Golden State Salmon Association On Salmon Decline And California’s Water Policies

Here’s more reaction from the Golden State Salmon Association on the connections between California water policies and the collapse of Central Valley Chinook numbers, which has already seen the 2023 salmon fishing season canceled, disaster relief declarations and the unknown status for this summer and fall:

Scott Artis, Golden State Salmon Association’s executive director, responds to latest California salmon return numbers reported in the Pacific Fishery Management Council report released on February 16, 2024.

Under Governor Newsom, the upper Sacramento River, formerly the most important salmon producing river south of the Columbia, has been killed off. It’s pretty simple. When you kill all of the baby salmon through environmentally disastrous water policies, 3 years later there won’t be fish to catch or spawning adult fish. This is a blatant attack on fish, rivers, the Bay-Delta ecosystem, and tens of thousands of salmon families from California to Oregon.

Bottom line, the lack of returning salmon from 2020 and 2021 broodstocks are the direct results of disastrous state water management decisions that dramatically increased the impact of the drought. Salmon eggs faced overheated water because of the failure of the State Water Resources Control Board to adequately control temperature pollution from Shasta Dam. Lethally high temperatures in the Sacramento River were caused by excessive deliveries to the Bureau of Reclamation’s unsustainable industrial agricultural customers – draining cold water from Shasta Dam prior to the spawning season. The few juvenile salmon that just happened to survive were then exposed to dangerously low flows during their outmigration down the Sacramento River. 

To this day, the Governor has prevented the State Water Resources Control Board from settingand implementing any spring outmigration flow requirements to protect juvenile salmon. And to make matters even worse, if that’s possible, those resilient baby salmon that did get to the Delta faced extraordinarily dangerous conditions from being sucked into water diversion pumps. Again, the Governor has stopped the State Water Board form acting. Governor Newsom made things worse by waiving even the weak standards that were in place to allow even more salmon-killing water diversions.

The Governor is planning to make disastrous conditions for salmon even worse – by calling for yet more diversions through the construction of Sites Reservoir and his massive new Delta tunnel. This approach would lead to the extinction of California’s salmon families. 

In 2023, the upper Sacramento River escapement (the spawning population) of fall-run Chinook salmon was 6,160 adults. Between 1995-2005, the average escapement was 175,496, which represents a loss of 96% of the upper Sacramento River’s spawning adults. 

You can see what the Governor’s policies have done by looking at how salmon landings have fallen. Again, from 1996-2005, the average total ocean commercial and recreational catch was 563,317 fish. And as you can see above, plenty of fish were left to spawn each year.

In the coming month, we’ll find out if the 2024 season will also be closed. If it is open, the fishing community will experience incredibly severe restrictions.  

But I’m not done. PFMC reported that endangered winter-run Chinook spawner escapement in 2023 was estimated to be only 2,447 adults. Threatened spring-run salmon totaled an unbelievable 1,479 jacks and adult fish. Of these, only 106 were wild spawning fish. To put this in a water diversion perspective, this is a drop from over 20,000 spring-run salmon at the start of the spawning season just 2 years ago.

The core problem is simple. Lethal temperatures and inadequate flows are killing fall, spring and winter salmon runs. Governor Newsom needs to guarantee adequate cold flows in our riversunless its his plan to destroy salmon families. If so, bravo. He’s doing a hell of a job.