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Local congressmen attend salmon summit

April 2, 2010 11:50:03 AM PDT
Hundreds of angry salmon fishermen crowded into a meeting with elected officials in San Francisco on Thursday. It was billed as a "salmon summit," and it was an effort to build a political base.

Salmon fishermen joined environmentalists to battle growers and developers for California's water. Until now, the fishermen have been outgunned in that fight.

Salmon fishermen rallied at Fort Mason Center, saying it's time to push back against farmers' demands for more water from the Sacramento Delta.

"When you can pull water back up hill it's not a small pump and the fish go down with it," salmon fisherman Les Junge said.

In the past couple of years, the salmon population in the Sacramento River has been decimated. A run that was once estimated at 800,000 has plummeted to 40,000. Salmon season has been closed for two years in a row, leaving boats, the dock and fishermen in trouble.

"I'm going down $1,000 a month out of our savings just to keep alive," salmon fisherman Anthony LeBourveau said.

The fishermen told Congressman Mike Thompson, D-Napa, and Congressman George Miller, D-Concord, that farming interests in the state have driven Sacramento River salmon to the brink.

Farmers in the valley and their elected representatives say they need more water.

"There's a fire burning in the Central Valley and gosh darn, it's time to put that fire out," Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, said.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have sided with the growers' requests for more Delta water.

"A federal judge comes in and says 'oh I think you have to protect the Delta smelt, the little fish.' And I think the Delta smelt is more important than farmers having water and workers going to work to grow food for the world," Schwarzenegger said.

At the gathering of fishermen, there was a strong belief that the fish are more important -- that 23,000 jobs and billions of dollars are at stake. But they don't feel they've got the political clout of the agribusiness industry.

Thompson stands with fishermen.

"We've got the law on our side, we've got the science on our side and you've seen today the beginning of a very, very strong organization," he said.

Miller says one part of the state is not going to be able to rip off the other.

"We've seen the effort to just ram though the peripheral canal, we were able to turn that back and we've been able now to alert people to what this means for the fisheries and our economy in the whole northern part of this state," he said.

On Thursday afternoon, a representative of the California Farm Bureau told ABC7 his industry is working for a solution where there will be enough water for everyone.

Considering the increasing demands from every corner in California, it doesn't seem likely.


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