PCFFA Fishermen’s News May 2008: Take Action In Response to the Salmon Closure


May, 2008

Take Action in Response to the Salmon Closure

Do Not Go Gently Into the That Good Night

By Zeke Grader and Linda Sheehan

Following the April 11th Pacific Fishery Management Council vote (see: www.pcouncil.org) to close California and most of Oregon’s ocean salmon fishery and heavily restrict Washington’s, in large part due to the collapse of Central Valley fall-run chinook, now the most asked question is: What can fishermen and concerned members of the public do to help bring the salmon back? There is plenty to be done.

The Pacific Council’s decision, which has been sent on to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval, marks the first time the commercial salmon fishery has faced a closure of this magnitude since it began on the San Francisco Bay and Delta in 1848. Bad as the situation is, however, this is no time to give up, nor to throw in the towel on either the fish or the fishery. We’re not going gently into the night!

The salmon and the fishery can be brought back and, with enough effort, could be better than ever before. For that to happen, however, the involvement of fishermen and the public is greatly needed and specific actions need to be taken.

We’ve put together a ’10 Actions’ target list that fishermen and the public can take in response to the causes of the 2008 closure. Any and all of these will help bring these stocks back from the brink. These follow on the June, 2008 FN article (A Salmon Strategy – Preparing a Plan for Preserving the Fleet and Recovering the Fish, available at: www.pcffa.org/fn-apr08.htm).

Some of the actions, such as a ‘Declaration of a Fishery Failure’ by the Secretary of Commerce to pave the way for a federal disaster appropriation, and the hatchery trucking operation, should be well underway by the time you read this. Other actions, however, aimed at keeping the fleet afloat economically until the fishery is reopened, and addressing many of the long-standing water problems in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay (the migratory path for Central Valley salmon between the Sierra streams and the Pacific) will require ongoing attention throughout the year and well into the future.

Our concerns for the fish and the identification of the in-river culprits in this disaster are hardly unique to any of us. Some recent editorials from major newspapers have been saying similar things. See for example the Editorial from the April 10thOregonian, ‘A Fishery in Shambles;’ the April 15thNew York Times, ‘The Trouble With Salmon;’ and the April 22ndSan Francisco Chronicle, “Earth Day – Even for Fish at Sea.’ These and other editorials, as well as other useful information about responding this disaster, will all be posted on the PCFFA web site at www.pcffa.org, under a ‘2008 Salmon Disaster’ link.

In addition to the ‘10 Actions You Need to Take Now!‘ presented below, are some critical facts on water quality in the Bay and Delta that were the subject of testimony to the California Legislature’s Joint Committee on Fisheries & Aquaculture on April 17th. Delta flows are closely related to salmon production from the California Central Valley.

The ’10 Actions’ above also are posted in downloadable form on the PCFFA website at www.pcffa.org. Go to the link on the 2008 Salmon Disaster for this and much more information as this disaster unfolds. Additionally there will be sample letters and other helpful actions fishermen and the public can take posted there.

Linda Sheehan’s testimony on water problems in the SF Bay Delta can be found in its entirety on the California Coastkeeper Alliance website at http://www.cacoastkeeper.org. Selections from that Testimony are printed below.

Salmon Closure 2008 – NEVER AGAIN

Saving Fishing Communities — Bringing Back the Salmon

10 Actions You Need to Take Now!

1. Contact U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, 1401 Constitution Avenue, Washington, DC 20230, requesting an immediate declaration of a Fishery Failure for the West Coast salmon fishery.

2. Contact your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative requesting federal disaster relief through a Congressional Appropriation for direct assistance to salmon fishing families and communities and, further, requesting Congressional oversight hearings on Pacific salmon management and the stock collapse.

3. Contact and attend meetings of the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board), 1000 I Street, Rm. 1629 Sacramento, CA 95814 (http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/ ) demanding in the development of the ‘San Francisco Bay / Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary (Bay-Delta) Program – Strategic Workplan’ (http://www.waterrights.ca.gov/baydelta/strategic_workplan.htm) that a halt to pumping is mandated at the State (SWP) and Federal (CVP) Delta facilities when any salmon are present.

