Cold, Dead Fish & Shiny Steelhead Awards For 2002

by Dan Bacher

Dissident Voice
January 15, 2003



2002 will be remembered as the year when recreational anglers were given the shaft on a number of fronts by the federal and state governments.


The Bush administration, in preference for subsidized farmers over fish and wildlife, the Klamath River tribes and anglers, caused the worst ever fish kill on the Klamath in September by refusing to release the water necessary to sustain returning king salmon, steelhead and coho salmon. In October, the California Fish and Game Commission kicked recreational anglers off the water for eight months so that it could allow the commercial live rockfish fishery and trawlers to rape the fishery resource.


On the positive side, steelhead runs on the Central Valley and North Coast rivers continued to recover from years of habitat degradation. The Klamath, American and Feather rivers saw fabulous steelhead fishing at times. The Sacramento River winter chinook run also continued to recover, with the DFG estimating that 7,996 adult winter run chinook returned to spawn, the highest figure since 1981.


It’s now the long awaited time to present the worst and best in fishery conservation in California in 2001 - the annual “Cold, Dead Fish” and “Shiny Steelhead” awards.


We’ll start out with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, who on December 5 caved into pressure from agribusiness and decided to allow agricultural irrigation water runoff to continue to pollute California’s waterways essentially free from agency oversight. A waiver that the Board issued in 1982 was scheduled to terminate on January 1, 2003. Although thousands of citizens had voiced their opposition to the proposed waiver, Board members voted to waive water quality requirements for agricultural runoff for another two years. For their lack of courage and continuing subservience to Central Valley agribusiness, the Regional Board is bestowed the “Big Cave In” award.


Pacific Gas and Electric Company has been in the news a lot over the past two years because of its notoriously bad management practices. However, one thing that escaped the mainstream media’s attention was PG&E’s refusal to release proper flows for spawning spring run chinooks on Butte Creek, resulting in the death of over 3,000 salmon in August and September. For killing off these threatened species in August and September, PG&E earns the “Rotting Spring Run Chinook” award.


The California Fish and Game Commission, after president Mike Flores said at an August meeting that he would do everything he could to keep anglers on the water, reneged on its commitment and imposed the most stringent ocean sport fishing regulations in history, keeping the anglers off the water from November 1 until July.  While shore anglers can no longer fish for rockfish, they can sit on a jetty and watch commercial fishermen unload their catches at the docks. For this, the California Fish and Game Commission and Governor Gray Davis receive the “Stab in the Back” award.


The Pacific Fishery "Management" Council on June 20, in a drastic, unprecedented action, decided to close indefinitely California’s recreational fishery for shelf rockfish and lingcod in ocean waters 20 fathoms and deeper south of Cape Mendocino starting July 1. This measure resulted from the Council’s many years of poor "management" of commercial trawl, gillnet and longline fisheries that have decimated rockfish populations. For their decades of mismanagement, incompetence and imposition of virtually all of the regulatory  burden on anglers, this “august body” wins the “Disband It - Now!” award.


While the northern pike count at Davis Lake at press time had reached nearly 18,000, the DFG under the “leadership” of Director Robert Hight has done virtually nothing to stop the infestation of these fish. These toothy fish pose a great threat to salmon and steelhead fisheries, but Hight and other state bureaucrats apparently don’t regard the pike elimination as a priority. For his inaction, Hight gets the special “Abysmal Leadership” award.


The worst fishery disaster of 2002 was the death of 40,000 to 50,000 salmon on the Klamath River in September, the result of Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior, refusing to release enough cold, oxygenated water to sustain the returning fall run chinooks. The Bush administration caved in to the water demands of subsidized farmers in the Klamath Basin, even though a federal report later released acknowledged that the water was much more economically valuable to the economy when used for salmon. For their attack on recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Indian tribes and the North Coast economy, President George Bush and Norton jointly receive the “Rotting Chinook” award.


