Feds Say: California and Oregon Salmon Fisheries a “Failure”

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AP’s Jeff Barnard reports: “Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez on Thursday declared commercial salmon fishing a failure off Oregon and California this year, based on sharp harvest cutbacks imposed to protect struggling returns to the Klamath River.”

This is, on the one hand, good news for fisherman, in that it frees up $80 million in federal aid. But it’s bad news for them, as well as all the other people concerned with the plight of fisheries and the ocean (and no one more than us), because it is yet another sign marine ecosystems are crashing.

What, in this case, is to blame? Via the AP:

Gutierrez blamed five years of drought in the Klamath Basin for low water and growing infestations of parasites that are diminishing salmon returns there.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and salmon fisherman Mike Newell of Newport, a member of the Oregon Salmon Commission, blamed the problems on the failure of the Bush administration to deal with long-standing problems of poor water quality and loss of habitat in the Klamath Basin. “It’s a long overdue recognition our fisheries are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy because of the lack of a viable season,” DeFazio said. “We have a very sick river system that needs a significant amount of investment, or this will just happen again and again.”

Both are right. As the AP’s Barnard notes, “the Klamath River has been a flashpoint for conflicts between the Bush administration and farmers on one side and fishermen, Indian tribes and conservation groups on the other over allocations of scarce water between farms and fish.”

In 2003, Bruce Barcott wrote a nice piece for us on the Klamath called “What’s a River For?”

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