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March, 2008



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California's Central Valley Salmon in "Unprecedented Collapse"
By South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL)

Yuba's Wild Salmon Runs No Less Severe
Nevada City, CA January 31, 2008 - Yesterday's news headlines in the Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times, among others, announced that Central Valley's most abundant salmon run is in "collapse." A news release by the Pacific Fishery Management Council has warned, "All marine and freshwater fisheries impacting this important salmon stock may be affected." The Council states "The low returns are particularly distressing since this stock has consistently been the healthy 'work horse' for salmon fisheries off California and most of Oregon."
The Council reported additional bad news in that the count of "jacks" (immature salmon that return 1 year prior to the main run) was only 2,000 compared to a long-term average of about 40,000 and a previous record low of 10,000. A routine forecast for next year's salmon run, the jacks suggest that we may see an even worse run of salmon in 2008.

In a statement to the press, Pacific Fishery Management Council Executive Director Donald McIsaac characterized the 2007 Central Valley run as "an unprecedented collapse."

In a press release issued on October 19th, 2007, the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) sounded the alarm regarding the initial counts of the Fall-run Chinook on the Yuba River, with the headline: "Yuba's Wild Salmon Run Collapsing." The news release was based on preliminary data from the fish counting technology installed at Daguerre Point Dam on the lower Yuba River, a salmonid monitoring project of the California Department of Fish and Game, in partnership with SYRCL, Yuba County Water Agency and other fisheries agencies.

According to the PFMC, roughly 90,000 returning adult salmon were counted in the Central Valley in 2007, the second lowest number on record. The population was at 277,224 in 2006 and 775,499 five years ago. The 2007 run size is less than the conservation objective (122,000) necessary to ensure optimal production.

On the Yuba River, the decline in salmon appears to be no less severe. Although the California Department of Fish and Game has yet to authorize public release their year-end data for the fish-counter on the Yuba, NOAA Fisheries has published data indicating that mere 242 Spring-run salmon were counted at Daguerre in 2007. DFG estimates through their escapement surveys that 2,600 Fall-run Chinook spawned in the Yuba in 2007, compared to an estimate of 18,000 in 2005.

"Yuba River salmon are considered one of the strongest wild populations in the state, so the poor run here suggests that all salmon are at risk," says Gary Reedy, SYRCL Fisheries Biologist.

What has most alarmed fisheries biologists and water managers is that the Fall-run has been the strongest Chinook run in the Central Valley in recent decades. The Winter-run Chinook is listed as "endangered" and the Spring-Run is listed as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Yuba River hosts a uniquely wild (non-hatchery produced) population of Fall-Run and Spring-Run Chinook, as well as the threatened population of Steelhead Trout.

A Recovery Plan for these threatened species is required of NOAA Fisheries, but has not yet been completed. However, a February 2007 report by twelve scientists from NOAA Fisheries and other organizations concluded "to recover Central Valley salmon and steelhead ... some populations will need to be established in areas now blocked by dams".

The Upper Yuba River Studies Program recently published a report concluding that substantial habitats for salmon and steelhead exist in the watershed above Englebright Dam. "We have an opportunity, already backed by substantial public investment, to return the Yuba's wild salmon to their historic habitat in the upper Yuba River. What's missing is the will of federal agencies to meet their legal obligations to recover these fish," says Jason Rainey, Executive Director of SYRCL.

SYRCL, joined by Friends of the River, has also filed suit in federal court against the Army Corps of Engineers, National Marine Fisheries Service and Yuba County Water Agency for alleged failures to protect and recover the Spring-run Chinook Salmon, Steelhead trout and green sturgeon of the Yuba River, all of which are listed as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act.

"While the federal attorneys drag their heels in our legal claims, the conservation community will need to work with anglers and commercial fisheries to try to forge an enduring solution for salmon recovery. The salmon collapse represents a real unraveling of California's aquatic heritage. We need bold solutions from our federal partners, not courtroom dithering," states Rainey.

In December 2007, NOAA Fisheries issued an updated Biological Opinion that is meant to govern operations at and around the two federal dams on the lower Yuba River. SYRCL and Friends of the River immediately re-issued a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue and expect to file a formal complaint in federal court at the conclusion of the 60-day notice period in early February.

SYRCL is a grassroots river advocacy organization that has been active in Yuba salmon issues for much of our 25-year history. A comprehensive overview of Yuba Salmon was delivered by SYRCL's Gary Reedy at a "Town Hall" meeting in October 2007. The complete slideshow can be viewed at

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