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Dan Bacher of the FishSniffer presents the "Leaping Steelhead Conservation Awards" For 2008"

CSPA wins "Mother of All Lawsuits" award for DWR suit, "Messengers for Fish" award for website, and "Auburn Dam in the Coffin" award for ending project's water rights

by Dan Bacher, editor of the FishSniffer
January 21, 2009 -- In my 25 years of covering fishing and environmental issues, 2008 will go down as the one of the most challenging years ever for fish in California and the West.

The year was marked by a number of disasters topped by the unprecedented closure of recreational and commercial salmon fishing in ocean waters off California and Oregon and the closure of Central Valley rivers to salmon fishing, with the exception of a short season from November 1 to December 31 on the Sacramento River from Red Bluff to Knights Landing.

The California ... (Continued) Delta pelagic species decline continued, the result of increasing water exports by the state and federal governments in recent years combined with increases in toxic chemicals and the spread of invasive species. The DFG fall midwater trawl survey yielded record low numbers of delta smelt, threadfin shad, Sacramento splittail and American shad, along with alarming low numbers of longfin smelt and juvenile striped bass.

As the species continued to decline, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigned for his $9.3 billion water bond, in collaboration with California Senator Dianne Feinstein, to build two unneeded reservoirs and a peripheral canal. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger jetted off to "clean energy" conferences around the nation as he presided over the collapse of the salmon and Delta fisheries.

While the Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations did their best to destroy our fisheries, others hunkered down in the political trenches and met these "dark forces" with resistance. It is for this reason that I instituted the first annual "Leaping Steelhead Conservation Awards" in 2005.

While many magazines and the corporate media have been bamboozled into worshipping the "Fish Terminator" as the "Green Governor," one venerable hook and bullet magazine, Field and Stream, exposed the Schwarzenegger for the environment plunderer he is by giving him the "Outdoor Villain" of the year award in September. For their stance, they receive the "Stop The Fish Terminator" award. "The governor's win will not come as any surprise to fishermen in the Golden State, where funding for salmon and steelhead restoration has been dramatically cut despite sharply declining populations for years," the editors opined.

Remember the Prospect Island fish kill of 2007? Based on testimony by anglers about this incident in a legislative hearing in Rio Vista last December, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk (D-Davis) in February authored two bills to address our imperiled Delta fisheries, AB 2502 and AB 1806. AB 2204 established a "Delta Ecological and Recreation Area" on the North Delta, but unfortunately died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on May 22. AB 1806 established emergency plans for fish rescues in the Delta and passed through the legislature, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the measured when it hit his desk in December.

For sponsoring these bills, as well as numerous bills protecting fish, wildlife and the environment that were signed by the Governor during her tenure, Wolk receives the "Fish Protector" for 2008 award. After being termed out in the Assembly, Wolk won the election for State Senator in November.

As Schwarzenegger presided over the destruction of the Delta and Central Valley fish and vetoed fish restoration bills, an unusual coalition of anglers and environmentalists on California's north coast was fighting the Governor's fast-tracking of the corrupt MPLA process to remove fishermen and seaweed harvesters from traditional areas - and in spite of huge de-facto marine protected areas created by the PFMC.

Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, and John Lewellan, longtime environmentalist and seaweed harvester, are bestowed the "No Greenwashing Allowed" award for their broad-based efforts to expose elitist, corporate-funded "environmentalists" and the Governor for their efforts to shut down sustainable recreational and commercial fishermen and seaweed harvesters in key locations in Mendocino County and to support a more fisherman-friendly MPA Alternative.

On December 1, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) and Felix Smith, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, filed an historic lawsuit against the State Water Resources Control Board, California Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Sacramento Superior Court.

The seven-count lawsuit alleges violations of the public trust, California Constitution, Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, Fish and Game Code 5937 and State Board Decision 1641 and asks the court to curtail water exports from the Delta. Carolee Krieger of C-WIN, Bill Jennings, executive director of CSPA, the board members of both organizations and Smith are proudly bestowed the "Mother of All Lawsuits" for standing up to the state and federal governments for their evisceration of public trust Delta fisheries! Great work!

While the Governor was making plans to exacerbate the problems of Delta fisheries by building a canal and more dams, President George W. Bush tried to divert $70 million in disaster relief earmarked by Congress for fishing businesses devastated by the salmon closures. However, Representatives Mike Thompson (D-Oregon) and Peter De Fazio (D-Oregon), along with Representatives Baird, Blumenauer, Capps DeFazio, Eshoo, Farr, Hooley, Matsui, Woolsey and George Miller, signed a blunt letter to Bush blasting him for trying to deny fishermen their aid money.

For his leadership role in pushing through the salmon aid money and fighting attacks by the administration, Congressman Mike Thompson is given the "Fighting Chinook" award. Richard Pool, administrator of Water for Fish, who was on the committee to implement salmon disaster relief advisory committee, also receives the "Fighting Chinook" award for his outstanding efforts to restore the salmon fishery and keep fishing businesses in business. Thanks to your efforts, many commercial and recreational salmon fishing businesses weren't forced to close their doors!

While the Schwarzenegger and Bush administrations tried to blame the collapse of the Central Valley salmon fisheries on "ocean conditions, Dr. Peter Moyle, UC. Davis fishery biologist and author, countered with a widely quoted commentary. Moyle said, "blaming 'ocean conditions' for salmon declines is a lot like blaming the iceberg for sinking the Titanic, while ignoring the many human errors that put the ship on course for the fatal collision. Ocean conditions may be the potential icebergs for salmon populations, but the ship is being steered by us humans."

