California fishing industry in crisis

November 19, 2008 6:32:29 PM PST
A startling new report issued by an environmental advocacy group finds California's fish are in crisis. It predicts nearly two-thirds of the state's native salmon, steelhead and trout species could be headed toward extinction.

Salmon experts say there are fingerlings at Lagunitas Creek in Marin County, home for Central Coast Coho salmon. But even when you look for a long time, they're hard to find.

"We could lose these fish at any time. Ninety-five percent of our streams that had Coho in California don't anymore," said Todd Steiner from the Salmon Protection Network.

And the future prospect for fish is even worse, based on a new study out of UC Davis. It predicts that at the present rate of decline, two-thirds of California's native salmon and trout species will go extinct before the end of this century and probably sooner.

"We are farming, we are grading, we are logging, we are mining. We are doing many things that are harming our waterways, and doing too much of it," said Brian Stranko from California Trout.

It's a warning we've heard before and this study quantifies it. Experts concur.

"Basically, we have a series of problems hitting these fish all at once," said National Marine Fisheries biologist Kit Crump.

Changes in ocean temperature have altered migration patterns. As people use more water, stream levels drop. And the water that does return is not nearly as clean as even a few decades ago.

According to the study, the effort to save fish will cost billions. But, if they disappear it will cost even more.

"I think the rub is how far people are willing to go," said Crump.

"How far do we have to go?" asked ABC7's Wayne Freedman.

"Farther than is comfortable, but not farther than we can," said Crump.

Meantime back in Marin County, Coho will come back to spawn with the next big rain.

Lagunitas Creek may be what they call a success story, but success is relative. Nowadays if they get 10 percent of the old numbers, they call that a good year.

"We think about endangered species in places like the rainforest. Well, we're losing them in our own backyard. And we are not doing enough," said Steiner.

The Bush administration is working feverishly to relax the regulations on endangered species. The new policies must be published by this Friday in order to take effect before Barack Obama is sworn in and otherwise, he can undo them with the stroke of a pen.


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