Feds release plan to protect Calif. salmon

June 4, 2009 6:23:21 PM PDT
California's $2 billion wild salmon industry is getting some long-awaited help from the federal government. It comes in the form of a biological opinion study.

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At Scoma's restaurant in San Francisco, the chef did a daily menu briefing for the waiters. One of the items he pushed was fresh Chinook salmon from Alaska -- not California.

"Three times the cost of what I would pay for California Kings," said Scoma's Chef Steven Scarabosio.

But this is the second straight season of no local salmon fishing due to declining numbers.

On Thursday, the National Marine Fisheries Service presented a new plan to that might provide salmon and other endangered species more water in rivers and streams.

It gives them and the fishing industry, a fighting chance.

"We're starving, we're starving. I tell you, I have never seen it like this ever before. In 30 years of fishing I have never seen it this bad," said commercial fisherman Larry Collins.

There was one key word the salmon industry wanted to see. One key word that would change an attitude -- jeopardy -- and they got it.

"It's a legally meaningful word. It means it jeapordizes species with extinction," said conservation biologist John Rosenfeld, Ph.D.

But the move comes with a cost. A seven percent diversion of water from Shasta Dam and the Sacramento River and a seven percent cut for users -- that's enough water for a city of two million people. Central Valley farmers are concerned.

"We will continue to have less and less acres farmed, we will not be producing the crops that we normally do, and the revenue generated for that for the entire state will go away," said Sarah Woolf from Westland Water District.

But environmentalists and fishermen are delighted. On Thursday, the state went to extreme measures by delivering 500,000 Chinook fingerlings to waters off Mare Island. They are trying to replace the work of nature.

"There is an endangered species act and a clean waters act. There is not a right to make rivers flow backwards act," said Rosenfeld.

The cuts will hit water supplies next year.

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