Similarly, Caleen Sisk-Franco, spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, said at a press conference in Sacramento on March 14 pointing out the role of exports and other freshwater problems play in the salmon collapse, "Unless people do a complete paradigm shift, there will be no more salmon. If we don't put water for fish as the top priority, we will lose wild salmon. We can't live without the salmon and we won't be here when the salmon are all gone." Moyle and Sisk-Franco each get the "Fish Quote" of the year award.

Patrick Porgans, independent natural resources consultant, brought big color charts to the same press conference dramatically documenting the direct correlation between the chinook salmon collapse and the rise in Delta water exports while the state and federal governments blamed "ocean conditions" for the fishery disaster. For his persistence over the years in combating "political science" masquerading as "natural science," Porgans is handed the "Real Science" award.

In these times when our fisheries are under assault, having skilled communicators who spread the word about upcoming hearings, rallies and other calls to action is essential. People from three organizations have been key in mobilizing folks on behalf of our imperiled fisheries - and each receives "Messengers for the Fish" awards.

Gerry Neuburger of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance developed a great website, http://www.calsport.org, and weekly e- newsletter with news not only about his organization's latest updates, but press releases, action alerts and articles from other organizations, agencies and media outlets concerning urgent issues impacting our fisheries. Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta, sends a regular Delta news and action alert "Delta Flows," that is invaluable to struggle to save Delta fisheries, as well as maintaining a great web site, http://www.restorethedelta.org, that links the battles of Delta farmers, fishermen, residents and conservationists. Finally, Malena Marvin of the Klamath Riverkeeper, http://www.klamathriver.org, sends out a fabulous e-newsletter about the latest happenings in the Klamath River restoration battles.

I want to give recognition to a woman who has distinguished herself over the past several months with her energy and enthusiasm on behalf of the imperiled fish of the Tuolumne River. Jessie Raeder, Bay Area Organizer of the Tuolumne River Trust, organized people to go to on a cold, rainy night to San Francisco City Hall to speak out against of a SFPUC Plan to divert water from the Tuolumne through a Hetch-Hetchy upgrade. Moved by public testimony on October 30, SFPUCO chose to cap water sales at current levels until at least 2018. Jessie receives the "Mobilizing for the Chinook" award for 2008.

Mike Hudson, president of the Small Boat Commercial Fisherman's Association, deserves special recognition for organizing the highly successful Salmon Aid Festival at Jack London Square in Oakland on May 30 and June 1, 2008 and gets the "Rockin for Salmon" award. Salmon Aid, featuring an array of Bay Area musicians headed by Les Claypool, aims to raise awareness of the plight of West Coast salmon populations, the rivers and streams they spawn in, and the many coastal and inland communities that rely on salmon for their livelihoods and survival.

After Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill containing badly needed restrictions on suction dredge mining in 2007 and took gold mining restrictions out of the budget addendum in September 2008, a coalition of groups persisted in their battle to limit the harmful effects of the recreational mining technique on salmon and steelhead populations as California faces the worst fisheries collapse in history. The Karuk Tribe, Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe, California Trout, Friends of the North Fork, Sierra Fund and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA) recently petitioned The California Department of Fish and Game to restrict the controversial gold mining technique on the Klamath River, its tributaries and five Sierra streams including the North Fork of the American River. For their persistence in this campaign, the two tribes and four conservation groups are honored with the "Preserve the Habitat" award.

In an historic decision on December 2, the California State Water Resources Control Board voted unanimously, 5-0, to revoke the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's water rights to build Auburn Dam on the American River 35 miles northeast of Sacramento. I give the "Auburn Dam in the Coffin" award to Ron Stork, senior policy analyst for Friends of the River, Chris Shutes, Mike Jackson and Bill Jennings from the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Jim Jones, past president of the Save the American River Association (SARA), and Friends of the North Fork for their many years of hard work to stop the construction of the dam.

Debbie Davis, legislative analyst for the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, and Mindy McIntyre, water program manager for the Planning and Conservation League, deserve special recognition for embarking on an auspicious task - bringing a diverse group of environmentalists, anglers, commercial fishermen and Indian Tribes for a "Water Summit" in Davis in October. For organizing this and follow-up events, Davis and McIntyre receive the "Building Coalitions" award.

At virtually any hearing, demonstration or meeting concerning the Delta fisheries, you will see Roger Mammon, Gary Adams and other members of the California Striped Bass Association (CSBA) in attendance fighting against the peripheral canal, increases in water exports and other attacks on our public trust fisheries. So it is fitting that the "In the Trenches" award goes to the California Striped Bass Association and all of its chapters.

Finally, the "Leaping Steelhead" award goes to three very deserving folks, Daina Colegrove, a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, Chook Chook Hillman of the Karuk Tribe and Georgiana Myers from the Yurok Tribe for their grass roots activism on behalf of bringing down Warren Buffett's PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath River.

Klamath River defenders hold a banner over a busy
overpass in Omaha, Nebraska in May 2008 during an
historic protest against Warren Buffett's fish killing
dams. Courtesy of the Klamath Media Collective.

Daina, a Klamath Riverkeeper board member, has been to virtually every hearing held on the Klamath and was key in coordinating direct action protests at the PacifiCorp headquarters in Portland in September and at Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha last May. Georgiana, Tribal Empowerment Coordinator for the Klamath Riverkeeper, played a leadership role in organizing commercial and recreational fisherman and tribal members to attend hearings on the clean water permit for PacifiCorp's dams in October.

Chook Chook Hillman, a Karuk Tribe world renewal priest, told Warren Buffett before a crowd of over 30,000 shareholders that he needed to remove the dams in no uncertain terms. "We want to meet and resolve the issue in a way that saves you money and saves our culture," he said. Chook Chook then presented a dam removal agreement for Buffett to sign.

To all of the "Leaping Steelhead' Awards winners and their allies, congratulations and let's hope that your efforts help to make 2009 a better year for fish and the environment!