Group calls for salmon conservation


"We won't have any wild local salmon on our dinner plates this year," lamented Brian Johnson of Trout Unlimited, a group that has banded together local fisherman, conservationists, restaurateurs and chefs in common cause.

The group held a news conference this afternoon outside Scola's Restaurant on the San Francisco waterfront.

"We can't let that be the new normal," Johnson said, calling for "shared solutions that we can do to bring these fish back."

With fish stocks at historically low numbers, especially this year in California's Sacramento River, the Pacific Fishery Management Council on April 10 canceled the six-month season for West Coast commercial and sport salmon fishermen, which was scheduled to begin May 1.

The closure has left hundreds of salmon fisherman struggling to find other work and an industry in economic turmoil.

"This affects the entire economy," said Paul Johnson of San Francisco's Monterey Fish Market. He said the collapse of the salmon population this year in the Sacramento River has added a "new twist," forcing groups formerly at odds -- commercial and recreational fishermen, wholesalers, wineries and environmentalists -- to work together.

"If we don't band together as a salmon community...we could easily lose salmon forever on the West Coast," he said.

The group called on consumers to request wild salmon from restaurants and supermarkets, instead of farmed salmon, which has been criticized for being a cheaper, inferior product that runs counter to environmentally sustainable practices. They also requested voters elect officials who will support the healthy maintenance of wild salmon stocks.

Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations said this year's closure of the salmon fishing season was the largest closure since commercial fishing began on the West Coast in 1848.

"And the tragedy is that it didn't have to happen," he said.

Grader blamed existing water policies for diverting fresh water from the Sacramento River Delta for the decline in salmon, which he said use the Delta and the San Francisco Bay as their migratory path.

Grader said many recently spawned salmon trying to find their way back to the Pacific Ocean were "being sucked south into the pumps."

Alaskan husband-and-wife fishermen Kirk and Heather Hardcastle said theirs is the only remaining West Coast salmon industry where the wild salmon population is sustainably managed, taking in to account salmon and their habit, fishermen and consumers, they said.

"We want to see a sustainable horizon for the salmon nation," said Kirk Hardcastle.

"We're losing wild, period," said Kent Macintosh, of Trout, Unlimited's Redwood Empire chapter. "We have a responsibility, not only to the salmon, but we have a responsibility to the wild."

"If we lose them (the salmon)...everything will be produced on a farm," said Macintosh. "But that's not the idea."

"The principle is," he said, "we live in a bio-diverse world. We have to sustain that."

Macintosh remarked that the closure of salmon season had one bright note.

"All of a sudden, we're finding that we're all interconnected," he said.

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