launches California’s Salmon Strategy for a Hotter, Drier Future

Published: Jan 30, 2024

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: To restore populations of salmon amidst hotter and drier weather exacerbated by climate change, Governor Newsom announced California’s first strategy to protect the iconic fish species for generations to come.

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced new actions and efforts already underway that California is taking to help restore California’s salmon populations.

After 10 years of rapidly intensifying drought and more extreme weather, salmon are not doing well. Last year, with projections showing Chinook salmon population at historic lows, the salmon season was closed and the Newsom Administration requested a Federal Fishery Disaster to support impacted communities. Additionally, due to crashing salmon populations in 2023, some tribes canceled their religious and cultural harvests for the first time ever.

Yesterday, the Governor visited salmon restoration sites in Humboldt County to see how the Salmon Strategy will support communities across the state.

THE STRATEGY: California is working to reverse these trends and save salmon. The state’s Salmon Strategyspecifies the six priorities and 71 actions to build healthier, thriving salmon populations in California.

Read the Salmon Strategy.

Get the fact sheet.

The strategy’s six priorities call for:

  1. Removing barriers and modernizing infrastructure for salmon migration
  2. Restoring habitat
  3. Protecting water flows in key rivers at the right times
  4. Modernizing hatcheries
  5. Transforming technology and management systems
  6. Strengthening partnerships

“Salmon are an integral part of our shared history in California. Some of my youngest memories were of seeing the iconic fish up close with my father when I was growing up – an experience all Californians deserve.

We’re doubling down to make sure this species not only adapts in the face of extreme weather but remains a fixture of California’s natural beauty and ecosystems for generations to come.”

Governor Gavin Newsom

WHY IT MATTERS: Salmon are central to religions, creation stories, the health and subsistence of California Native Tribes, and a multi-million-dollar fishing industry. A multitude of factors have led to a decline in salmon populations, from ocean temperatures to drastic alteration of river habitat and flows by dams and water diversions.

PARTNERING WITH TRIBES: The Salmon Strategy relies on strong partnerships with tribal nations. Tribes and Native communities are driving policy and science critical to rebuilding California’s salmon populations. This strategy builds on existing partnerships in tribally-led restoration work, beaver reintroductions, and returning salmon to their ancestral homes.

ACTIONS & INVESTMENTS UNDERWAY: California is not waiting. The Newsom Administration and Legislature have already spent $796.4 million in state investments over the last three years to protect and restore salmon populations.

Recent actions include:

  • Largest Dam Removal in History: Restoring the Klamath River, which was once a prodigious producer of salmon, by removing four obsolete hydroelectric dams. One dam was taken down last September and the rest are slated for removal by November 2024, restoring nearly 400 miles of once-blocked river to salmon, steelhead, lamprey and other native fish species.
  • Bringing Fish Back to Historical Habitat: Moving endangered adult winter-run and threatened spring-run Chinook salmon to the upper reaches of Sacramento River tributaries at the height of the 2020-2022 drought, where colder water temperatures better support spawning and help salmon eggs survive.  This effort returned adult winter-run to the North Fork of Battle Creek for the first time in more than 110 years.
  • Doing the Science: Boosting the resilience of hatchery-raised salmon with injections of thiamine (Vitamin B) to counter a deficiency that researchers believe has depressed survival of their offspring in recent years. The deficiency has been tied to shifting ocean conditions and salmon feeding primarily on anchovies compared to a more diverse diet of forage fish, krill and other species.
  • Fixing the Landscape: Restoring approximately 3,000 acres of tidal wetland where the Sacramento River drains to San Francisco Bay, creating habitat beneficial to native fish and wildlife, including salmon.
  • Flows for Fish: In the Scott and Shasta rivers in the Klamath Basin and Mill Creek in the Sacramento Valley, beginning efforts to establish minimum instream flows while working with local partners and tribes on locally driven solutions.
  • Expanding Partnerships with Tribes: From signing a co-management agreement with the Winnemem Wintu Tribe to bring salmon back to the McCloud River for the first time since construction of Shasta Dam, to investing in tribally led restoration like the Oregon Gulch, Farmers’ Ditch, and post-McKinney fire projects with the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, to beaver reintroductions.
  • Modernizing and Removing Infrastructure: Reaching agreement with local and federal partners on a framework to reopen miles of Yuba River habitat to multiple native fish species. The agreement sets the stage for the return of imperiled spring-run Chinook salmon to their native habitat in the North Yuba River for the first time in more than 100 years. And, taking the next big step with a coalition of counties, tribes, and fish conservation groups to create California’s longest free-flowing river – the Eel River – through the decommissioning of outdated infrastructure.
Photo by U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development

UPDATE: The Golden State Salmon Association released a strong statement criticizing the State of California for past mistakes with regards to salmon protection policy:

January 30, 2024

Golden State Salmon Association’s Statement in Response to Governor Newsom’s California Salmon Strategy

Governor Newsom’s new Salmon Plan is packed full of good stuff that we have been fighting to get for years. We welcome increased hatchery production and are excited to see improvements on the Feather River and other actions. The problem is that the salmon community has been poked in the eye way too many times and the plan conflicts with what the Newsom Administration has been doing for years to devastate California’s most important salmon runs. So, what it potentially boils down to is conveniently timed smoke and mirrors. We will know that the Governor is serious about helping salmon communities when he finally abandons the extreme water diversion rules forced on us under the previous presidential administration. The current salmon season closure – the Newsom shutdown – was caused by the administration’s irresponsible decisions during the drought. The core problem is simple. Lethal temperatures and inadequate flows are killing our largest salmon runs. If Governor Newsom wants to restore salmon, he should:

·         Abandon the Trump Administration’s Endangered Species Act salmon extinction plan. Until now, Newsom’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has been using the Trump plan as their blueprint for state requirements under the California Endangered Species Act.  

·         Let the State Water Board do its job and stop supporting the scientifically baseless voluntary agreements. That exclusionary and ineffective plan has been engineered by the Newsom Administration specifically to avoid giving salmon the flow and temperature protections they need to survive. In fact, just this month, U.S. EPA wrote to the state, confirming that the VAs fail to provide the flows salmon need. The Governor has made it quite clear what he wants the State Board to do. He even fired the Board chair appointed by Governor Brown, who actually increased flow requirements. 

·         Stop supporting the Sites Reservoir and the Delta Tunnel projects – both of which are designed to further increase diversion from the Bay-Delta. In fact, Governor Newsom recently told Bill Maher his plan – to keep increasing diversions from the Bay-Delta system through the Delta tunnel, new surface storage and more.  

·         The Governor is releasing this plan now because in the coming month or two, state agencies will release disastrous salmon population numbers from the 2023 spawning season. Those numbers are the result of the Newsom salmon plan for the past 5 years. When it comes to the Newsom track record and salmon plan, mother nature has clearly voted that it’s not only failing but dramatically failing. Newsom is pushing this plan out before those results are in.  

·         One more thing. The Newsom plan calls for strengthening partnerships. We’d welcome that. To date, the Governor has refused to meet with the salmon fishing industry or our environmental, environmental justice and Tribal partners in the Bay-Delta to hear our concerns and our ideas. He’s heard plenty from water users. Let’s make sure this plan is not just another diversion like what’s happening with our state’s water – the very water fish, wildlife, people and cultures desperately rely on.

Scott Artis

Executive Director

Golden State Salmon Association

Here’s some additional reaction to Newsom’s plan: