Congressman Jared Huffman speaks during a news conference on the impending salmon season closure.
North Coast Congressmember Jared Huffman joined other officials today in pledging to work for the expedited release of federal dollars to help those impacted by the all-but-certain closure of the 2023 salmon season due to what’s forecasted to be near record-low returns of Chinook to the Klamath and Sacramento rivers.
“We can’t afford to wait years,” Huffman said. “In fact, we’ve got to bring this disaster relief home in the next few months.”
Huffman was accompanied at a new conference on the San Francisco waterfront by fellow Congressmembers Nancy Pelosi —former Speaker of the House —and Kevin Mullin, and California’s Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, along with representatives of the fishing community and affiliated businesses affected by the closure, who talked not only about the immediate needs of those whose livelihoods are on the line but the long-term solutions needed to protect salmon into the future.
“That is our two-part challenge,” Huffman said. “An immediate push to bring federal disaster relief to these communities but a longer term push to challenge state and federal officials to step and do better for our salmon, so we can continue to catch salmon and support the fishing economy that is so important to coastal California.”
The governor’s office has taken the first steps toward bringing in aid money by requesting a Federal Fishery Disaster Declaration following yesterday’s Pacific Fishery Management Council decision to recommend shutting down the commercial and recreational season.
“Countless families, coastal communities and tribal nations depend on salmon fishing — it’s more than an industry, it’s a way of life. That’s why we’re requesting expedited relief from the federal government,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news release. “We’re committed to working with the Biden administration and Congress to ensure California’s fisheries aren’t left behind.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to officially enact the ocean closure recommendation May 16 and the California Fish and Game Commission will look at closing inland salmon fisheries the next day.
Huffman noted legislative changes made during the last Congress on the way “we do fishery disasters” should “speed things up quite a bit,” as well as the appropriation of $300 million in aid that “should give us a headstart on trying to secure those funds and get them out the door to folks who need it.”
Several of the speakers, including John McManus, senior policy director of the Golden State Salmon Association, spoke about the devastating financial impacts of the closure. He said was heartened to hear there was “some reason to believe” that federal aid would be coming to those who need it sooner rather than later.
“There’s a lot of fear and panic up and down the coast, with families trying to figure out how they are going to pay the bills this year,” McManus said.
Salmon captain Sarah Bates, who fishes out of the Bay Area, noted the ports should be bustling at this time, with anglers checking their gear and loading up their boats, but instead she was now one of many whose livelihoods have been thrown into uncertainty.
What’s needed, she said, is help from federal and state officials on a number of levels, including hatchery reforms and better water management practices, as well as a disaster declaration, in order for her and others to once again be able to set out and bring back the prized fish, which she described as resilient, for “your tables and your restaurants.”
“They have been coming up these rivers for about as long as humans have been walking on two legs,” Bates said. “They have survived landslides, they have survived huge droughts, they have survived temperature change, they have survived changing ocean conditions, they have survived rivers that changed course. What they can’t survive are some of the water management practices that are putting their breeding habitats at risk.”
While echoing calls for the need for federal assistance, and citing Huffman’s work to streamline the process, Crowfoot, who heads the California Natural Resources Agency, also talked about environmental factors that brought the state to this moment, noting eight of the last 10 years have been exceptional drought years, and some of the efforts underway to protect the habitat on which salmon depend, adding more can and needs to be done.
“This is obviously a tough day for the men and women who fish out of this harbor, for the families and communities up and down the coast whose livelihoods are now impacted without a salmon season, for the tribes that depend on salmon for both sustenance and their cultural lifeways and, I’ll say, for all Californians who pride ourselves on living in a state with a thriving natural resource,” he said.
He pointed to the need to improve river flows and conditions as well as recconnect salmon to their spawning habitats, stating 90 percent has been lost in the last century due to dams, saying work like the upcoming removal of the Klamath River dams will help remove those barriers.
Crowfoot also highlighted the nearly $4 million grant awarded to the Yurok Tribe this week by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for a large-scale restoration project on the Trinity River, the largest tributary of the Klamath River, which he said will “really help the salmon.”
“It’s projects like that that give me hope that we’re going to persist through this, that we’re going to get resources to the impacted fishing community and we’re going to create a more prosperous future for salmon,” he said.
Rounding out the speakers was Pelosi, who said securing rapid disaster relief for those hit hard by the closure “is our mission and promise here,” while noting the role climate change and human intervention have played in the current salmon disaster that is costing people their jobs and, citing the cultural importance of salmon for Native tribe, their sustenance and way of life.
“We have to make sure … that policies, practices and the rest are not such that they are defying even the evolutionary progress of salmon,” she said.
The shuttering of the salmon season, Pelosi said, needs to be thought of in the long-term and the short-term, thanking those who helped to put a human face on the crisis.
“Let’s see if we can’t get through this in a way that is a model for us here, for the future and for the country,” Pelosi said.