However, the most “prestigious” anti-environmental award is enthusiastically given to a public utility that always pats themselves on the back for being a “green, environmentally friendly” organization - the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) Board. In spite of pleas by the Yurok and Hoopa tribes, commercial fishermen and recreational anglers, the board refused to pull out of a lawsuit with the Westlands Water District blocking restoration of Trinity River salmon and steelhead. For their dark alliance with Westlands and the role their lawsuit played in blocking water releases that could have been used to alleviate the Klamath River fish kill, the SMUD Board is “honored” with the “Cold, Dead Fish” of the year award!


Now, on a more positive note, we begin the “Shiny Steelhead” ceremony for those courageous defenders of fish and wildlife and anglers rights. We’ll start it off with Tom Stienstra, outdoor writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, who gets the “Fish Quote of the Year” award for his hilarious slams on Robert Hight, Governor Gray Davis and the DFG in his “annual quiz.” I especially liked the response to "How many shipwrecks have occurred within close range of the mouth of the Bay and Golden Gate?  “A. Five, including the recent USS Davis and its support boat, the USS Hight, with all hands lost."


Earth Justice, an environmental advocacy group that has been vilified by certain extremist wise use, property rights and “sportsmen’s groups” as being an “enemy of sportsmen,” has probably done more on the legal front than any organization to fight for the restoration of California fisheries. For doing all of the legal work on the fight for Klamath River fishery restoration waged by the tribes, recreational anglers and commercial fishermen, this organization receives a “Legal Steelhead” award. And for continuing the decades-long battle to restore salmon and steelhead populations on the Klamath and Trinity Rivers, in spite of numerous legislative and legal setbacks, the Hoopa Valley and Yurok Tribes are given the “In it For the Long Haul” award.


Three members of the Recreational Fishing Alliance-Norcal Chapter, Jim Martin, Randy Fry and Ron Gaul, and Bob Strickland, president of United Anglers, spent many thankless hours fighting for the rights of recreational anglers at seemingly endless meetings this year. Although the Commission and DFG imposed increasing restrictions on anglers rather than adopting “the Washington Plan,” the angler’s presence is being felt at the state and federal level. For their many hours of dedication, four “Hardcore Fishery Activist” awards are given to them.


2002 saw the death of one of California’s most dedicated sportsmen and fishery activists, Phil Johnson, the president of Kokanee Power. His energy, dedication and low key demeanor is missed by everybody in the fishery conservation field. For this reason, he receives, posthumously, the “Kokanee Forever!” award.


For many years, anglers have talked about launching a lawsuit against the DFG for their increasing imposition of punitive regulations on anglers while large scale polluters and habitat destroyers get off scott-free. Finally, Bob Franko and Tom Mattusch of the Coastside Fishing Club put the talk into action, announcing the intent to file against the state agency in October for taking away anglers’ right to fish. Franko and Mattush are bestowed the Prestigious “Fighting Rockfish” award for doing what others have talked about but failed to do.


A lot of big mainstream environmental groups receive lots of publicity for their conservation efforts, while grassroots groups doing on the ground efforts are often given little press because they’re too busy doing the hard work of restoring fisheries.


For this reason, the “Shiny Steelhead” of the year award goes to two groups: Allen Harthorn and the Friends of Butte Creek and the Fishery Foundation of California. Friends of Butte Creek was instrumental in working with landowners, fishermen and government agencies in rebuilding the Butte Creek spring chinook salmon and steelhead runs. The Fishery Foundation of California, under the leadership of Tom Hampson (now in Arizona) and now Thomas Cannon, has been busy restoring salmon and steelhead runs on the Cosumnes River, as well as conducting innovative striper rearing programs in the Bay-Delta estuary and San Luis Reservoir.


Keep up the great work, fishery activists!


Daniel Bacher is an outdoor writer/alternative journalist/satirical songwriter from Sacramento California. He is also a long-time peace, social justice and environmental activist. Email: