California Native Fish Could Be In Peril, Says Previously Unreleased Document

The Los Angeles Times just dropped a story that would seem to be potentially damaging for California’s protected native fish like steelhead and winter-run Chinook, both listed threatened species. Here’s from the Times’ Bettina Boxall on a lengthy document that had previously not been released:

In the report, the National Marine Fisheries Service unequivocally concludes that increasing water deliveries would likely jeopardize the continued existence of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon, threatened spring-run Chinook and threatened Central Valley steelhead, as well as endangered Southern Resident killer whales that dine on salmon.

The proposed changes in California water operations “will produce multiple stressors” on winter-run salmon “that are expected to reduce survival and the overall fitness of individuals,” the agency wrote.

Harmful impacts include warm river temperatures lethal to fish eggs and newly hatched salmon; low flows in the Sacramento River and more salmon deaths at the giant government pumps that send supplies south from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Here’s a statement from the  Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations:

SAN FRANCISCO – As reported today in the LA Times, the National Marine Fisheries Service determined in an important draft biological opinion [link to the document here] that the changes to California’s Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) operations championed by the Department of the Interior would result in jeopardy to spring and winter run Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, and southern resident killer whales (SRKW). The draft opinion was transmitted to the Department of the Interior, which immediately convened a team of outside lawyers and scientific staff from its own agencies to adulterate NMFS science and suppress the document’s findings.

The Department of the Interior is currently led by former Westlands Water District lobbyist David Bernhardt, whose former client would stand to profit greatly from the proposed reoperation of the project.

Importantly, the draft biological opinion determined that the Trump Administration’s proposed operations of the CVP and SWP would result in declines to fall run Chinook salmon, which are not ESA listed and are the most important salmon species for commercial and recreational fishermen in California. However, the endangered southern resident killer whales’ diet is comprised solely of salmon, including fall run Chinook, which spend time in the Pacific Northwest as they grow and feed the whales when they migrate south.

While the National Marine Fisheries Service is currently evaluating whether to curtail salmon fisheries to provide additional salmon for whales, and the state of Washington has taken action to produce more salmon for whales, including a pledge of $1.1 billion as part of a blue ribbon orca task force, the Trump Administration appears poised to take actions that will result in even more death and hardship for the endangered orcas.

To date, the state of California has not yet undertaken any parallel actions to produce additional salmon for Southern Resident Killer Whales to eat, which would help save the species while creating a buffer that would allow commercial fishing and inland river guide jobs to survive. The only bill in the state legislature that would accelerate additional salmon production, Senate Bill 69 (also known as the Ocean Resilience Act of 2019) authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), is currently pending in Sacramento.

California could also take defensive action to protect its rivers, species, and fisheries form the Trump Administration. Senate Bill 1, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), would create backstops against any Administration rollbacks of protections for ESA-listed fish in the Central Valley Project. This bill is the smart approach for the state to take in light of today’s revelations.

Commercial salmon fishermen, led by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, reacted to the news of the Trump Administration’s actions with disappointment:

“The Department of the Interior is once again showing its true colors by subverting the scientific process to serve its clients in corporate agriculture, no matter which endangered fish or whales get in the way,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of PCFFA. “Will the state of California let the Trump Administration strike a brutal blow in the water wars, one that it can see coming, or will it take a defensive stand?”

Reacting to the news that Southern Resident Killer Whales are included in the list of species that would be jeopardized by the Department of the Interior plan, Oppenheim added:

“We must produce more salmon, not less, for Southern Resident Killer Whales’ dietary needs. The Department of the Interior is content to put fewer fish in the ocean, starving orcas and fishermen alike, but we are not content with their plans. The state of California must take action to resist these environmental rollbacks and increase the salmon productivity of the Central Valley.”


The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations is the largest commercial fishermen’s organization on the West Coast, representing 17 local and regional associations from Santa Barbara to Southeast Alaska. As a major commercial fishing industry trade association, PCFFA represents the interests of commercial fishing families who make their living harvesting and delivering high-quality seafood to America’s tables.

The Golden Gate Salmon Association also reacted to the report:

SAN FRANCISCO —   The Los Angeles Times reports that federal salmon biologists’ warnings about dangers to salmon poised by planned increased water diversions by the Central Valley water Project have been suppressed by the Trump administration.  The salmon warnings come as the federal government finalizes plans to ship more northern California water to the arid western San Joaquin Valley. 

The Times reports the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) staff in California finalized a biological opinion in early July that found the operation of the massive system of dams, canals, pumps and reservoirs jeopardizes protected winter and spring run salmon in the Central Valley, as well as southern resident killer whales.  This jeopardy finding was rejected by the political appointees overseeing the process.  NMFS salmon biologists further recommended reasonable and prudent alternatives for operating the water project to minimize the damage to wildlife, including salmon runs but these measures will now likely be ignored. See opinion here

“If the federal government gets away with this water grab, California’s salmon runs will be badly damaged, and likely forever,” saidJohn McManus, president of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.  “All Californians should band together and reject this blatant and corrupt attempt to seize the state’s water by urging the governor to immediately pass and implement State Senate Bill 1, which will protect the state’s water and wildlife.”

Senate Bill 1 has passed the State Senate and is awaiting action in the Assembly.  Governor Gavin Newsom hasn’t indicated where he stands on the bill.  The bill calls for state adoption of federal Obama era salmon and other wildlife protections until the state has time to review and potentially revise them.  The bill is aimed at protecting state fish and wildlife from excessive water diversions the Trump administration, under Secretary David Bernhardt, is trying to force through.

“It’s clear that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is politically interfering to direct more water to his former clients, the Westlands Water District, at the expense of salmon, killer whales and other species,” said McManus.  “Bernhardt seems determined to follow the footsteps of Ryan Zinke and Scott Pruitt to reward political cronies while thumbing his nose at the law.  This time he’s messing with salmon fishing families in California and we won’t be silenced.”

The intended beneficiaries of Bernhardt’s efforts are growers in the Westlands Water District, a small group of junior water users who grow nuts in the arid western San Joaquin Valley. 

In addition to Trump administration moves in California, the White House also recently overrode the EPA and ordered it to drop opposition to the Pebble Mine in Alaska, located on top of the richest spawning grounds in the world for sockeye salmon.

The Golden Gate Salmon Association ( is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fisherman, businesses, restaurants and chefs, a native tribe, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon.

GGSA’s mission is to restore California salmon for their economic, recreational, commercial, environmental, cultural and health values.  GGSA serves the sport and commercial anglers, businesses, conservationists and foodies that rely on salmon as a long-term, nutritious, sustainable resource.

Currently, California’s salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in annual economic activity in a normal season. The industry employs tens of thousands of people from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. This is a huge economic bloc made up of commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, tackle shops and marine stores, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and the salmon fishing industry at large.  Salmon are the keystone species that reflect the health of both their fresh and salt water environment.