Just as the Klamath River fish kill dominated the headlines in 2002, the horrendous fish kill of 90 percent of the threatened spring chinook run on Butte Creek in July and August was the big fishery story of 2003. Other notable setbacks included the die off of salmon fingerlings and the dewatering of steelhead redds (nests) after flows on the American River were reduced by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in February.
On the positive side, steelhead fisheries on North Coast and Central Valley rivers rebounded, with anglers on the American River seeing excellent fishing for both hatchery and wild fish into the end of April. Also in April, the SMUD board finally withdrew from the Trinity River lawsuit blocking fishery restoration.
And the California Fish and Game Commission showed courage - and the fact that it is no longer a “rubber stamp” for the Department of Fish and Game - when it ruled at its December meeting against giving a DFG-recommended permit to Yorktown Technologies for the sale of “Glo Fish,” a genetically engineered zebra fish, in California.
As we have done often in these awards, we’ll start off the “Cold Dead” fish section of these awards with a special “prize” for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. After the Bureau dropped flows from 4,500 to 2,500 cfs in February, DFG whistle blower and fishery biologist Mike Healey blasted the Bureau for killing over 10,000 salmon fingerlings and dewatering and endangering 12 steelhead redds. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation receives the “Dead, Rotting Salmon Fingerling” award for presiding over this fish kill on a river whose wild salmon and steelhead have recovered dramatically in recent years.
Congress Wally Herger distinguished himself in June by attempting to axe funding for the Klamath Fishery Management Council (KFMC) because it dared to tell the truth about the 2002 fish kill. Herger attached a rider, Section 138, to a Department of Interior Appropriations Bill to cut the funding after he was angered by two Council letters to Gale Norton, Secretary of Interior, that documented the real reason for last September’s fish kill on the Klamath - the massive diversion of water to agribusiness. Well, Wally, you get the “Squash the Truth” award for 2003 for your underhanded effort at censorship.
In a public comment session held by the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC) on July 30, recreational anglers, including representatives of United Anglers of California and RFA-Coastside Fishing Club, blasted the council for trying to push through a plan for marine reserves, even though no recreational fishermen are represented on the SAC. For refusing to appoint a recreational angler to the commission, the SAC gets the “Exclude the Angler” award for 2003.
Robert Hight, who resigned from his post as DFG director in November, will not be missed because he was “missing in action” for the majority of his term. He did absolutely nothing to speak up against the Butte Creek fish kills of 2002 and 2003, nor did he say anything about salmon and steelhead fish kills on the Scott and Shasta rivers. He would virtually never respond to phone calls from the press and public, earning him the title of “The Invisible Man” from Bob Simms, KFBK Radio’s outspoken outdoor program host. Hight gets the “Good Riddance!” award of 2002 for finally leaving office (if he was ever there!) after Arnold Schwartzenegger became the new governor in the contentious recall election of 2003.
Under pressure from a wide array of conservation groups including Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Senate decided on November 21 to delay a vote on the Bush-backed energy bill that would give billions of dollars in subsidies to the oil and gas industry while hurting fish and wildlife. Senator John McCain, one of seven Republican Senators who crossed party lines to vote against the bill, described this bill as "The No Lobbyist Left Behind Act of 2003.” President George W. Bush, for backing this legislation, gets the “Pork Barrell Bill” award.
A lot of government officials and organizations did harm to our fisheries over the past year. However, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, who won the “Rotting Spring Run Chinook” award in 2002, outdid themselves in their zeal to win this “competition.” After refusing to release cold water at critical times for spring run chinook in July and August, of 2003, PG&E produced the biggest kill of threatened salmon in U.S. history. An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 salmon - 90 percent of the entire run - died, earning PG&E the “Cold, Dead Fish of the Year” award!
In contrast with the recipients of the “Cold, Dead Fish” awards, the winners of the “Shiny Steelhead” awards distinguished themselves by their outstanding efforts to restore and preserve California fisheries.
For over 16 years, an environmentally responsible bass angler and shop owner, Jon Walton of Walton’s Pond in Hayward, has been quietly organizing habitat enhancement projects on Del Valle and other East Bay waters, as well as supporting steelhead restoration efforts on Alameda Creek. Walton, in collaboration with the East Bay Regional Park District, the Black Bass Action Committee and Alameda Fish and Game Commission, launched a new effort on January 11, 2003. A crew of 50 volunteers put in cinder blocks with 400 trees in five hours at Chabot, while 70 volunteers placed 1500 trees in the Quarry Lakes Recreation Area. For this latest effort and his years of contributions to fishery conservation, Walton is bestowed the “Fighting Largemouth” award.
On the same day (April 10) that the Klamath River was listed by American Rivers organization as the second most endangered river in the nation, Congressman Mike Thompson (D-Napa Valley) introduced legislation to attempt to solve the water crisis in the Klamath Basin. Thompson’s bill, the Klamath River Basin Restoration and Emergency Assistant Act, would allocate $200 million to landowners and tribes throughout the Klamath Basin who participate in water conservation projects. For introducing this legislation, Thompson gets the prestigious “Fish Friendly Legislator” of 2003 award.
Susan Masten, chair of the Yurok tribe, Troy Fletcher, executive director of the Yurok tribe, and Craig Tucker, outreach director of Friends of the River, sponsored the biggest media event of the year regarding California fisheries when they held a protest at the “Water 2025 Conference” in Sacramento on July 15. They blasted the U.S. Department of Interior for excluding the Klamath River tribes from a panel about the future of the Klamath and other Western watersheds. For exposing the environmental racism of the Bureau of Reclamation and bringing Klamath River fishery problems back into the media spotlight, Masten, Fletcher and Tucker each get the “Wild King Salmon” award.
After several years of being apart, United Anglers of California and United Anglers of Southern California decided that the interests of anglers in California would be best furthered by working together on issues. UAC president Bob Strickland and UASC president Tom Raftican, in alliance with Oceana, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Ocean Conservancy and other groups, have joined together to support state legislation to stop the destructive practice of ocean trawling. For their fine work on marine conservation, Strickland and Raftican receive the “Stop The Trawling” award.
In these awards, we always try to be fair; this time we give a conservation award to a member of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District Board (SMUD) board, an organization that received the “Cold, Dead Fish” last year. The board in April finally pulled out of a lawsuit they had joined in 2000 to block Trinity River restoration.
Susan Patterson, who became the new SMUD board president after the election of November 2002, showed great leadership by pushing the board to withdraw from the legal battle. The Hoopa Valley Tribe, in conjunction with Friends of the Trinity River, the Environmental Defense Fund, Friends of the River and other groups, organized a massive effort to pressure SMUD to withdraw. For their successful efforts, Clifford Lyle Marshall, chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, and Patterson each receive the “Shiny Steelhead” award for 2003!
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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