Salmon Industry Figures Discuss Impact Of Another Closure And Why It’s Happened

Golden State Salmon Association executive director Scott Artis (front) and several fishing industry reps talked about the second consecutive California salmon fishing closure. (FACEBOOK)

One day after the announcement of a second consecutive ocean salmon fishing closure in California waters – the state’s Fish and Game Commission is also expected to shut down inland salmon fishing – a group of industry leaders held a press conference at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf today.

Here’s some of what was said:

 Commercial salmon troller Sarah Bates 

“Although (Gov. Gavin Newsom’s) office has not yet declared this a disaster, it most certainly is. California Department of Fish and Wildlife assures us that they’re working with the Governor’s office now for that declaration to be issued. Fishery managers and industry representatives made some extremely hard decisions about closing this year’s commercial and recreational seasons. We want to maximize the numbers of adults that are able to return to the Upper Sacramento River – the entire Sacramento River but in particular the Upper Sacramento River.”

Bates also discussed the impact another closure will have on commercial salmon fishing and others:

“This is a huge sacrifice of our income as a commercial fishing fleet. This is a sacrifice for everyone who wants to take a boat ride into the ocean and get a fish for their barbecue for Father’s Day. This is a sacrifice for our markets and our local security. But we cannot be the only ones making this sacrifice for these fish. Salmon are critical to our ocean ecosystem and our river ecosystems, our local food security. This dock supports these boats, it supports my family, it supports your markets and restaurants.”

“Salmon have been feeding Californians for thousands and thousands of years. When the first humans got here salmon have been a staple food on the West Coast for human beings and bears and eagles and the entire river ecosystem. Right now they are last in line for the water resources they need to survive. And we’re fighting for these fish. We’re making hard sacrifices for the next generation of fish. And we’re making hard decisions about the harvest. Now we need the California water managers to make some sacrifices on their end about saving these fish as well.”

 Charter boat operator Andy Guiliano, who runs Bay Area trips out of Emeryville:

“King salmon are Northern California’s big game fish – ocean bright, a brilliant silver color, a thrill to hook and land and as delicious as any fish in the ocean. Personally I’ve fished from Monterey to Alaska and you’ll find no better eating salmon than the ones caught off San Francisco.”

“This marks the fourth complete closure since 2008. Toss in the Covid-19 pandemic and you have the toughest period in Northern California sportfishing history. Salmon represent one-third of our revenue annually, and the closure is (not) recoverable. There’s no alternative fish the caliber of the king salmon. Northern California recreational anglers fish for five primary fish. In 2023 four of the five fish had closures, season reductions or reduced bag limits. It was a complete onslaught on the Northern California fish industry. Whether we correlate these to changing ocean conditions, management failures or irresponsible water policies, the result is an unsustainable trajectory for businesses, communities and people who have relied on recreational fishing for generations. Annually California has devoted a tremendous amount of resources protecting reptiles, amphibians, birds and marine mammals. Perhaps someday soon Sacramento will offer some support and resources to those who make their living on the water. For without it, all that will remain will be photographs, newspaper clippings and imported farmed fish.”

Seafood distributor Joe Conte  called the news: “A real gut punch to those of us on the pier… The biggest issue I have with all this is it’s all so avoidable with better management. That’s what makes it so frustrating.”

Another commercial fisherman Dick Ogg said of this latest closure: “We’re having a difficult time to say the least.”

Scott Artis, executive director of the Golden State Salmon Association covered a variety of topics:

“All of the people behind me represent thousands of fishermen and -women across the state of California and beyond. They’re commercial fishermen, they’re recreational and sporting (anglers), ocean and river; they’re businesses, they’re communities and coastal towns and inland river communities that are now suffering along with their families for the second year, and (through) no fault of their own. Because the state and federal water managers are devastating our rivers. They’re ruining vast amounts of water and creating lethally high temperatures in those rivers and destroying salmon. It’s simple; if you kill all the baby salmon through California water policies, and then two to three years later you’re not going to have any adults returning… This is the Governor’s legacy. From 1996 through 2005, 175,000 average fall-run wild Chinook returned to the Upper Sacramento River. Last year in 2023, that number was 6,160. That’s an incredibly staggering decline.”

Artis also commented on pending state projects as the Sites Reservoir plan in the Sacramento area and the similarly controversial Delta Tunnel project that critics have said can both be devastating for salmon and other native fish species while being beneficial to farming interests:

“We’re at a point that when we look at what’s actually happening, over 1.6 million acres of almonds – thirsty almonds – planted in arid regions that require salmon water all year-round were reported in 2022. And meanwhile we have staggering salmon decline. This is what’s heartbreaking; it’s a travesty what’s happened to the salmon fishery; it’s heartbreaking to what’s happened to salmon families. And the fact that we’re looking at the state to use 1950s-style infrastructure water projects to solve a 21st century problem is not the answer. Sites Reservoir and the Delta Tunnel, (those are) not the answer. If we want to see what happens to salmon already with vast quantities of water being taken away, we might as well just write them off if we get those projects through.”

“Our coalition is building a stronger and stronger voice all the time, and we have partners that are organizing more events like these and others. The Earth Day Rally for the River on April 23 in San Francisco. Our tribal friends are organizing a rally in Sacramento to protest the voluntary agreements in the Bay Delta plan that will move more water out of our rivers. So if we want to prevent closures and if we want to ensure salmon have a sustainable future for all that was mentioned here, we need to demand more flows in our salmon rivers. Gov. Newsom, I am begging you and I’m asking you to get flows in our rivers to save salmon, and everybody who directly and indirectly relies on that fishery.”

Artis was asked if any State of California official has offered to discuss the situation with him:

“They have not. And they’ve ignored our request to do so and ignored the request of our tribal partners, environmental justice community and the conservation community. We are doubling down on asking the Governor to be able to do that. It’s critical that this happens;’ otherwise we are going to be here every year until this thing wipes out. And we’re all going to wonder, ‘Where did the salmon go.’” None of us want to see that happen.”

On what he would say in such a meeting….

“A. We want to make sure that there are low temperature protections in our rivers. Hot water is destroying salmonids. They’re going to be able to come back as adults; it’s simple. We also need to make sure that the Voluntary Agreement process, which has been stalled for decades, is just not the road we want to go down. We have to go down a different road and make sure that we get those protections in place. The Governor needs to unleash the water resources control board and allow them to do their job to help protect the fish. So those are just a couple of simple steps, but we also need to jettison any idea of the Delta Tunnel or the Sites Reservoir project. These people are a direct reflection of the salmon industry. And this is tens of thousands of people who are standing behind them and impacted by this. I was talking to a local sporting goods store manager who was saying that the salmon season is closing from one to the next, he now has to temporarily lay off employees in this small town to be able to just get by until the next duck season happens. There are also the impacts that nobody ever talks about.”

Difficult times indeed.