This well-written story about the CA salmon fishery in the High Country News connects the fate of southern residents with the agricultural industry of the Central Valley.
The past five years have already been harrowing, with a round of fishing bans to protect declining salmon runs in the Klamath River near the California-Oregon border. While those stocks are now in better shape, the main population of local salmon — the celebrated Sacramento River fall run of chinooks — is in steep decline. For the past two years, the federal government has banned commercial salmon fishing in California and most of Oregon.
Then, in April, Collins and other fishermen received what seemed like good news. The Pacific Fishery Management Council, a 14-member assembly that makes fishing recommendations to the federal government, voted to open salmon season in California and Oregon. But, particularly in California, the season will be just a fraction of what it once was: Beginning July 1, some 400 commercial fishing boats could be chasing roughly 33,500 salmon.
“It works out to about 90 fish a boat. Eight years ago, you’d catch that in a morning,” Collins says, and then pauses. “I’m hoping a lot of guys aren’t going to bother.”
In comparison, the southern resident orca population needs about 1000 good-sized chinook per day. So, the limited opening that the Pacific Fishery Management Council has allowed could potentially reduce Southern Resident food supply by about one month. We’ll have to delve into the PFMC analysis to understand what led them to decide that allowing OR and CA fishers to harvest 93,000 salmon from all runs would be “safe.” Is that “safe” for the salmon populations, the orca populations, the human fishers’ livelihood, or some subset of influential politicians?
This spring, Democratic Congressmen Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza and Republican George Radanovich, who represent the valley, wrote to Gary Locke, the Cabinet secretary who oversees the federal salmon-protection program, to decry a “double standard” of allowing salmon fishing while farmers still face water cutbacks. Then in April, Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic senator and former mayor of San Francisco, joined Costa and Cardoza in again complaining that “tens of thousands of acre-feet (of water) are now flowing unchecked past the pumps and into the ocean.”
Despite those water cutbacks, California still managed to grow its largest tomato crop in history last year. The 13.3-million-ton harvest was so big, in fact, that some farmers tilled a portion of their crop back into the ground. “It’s the greediest bunch of creeps I’ve ever seen in my life,” says fisherman Collins. “We haven’t worked in two years, and they’re crying like little girls.”
Perhaps it’s time to ascertain which crops are most water-intensive and to a coast-wide or even Inter/national boycott of them. The article suggests cotton and tomatoes. What other crops would be a worthy target? Would progressive stores like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods participate? Or would this need to be a grassroots effort activated by orca enthusiasts around the country and globe?