GSSA On Another Low Sac River Salmon Forecast: “Buck Stops with Governor Newsom” 

As the Sacramento River fall-run king salmon forecast looks low again – though slightly higher than last year’s projections, the Golden State Salmon Association is among those who feel the state’s leaders have failed California’s salmon during a time of struggle for both the fish and the fishing industry in the state. Here’s the GSSA response:

AMERICAN CANYON, Calif. – Fishery managers, in a presentation given to the salmon industry in Oregon on February 28, forecasted 213,622 adult Sacramento Valley fall-run Chinook salmon in the ocean off the West Coast. This compares to 169,800 estimated in 2023 and 396,458 in 2022 at this time. The same information will be delivered to the California salmon industry on March 1.

Normally, fishery managers allow fishing that will still deliver a minimum of 122,000 salmon to spawn in the Sacramento Basin. In recent years, they’ve increased that target number. In 2022, fishery managers limited fishing in order to see more than 180,000 fall run salmon return to spawn but less than 62,000 showed up.    

Two weeks ago, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) released its review of the 2023 salmon fisheries and reported a total of 133,638 (revised on February 28, 2024 to 139,500) hatchery and natural area adult spawning fall-run Chinook were estimated to have returned to the Sacramento Valley last year. The 2023 number of returning adult salmon fell short of pre-season expectations and continues to highlight the lack of returning salmon from 2020 and 2021 broodstocks–a direct result of 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 that allowed the draining of 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, as well as through the Delta.  Further, Governor Newsom waived the weak salmon flow standards that are currently in place, allowing conditions for salmon to be degraded further.  

In the month ahead, the PFMC will use the latest ocean abundance forecast to determine if there will be a 2024 season for both sport and commercial ocean salmon fishing. In April of 2023, the PFMC was forced to finalize the season’s closure due to low returns–a drastic step that affected and continues to negatively impact all of California’s marine and inland waters as well as ocean salmon fishing off most of the Oregon coast.  

“This forecast will be used to determine whether or not salmon families in California and Oregon will be able to go to work, pay their mortgages and feed their families in 2024.  Tens of thousands are still suffering from last year’s closed salmon fishing season,” said Scott Artis, executive director of Golden State Salmon Association. “The buck stops with Governor Newsom and his environmentallydestructive and salmon fishery-decimating water policies. And as bad as this situation is, Governor Newsom is fighting to make life even harder for fishing families by building the massive Delta tunnel, Sites Reservoir and promoting the salmon killing and science-free water user ‘voluntary agreement’proposal.”

Since Gavin Newsom became governor, salmon numbers have declined while acreage planted in ultra-thirsty almond orchards has increased by more than 300,000 acres. Newsom’s appointed State Water Board has failed to update antiquated salmon flow standards that date back to 1995. The Water Board has also refused to implement rules adopted in December of 2018 (under Governor Brown) requiring more flows in San Joaquin Valley rivers to improve salmon numbers. Golden State Salmon Association is working through litigation and state and federal governments to directly address the problems facing salmon families, the fishing industry and the fish they depend on.

California’s salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in economic activity and 23,000 jobs annually in a normal season and contributes approximately $700 million to the economy and supports more than 10,000 jobs in Oregon. Industry workers benefiting from Central Valley salmon stretch from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. This includes commercial fishermen and women, recreational fishermen and women (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and others.