4. Contact the Chair of the State Board and the Director of the California Department of Fish & Game demanding the adoption, implementation and enforcement of freshwater flows into and through the Delta to San Francisco Bay necessary for the ecological functioning of this estuary and the protection and restoration of salmon.

5. Contact and attend meetings of the State Board demanding in open comment an end to the discharge of toxic fish killing water into the Delta and its tributaries. Send comments by May 30 to the Central Valley Regional Water Board (Susan Fregien, sfregien@waterboards.ca.gov) calling for an immediate end to waste water discharge waivers http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/centralvalley/water_issues/irrigated_lands/hot_news/ilrp_05feb08_nopw.pdf.

6. Contact and attend meetings of California’s Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, c/o CALFED Bay-Delta Program, 650 Capitol Mall, Fifth Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814 (http://deltavision.ca.gov/) to oppose any peripheral canal and any further diversion of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed; demand the Delta be made salmon-friendly again.

7. Contact the Director of California Fish & Game, and the Fish & Game Commission, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, demanding all state salmon hatcheries be operated at full capacity to fully mitigate losses from dams and water projects and call further for the trucking of hatchery fish around the Delta for release into acclimation pens in San Francisco Bay – at least until such time as the pumping, flow and wastewater discharge issues in the Delta are resolved.

8. Contact Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Members of the California Legislature, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814, demanding the State’s policy for doubling natural spawning salmon populations be met; contact U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, DC 20240, demanding compliance with Federal policy (under the Central Valley Project Improvement Act) for doubling Central Valley natural spawning populations of anadromous fish (e.g., salmon).

9. Don’t forget the Klamath, even though it didn’t cause the 2008 closures. Contact Governor Ted Kulongoski, 160 State Capitol, 900 Court Street, Salem, OR 97301 and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, requesting state negotiators expedite the process for removal of the four PacifiCorp’s dams on the Klamath. PacifiCorp is owned by billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett; contact Mr. Buffett at 1440 Kiewit Plaza, Omaha, NE 68131.

10. Contact the Pacific and North Pacific Fishery Management Councils demanding an end to salmon bycatch in Pacific Whiting, Pollock and other fisheries.

For More Information on what you can do, contact the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, P.O. Box 29370, San Francisco, CA 94129-0370, Tel: (415) 561-5080, www.pcffa.org.

Just the Facts Ma’am, Just the Facts

or What’s Killing the Great Salmon of the Sacramento

From the Testimony of Linda Sheehan, California Coastkeeper Alliance ‘Salmonid Decline in California: Reasons, Impacts, and Next Steps’ ‘State of Delta Water Quality Protections’

1. The Delta Waterways Flow Toxic

a. Runoff from irrigated agriculture is major source of pollution in the Delta. For example, agricultural pesticides, pathogens, nitrates, salts and emerging contaminants have been detected in drinking water supplies serving over 16 million people in 46 California counties.

b. U.C. Davis studies of Central Valley waters affected by agricultural runoff showed nearly all (97-100%) sites tested violate water quality standards.

c. The Department of Pesticide Regulation found pesticides in 96% of Central Valley locations it tested; over half of these violated standards for aquatic life and drinking water consumption.

d. Pesticides are so ubiquitous that a USGS study found two nervous system pesticides in all rainfall samples collected around Modesto.

e. In the first comprehensive water quality monitoring study after several years of implementation of the Central Valley Regional Water Board’s irrigated agriculture program, surface water monitoring data collected by U.C. Davis and agriculture coalitions revealed that:

i. Toxicity to aquatic life was present at 63% of the sites monitored for toxicity, with over half toxic to more than one species. ii. Pesticide water quality standards were exceeded in over half of the sites, many for multiple pesticides. iii. Standards for one or more metals were violated at two-thirds of the sites monitored for metals. iv. More than 80% of the sites tested exceeded standards for general water health (dissolved oxygen, pH, salt and total suspended solids). v. Human health standards for bacteria were violated at 87% of monitored sites.

