February 2023 Newsletter

Very Low Sacramento fall run salmon forecast

Chances of salmon fishing are looking unlikely in 2023

Fishery managers, in a presentation given to the salmon industry in Oregon on February 27, reported they estimate there are only 169,800 fall run salmon in the ocean now.  This extremely low number is likely to lead to little or no fishing season in 2023.  For context, fishery managers wanted to see more than 180,000 fall run salmon return to the Sacramento Basin last year.  Less than 62,000 returned to spawn. 

Next the Pacific Fisheries Management Council will meet in March and early April to decide if any limited season will be approved.  Because California Central Valley fall run salmon are caught off the Oregon coast too, fishery officials there are telling their salmon industry that ocean fishing in most of Oregon for king salmon is unlikely in 2023.  

Since Gavin Newsom became governor, salmon numbers have declined while acreage planted in ultra-thirsty almond orchards has increased more than 300,000 acres.  Newsom’s appointed State Water Board has also bottled up rules adopted in December of 2018 requiring more flows in San Joaquin Valley rivers as a gift to big ag water districts there.

Newsom Acts to Appease San Joaquin Valley AG at the Expense of Salmon

Let the Governor know you disagree with his action and support reinstating salmon protections

The governor has taken direct aim at our salmon and we need to let him know he needs to change course. 

In a harsh blow to salmon recovery efforts, Governor Gavin Newsom has bowed to the will of factory farm operators in the Central Valley and invited his water managers to waive state law aimed at protecting salmon and other species, which they have now done.  Since Newsom issued his executive order on February 13 authorizing a drastic cut to required freshwater flows, Delta outflow has fallen by almost half. Without this water, salmon survival will plummet. We are losing baby salmon in the Delta right now.

The state’s Dept. of Water Resources (DWR) admits that granting their request will harm salmon in a number of ways including pulling juveniles off their natural outmigration route to their deaths in the interior Delta. 

The governor made his move just as some of the two million fish released at Coleman were expected to be entering the Delta on their way to the Bay and ocean. They are part of an experiment intended in part to restock the upper Sacramento Basin with salmon after recent disastrous returns to the upper Sacramento Basin and now they’re probably lost.

Newsom’s capitulation to the state’s powerful agricultural industry comes as most of the state’s reservoirs are at or above where they’d normally be this time of year and a record 186% of normal snowpack in the Sierras will soon fill them further.  The executive order states explicitly that rules protecting salmon can now be waived simply because powerful Central Valley interests are demanding more water supply.  State and federal water managers are ramping up diversions to big agricultural water districts across the Central Valley and have told many of them to expect 100% of their annual water allocation.  This isn’t fair or balanced to those who fish or rely on salmon. Salmon numbers have dropped dramatically during Governor Newsom’s time in office while water-guzzling almond orchards have grown by 300,000 acres.

Only 61,200 fall run Chinook salmon returned to the Sacramento River last fall, far below the target of 180,000 fish.  It’s looking increasingly likely we may not have a salmon fishing season this year. We’ll get a much better idea after the March 1 salmon information meeting put on by the state.  GSSA will put out another release then updating the situation.

GSSA is asking everyone to take a moment now to let the Governor know you disagree with his action and support reinstating salmon protections and a more fair balance.  Your voice is strongest if you call the governor’s office at (916) 445-2841. 

Tell them you’re calling to ask the governor to rescind his executive order waiving salmon protections regarding water flowing through the Delta. Or, click here and scroll down and  we’ll make it easy for you to add your name to a petition we’ll send to the governor’s office. Please share this call to action as far and widely as you can. 

GSSA Only Fishing Group Asked to Help Review Federally Funded Restoration Proposals

Some projects will restore both spawning and rearing habitat

GSSA recently helped the US Bureau of Reclamation and a small number of invited experts review salmon habitat restoration project proposals in the Central Valley. GSSA’s input was sought because of relationships built over the years with agency staff and because of our acknowledged expertise in salmon habitat needs. The Bureau of Reclamation will eventually award $40 million this year to the worthiest projects. Proposals addressing a lack of flow in Central Valley rivers, the primary cause of our salmon declines, are not part of this process.

