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Is Schwarzenegger Terminating Salmon Surveys?

by Dan Bacher, editor of the FishSniffer
November 1, 2008 -- A coalition of fishing and environmental groups is alarmed that an executive order by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued earlier this year could further threaten imperiled populations of Central Valley and Klamath River salmon. The order, made during the budget impasse between the Governor and Legislature, terminated temporary help positions from the state’s payroll.

Jeff Shellito of California Trout, Kim Delfino of Defenders of Wildlife, Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Paul Mason of Sierra Club California say they believe this freeze may have adversely affected the ability of the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to conduct salmon surveys. These surveys are needed to forecast appropriate levels of commercial, sport and tribal harvest of these fish in 2009.

In a letter to Arnold Schwarzenegger and staff dated October 30, they noted that the layoff and hiring freeze required the DFG to leave 31 temporary positions unfilled in the Klamath/Trinity basin that would normally conduct surveys of spawning salmon in that region.

"We are concerned that additional temporary staff positions may have been vacated or left unfilled in other areas, even though federal salmon funds were available to the State of California to fund all these positions, alleviating pressure on the General Fund," they said. "It is unclear whether the freeze on temporary help positions also affected salmon return counts at state and federal fish hatcheries in the Central Valley."  

For the first time in history, the federal government and California Fish and Game Commission this April ordered an emergency closure of all commercial and recreational fishing in the ocean waters off California. With the exception of a November 1 to December 31 salmon season on the Sacramento River from Knights Landing to Red Bluff,  all recreational angling for salmon in Central Valley rivers has been banned.

The DFG assessed the potential damage from the salmon fishing closure and determined the loss to be $255 million and 2,263 California jobs. "But, as part of the emergency fishing disaster proclamation issued on April 10th this year, you ordered state agencies and departments to take various actions to respond to this crisis, including a directive that they 'address the long-term restoration and management of salmon in California,'" the letter continued. 

Congress subsequently authorized $170 million in federal funds to aid families and businesses in California, Oregon and Washington impacted by the biggest and most devastating Pacific salmon season closure in American history. However, not all of these funds have been allocated, according to the groups.

"DFG traditionally relies on temporary hires to conduct its annual salmon surveys.  That is why it would be an environmental tragedy if a decision on an appropriate level of fishing next year has to be made without adequate information.  That could lead to an unsustainable level of fishing being allowed or imposition of an unnecessary ban on all fishing in 2009," the letter continued.

The groups requested the Governor and staff to allow DFG to hire the personnel needed to conduct these important salmon surveys. They also encouraged the state to utilize a portion of the $170 million in federal salmon disaster relief money that may be available to California to hire and pay for these positions.  

"As indicated in your April 10, 2008, emergency disaster proclamation, you recognize (as we do) that California's salmon runs are a treasured state resource and provide significant contributions to our economy and our environment," they said.  "This year’s unprecedented closure of all commercial salmon fishing underscores our collective responsibility to find state and federal resources to help our remaining salmon runs and the fishing communities that depend on them.  To do otherwise would be penny-wise and pound foolish."

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has portrayed himself as the "Green Governor" as he flies around the state and nation, going to conferences and photo opportunities to grandstand about "green energy" and "solving" global warming.

However, the potential impact of his hiring freeze on collapsing salmon populations is just one more example of why Schwarzenegger is the worst-ever Governor in California history for fish and the environment. His administration has presided over the collapse of Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations including Delta smelt, longfin smelt, threadfin shad and juvenile striped bass, due to record water exports by the state and federal governments.

He has consistently vetoed legislation, such as Lois Wolk's Fish Rescue Plans Bill (AB 1806) and suction dredge mining legislation needed to restore Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations.

Meanwhile, he and his staff are campaigning for a $9.3 billion water bond that would fund more dams and "alternative conveyance" - a peripheral canal - that would exacerbate the dramatic decline of Central Valley chinook salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, theadfin shad, striped bass, green sturgeon and other fish.

A Los Angeles Times article written by Miguel Bustillo and Jordan Rau  on August 29, 2005 decribed Schwarnegger as leaning toward a "paler shade of green," due to his propensity to appoint industry representatives to environmental boards and positions. However, it is clear by now that Schwarzenegger's true environmental color is a smelly, toxic sludge brown rather than any shade of green.

Will Schwarzenegger, for the first time, finally stand up for California's imperiled fish and do the right thing by finding the money for salmon survey positions? Will he finally transform himself from the role of "The Fish Terminator" to "Conan the Riparian?"