2.Polluted Water Harms Fish

a. Numerous studies link pollution to negative impacts on the health of salmon and other fish. For example, a NOAA/NMFS study of juvenile fall chinook salmon found that salmon accumulate significant concentrations of chemical contaminants even during relatively short residence times in estuaries, and that juvenile salmon from polluted environments ‘exhibit abnormalities ranging from subcellular effects to changes in immune function and growth. In many cases the effects alter physiological processes, such that the potential for survival is reduced.’ The study further found that because the pollutants suppressed the immune systems of the salmon, there was a subsequent increased susceptibility to infectious disease.

b. University of California studies of bellwether species such as striped bass found that all of the fish they tested from Central Valley waters all had at least two distinct problems with gastric inflammations, parasitic infestations, infections and/or liver lesions. These findings were consistent with earlier work that found nerve damage and developmental abnormalities among newborn bass. Scientists attributed these problems to a chemical stew of pesticides, herbicides and other cancer-causing elements in Delta waters.

c. Scientists presenting at the February 2008 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science reported, among other things, that:

i. Pesticides that run off the land and mix in rivers and streams combine to have a greater than expected toxic effect on the salmon nervous system than the pesticides would have individually. The scientists found that salmon died when exposed to combinations of pesticides that were not deadly when tested in individual trials. They concluded that ‘Current risk assessments based on a single chemical will likely underestimate impacts on wildlife in situations where that chemical interacts with other chemicals in the environment,’ and that the findings may have relevance for human health because these insecticides act on the nervous systems of salmon and humans in a similar way. ii. Even miniscule amounts of emerging contaminants such as endocrine-disrupting compounds and pharmaceuticals can decimate fish populations. For example, male fish exposed to estrogen become feminized, producing egg protein normally synthesized by females. In female fish, estrogen often retards normal sexual maturation, including egg production, thereby disrupting reproduction. Virtually none of these chemicals, which generally come from sewage treatment plant discharges, are currently regulated.

3.Existing Law Is Not Being Used to Stop Pollution

a.Clean water is in increasingly short supply in California, as illustrated by a map of seriously polluted, or ‘impaired,’ surface waters throughout the state, found at www.cacoastkeeper.org/impaired_waterbodies. Irrigated agricultural runoff is one of the most significant causes of impaired waters in the Delta. Drastic declines in ecosystem health and water quality require significantly greater efforts to comply with the law.

b. The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) mandates regulation of discharges from sewage treatment facilities, but there are currently no requirements to regulate emerging contaminants that are demonstrably affecting fish reproduction. Senators at an April 15, 2008, U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing lambasted U.S. EPA for its lack of initiative on this issue, and for slashing the budget for testing for endocrine disruptors by 35%. U.S. EPA’s failure to implement the Clean Water Act must not slow California from implementing its own responsibility under the Act to protect clean water.

c. The CWA exempts irrigated agriculture from permit requirements, but CWA Section 303(d) does require waters impaired by agricultural runoff to be formally identified. (Pronsolino v. Nastri, 291 F.3d 1123 (9th Cir. 2002 cert. denied 123 S.Ct. 2573 (June 16, 2003).) Waters identified as ‘impaired’ (see above link to impaired waters map) must be cleaned up pursuant to state law.

d. Unlike federal law, California law requires polluted runoff to be regulated through a form of permits called ‘waste discharge requirements’ (WDRs) or by ‘waivers of WDRs, with conditions.’ This law, the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, Water Code §§ 13000 et seq., commands that ‘the quality of all the waters of the state shall be protected for use and enjoyment by the people of the state.’

e. Porter-Cologne, at §§ 13260 et seq., states that all who discharge, or propose to discharge, waste ‘that could affect the quality of the waters of the state’ (which includes groundwater) must: (a) file a report of the discharge and, as needed, (b) implement waste discharge requirements that ensure that those discharges do not impact use of the state’s waters. The local regional water board then determines whether the discharge should be regulated through waste discharge requirements, or through a waiver of waste discharge requirements accompanied by conditions under Section 13269.

f. Nothing was done to implement this requirement with respect to polluted runoff until the early 1980s. At that time, most of the regional water boards (including the Central Valley) added to their Basin Plans a waiver of waste discharge requirements for irrigated agricultural runoff with essentially no conditions, based on the assumption that such pollution did not significantly affect water quality.

g. In late 2000, environmental, fishing and public health groups requested and formally petitioned the Central Valley Regional Board to rescind the two decades-old waiver for agricultural runoff, and instead regulate the pollution with waste discharge requirements (WDRs). The petition argued that the main condition of the waiver – that irrigators must prevent concentrations of pollutants toxic to fish or wildlife – was clearly and regularly being violated.