GSSA’s participation follows years of early engagement in the development of the federal government’s Science Integration Team model which measures and weighs the ecological value of various salmon habitat features.

Federal Judge Rejects GSSA and Allies’ Efforts to Improve 2023 Interim Water Operation Rules

Pumps big enough to make rivers run backwards kill salmon

On February 24 a federal judge rejected efforts by GSSA and its allies to make the rules used to operate the Central Valley Project more protective of salmon. The target was short-term rules in place while a long-term plan is being developed. Federal and state agencies had proposed a repeat of last year’s interim operation rules again in 2023. Our attorneys argued to the court that these rules have proved nowhere near protective enough to safeguard salmon. We believe the facts on the ground bear this out. We’ve pointed out the shortcomings of last year’s interim operation rules including the fact the feds and state promised to maximize winter run habitat in the upper Sacramento River but then didn’t. Instead, they diverted more water than first proposed. Only 17 percent of last year’s winter run eggs deposited by spawning salmon survived to fry stage. The rain and heavy Sierra snowpack we’ve gotten in 2023 may hopefully negate the worst damage threatened by this year’s interim rules we’ll now be forced to live with for 2023.

Major Rearing Habitat Restoration Projects Done

This side channel will offer almost a half mile of good rearing habitat

In light of the poor returns of 2022 and the likelihood of no salmon fishing in 2023, the miles of side channel rearing habitat that have been restored in the upper Sacramento Basin provides little obvious benefit. With miles more approved and funded for future restoration, this work will continue for the day when we’ve recovered salmon spawning in the upper basin.  This is needed habitat but no substitution for the cold water needed to hatch eggs and the spring flows needed to safely deliver baby salmon downriver, through the Delta and Bay and out to sea.  A wealth of restoration dollars in recent years has created a gold rush with many organizations trying to get some of the money. It was only a few years ago that GSSA pushed hard on the federal government to redirect money from the Central Valley Project Improvement Act’s restoration fund from never ending studies to on the ground side channel restoration.  What started as a somewhat lonely venture caught on and now receives about $40 million annually from the restoration fund.  Many acres of former side channels that had long ago filled in with sediment after Shasta Dam blocked major flows, have now been dug out and reactivated.  Monitoring work has found many baby salmon using these areas to safely rear in, just as they did before the dams.   

Crab Feed a Great Success, Good Times Had by All

Preparing crab for 350 guests

A big thanks to the incredible volunteers who made cooking, cleaning and cracking hundreds of crabs at the crab fundraiser successful.  Big thanks also to the many supporters who helped by eating their share of crab and contributing to a good cause.  No one went home hungry and many even went home with extra crab at the end of the night. The setting at the Marin Rod and Gun Club started with stormy weather in the morning while the cooking was going on but by afternoon, the sun was out and the wind had died.  An especially huge thanks to the San Francisco Community Fishing Association for the crab and to board member Ted Wilson for supplying his catering and culinary experts. 

Volunteers Needed

GSSA is putting out a call for help from volunteers.  We’re looking for some extra hands to help at the June at the Santa Rosa dinner.  Let us know if you can help by emailing info@goldenstatesalmon.org or call 855-251-4472. Thanks.

Looking Over the Horizon

GSSA will be in the trenches in the coming year and years beyond, but we need support to keep going.   If you haven’t done so already, please consider renewing your membership starting at $35 or making a donation for the coming year.  You can renew at goldenstatesalmon.org or mail a check in to:   PO Box 320096, San Francisco, CA, 94132

GSSA is also set up to take donations of any stocks you might want to part with and we’re always grateful for donations above the membership fee.

We are very grateful for the support we get from many of you.  There’s a lot of unfinished work ahead.  We’re on it thanks to you.