h. Unlike Clean Water Act permits, these waivers were not subject to regular review, and so they stayed in place until finally rescinded by a change in state law through SB 390 (1999). SB 390 rescinded, as of 1/1/03, all waivers of waste discharge requirements in all regions, thereby forcing their review for the first time in decades. It also made the waivers subject to five-year reviews. The Central Valley Board adopted its first waiver of waste discharge requirements for irrigated agriculture in December 2002.

i. In October 2003Governor Davis, on his last day in office, signed SB 923, which changed the standard for approving waivers of WDRs from ‘not against the public interest’ to ‘in the public interest.’

j. Of the nine Regional Water Boards, only three (Central Valley, Central Coast and Los Angeles) now have any meaningful regulatory oversight over irrigated runoff at all, and all three use ‘waivers’ to do so. Regions 3 and 4 (Central Coast and Los Angeles) have waivers for irrigated agriculture that include groundwater, but the Central Valley ignores pollution to groundwater, in contravention of state law.

k. The Central Valley’s waiver allows regulated farmers to essentially police themselves through farming coalitions, who are the ‘middle-men’ between the pollution and the regulators.

l. Under the adopted irrigated agriculture waiver, the Central Valley Regional Board does not know who is actually discharging pollutants, the location of the discharges, the pollutants being discharged, whether management measures to eliminate or reduce pollution have been implemented, or whether the management measures are successful in reducing pollution. No pollution control program can be successful without these basic elements.

m. The irrigated agriculture waiver does not prevent pollution. Instead, it requires specific action to control pollution until water quality standards are already exceeded. In that case, all that is required is for the discharger coalition groups to submit ‘management plans’ that contain recommended measures to control the pollution. Forty-eight such plans are ‘in development,’ with progress in submitting the required plans, not surprisingly, lagging far past deadlines. In the meantime, polluted waters continue to degrade further.

n. In fact, in a review of the first four years of the waiver program last fall, it was found that dischargers continue to pollute freely, many coalitions are failing to follow the law and the requirements of the waiver, thousands of dischargers were still operating outside even the minimal requirements of the waiver, and there was no evidence that the waiver has done anything to reduce pollution. Despite those dire findings, state representatives decided that the waiver simply needed more time to work.

o. Because no meaningful requirements to control pollution exist in the waivers, there are correspondingly no meaningful enforcement tools for them. The first, recent enforcement efforts involved the Regional Board sending 1,400 letters to farmers who have completely ignored the program since its inception in 2003, telling them to fill out a piece of paper to be included in the program. But the Regional Board eviscerated even this minor enforcement effort by at the same time extending the deadline for farmers to sign up for the program.

4.Blanket Waivers for Irrigated Agricultural Runoff Must Be Replaced with Specific, Enforceable Waste Discharge Requirements

a. Existing waivers do not meet Water Code Section 13000 requirement that ‘the quality of all the waters of the state shall be protected for use and enjoyment by the people of the state.’

b. Given the rapidly-deteriorating state of the Delta and the overwhelming number of already impaired water bodies, the use of waivers for irrigated agricultural runoff is inconsistent with Regional Board’s Basin Plan and is not ‘in the public interest,’ contrary to the requirements for issuing a waiver in Water Code Section 13269.

c. The Central Valley Board is currently evaluating its long-term plans for the irrigated agriculture waiver, and now is the time to change course to prevent further ecosystem failures.

d. The most immediate action is to send comments by May 30th to the Central Valley Regional Water Board calling for an end to irrigated agriculture waivers, as per: www.waterboards.ca.gov/centralvalley/water_issues/irrigated_lands/hot_news/ilrp_05feb08_nopw.pdf. Further comments should be made to the State Water Board and the Governor, who sets policy direction for his administrative agencies.

Linda Sheehan is an attorney and Executive Director of the California Coastkeeper Alliance, headquartered in Fremont, CA; Zeke Grader is Executive Director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) available at its main office at PO Box 29370, San Francisco, CA 94129-0370, (415)561-5080. PCFFA can be reached by email at: fish1ifr@aol.com and its Home Page on the Internet is at: www.pcffa.org.