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Summary for April 14 - April 18, 2008:

Monday, April 14, 2008 

Mid-Coast trolling: Emergency measures

OREGON-WASHINGTON — The salmon season may be a disaster but state and federal lawmakers already are pledging help.

 Gov. Ted Kulongoski declared a state of emergency for coastal communities. Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire followed suit on Friday.

At the same time, Kulongoski said in a press release he’s making $500,000 available for immediate assistance to those ports and towns until federal assistance is available. He also issued an executive order directing state agencies to take immediate action to help mitigate the impact. Some of those actions include job retraining, unemployment benefits and re-employment opportunities. The order also directs the Office of Emergency Management to seek all federal funds that are available to help mitigate the situation.

All state agencies are directed to provide appropriate state resources and to seek any available private and federal dollars to provide emergency assistance to affected individuals, families, businesses and communities. All agencies under the executive order will report back to the governor within 60 days to provide an update on progress and every 60 days thereafter until the emergency is over. – Coos Bay World

CALIFORNIA – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in California as a result of the unprecedented closure of coastal salmon fishing by the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

 The closure is predicted to cost the state $255 million and 2,263 jobs this year, according to estimates by the Department of Fish and Game. The council, a federal panel, voted to recommend the closure at a meeting in Seattle. It is likely to be approved later this month by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the California Fish and Game Commission on Tuesday is expected to impose similar closures in state waters, including Central Valley rivers.

 The proclamation directs the state Department of Finance to make $2.7 million available to refund commercial salmon fishing permits for the 2008 season, and orders state labor agencies to make all appropriate state grants available to help workers displaced by the closure. He also directed the Department of Fish and Game to recommend additional steps to help the fishing industry and to protect fishery resources, and to seek the maximum possible financial and administrative assistance from the federal government.

 The governor has signed SB 562, a bill by Sen. Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, that appropriates $5.3 million from Proposition 84 for coastal salmon and steelhead restoration projects by the Department of Fish and Game. The money is expected to draw an additional $20 million in federal matching funds for these projects.  – Sacramento Bee

Anti-net pen crusader may defy B.C. law

A woman who lives on British Columbia's central coast says she might defy the federal government and relocate migrating salmon away from fish farm enclosures.

 Marine biologist Alexandra Morton says juvenile salmon are in danger because of commercial fish farming in the Broughton archipelago, a group of islands on the northeastern flank of the Queen Charlotte Strait on B.C.'s central coast.

 Young fish are drawn to the farms by their bright lights and the fish feed that is tossed into the water, Morton said, exposing them to viruses and sea lice.

 Morton says she has drafted a plan to catch and release the salmon some distance away from the farms.

 "I was going to pour them into a tank on a fish boat and put them down [in the ocean] about 20 kilometres along,'' she said.

 Morton said officials from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans have warned her that she could face jail time if she proceeds with the plan.

 But she says she might go ahead anyway: "I'm really a law-abiding person, but the trouble is, which law do you obey — the natural law or political decisions?'' – CBC

North Pacific Council kills inactive trawl permits

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council concluded a series of meetings in Anchorage covering a wide range of fishing issues. On the council’s agenda were six proposals for final action, including one eliminating unused trawl licenses in Alaska waters.

 The proposal passed the council 9-1 with council member and Kodiak resident Duncan Fields the only dissenting vote.

 “I think (the council) made appropriate choices in terms of threshold requirements and the exemptions that they did,” Fields said. “My criticism was on a policy basis and limitations on information.”

 Kodiak trawler and boat owner Al Burch said many active trawl fishermen in Kodiak considered the passage a victory.

 The council implemented the limited license program in the mid 1990s to limit access to groundfish and crab fisheries in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska as the first step toward rationalization. Fishing began under the new program in 2000.

 Owners had to meet catch requirements to qualify for the program, which, depending on area, may have been one landing in a certain timeframe.

 According to a draft document published by the council, trawl vessel eligibility is a problem in the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands.

 “In the Bering Sea there are too many latent licenses and in the Aleutian Islands there are not enough licenses available for trawl catcher vessels,” the draft document reads. “Trawl vessel owners who have made significant investments, have long catch histories and are dependent upon BSAI and GOA groundfish resources need protection from others who have little or no recent history with the ability to increase their participation in the fisheries.”

 Some council and trawl operators worried if the council acted to rationalize other fisheries or the prices of groundfish increased significantly, people holding trawl groundfish licenses that haven’t been used in years might use them, economically decimating those who have historically made their living in the fishery.

 “What we’re tyring to do is extinguish the threat of those vessels from coming back into the fisheries and really impacting the fabric of the fisheries as it is now,” Burch said. “We have a pretty stable group of trawlers and longliners that really depend on the fishery.” – Kodiak Daily Mirror

Columbia dam money: What's new?

WASHINGTON — A deal unveiled last week commits federal agencies to spend $900 million to help imperiled Northwest salmon — but just $540 million would go to new projects.

 The Bonneville Power Administration said Monday four Indian tribes would get the $900 million for salmon restoration in return for dropping out of a lawsuit challenging operations of hydroelectric dams.

 At least 40 percent of the money — about $360 million — would go to existing programs over the next 10 years that don't have dedicated funding sources, said BPA spokesman Scott Simms.

 Sara Patton, executive director of the Northwest Energy Coalition, a Seattle-based group that is part of the federal lawsuit, said she was disappointed that only 60 percent of money being spent by the BPA and other federal agencies would go to new projects.

 But Patton said a bigger problem is that much of the money apparently will not go to help endangered salmon, as the lawsuit intends. Instead the money appears to target lamprey and other salmon species that are not listed as endangered.

 "We're suing because Joe Salmon is endangered, and they are doing something for Charlie Salmon and Jack Lamprey. That is good for those fish, but it doesn't help our salmon," she said.

 The BPA, the Portland-based regional power agency, says the agreement should raise wholesale electric rates by 2 percent to 4 percent.

 The deal would end years of legal battles between the Bush administration and the four Northwest tribes. However, it would not affect a fifth tribe that is party to a lawsuit, nor environmental groups that vowed to press on in their efforts to breach four dams on the Lower Snake River in Eastern Washington.

 Federal officials call the agreement a landmark in the long-running dispute over balancing tribal and commercial fishing rights, protection for threatened salmon and power demands from the region's network of hydroelectric dams.

 Environmentalists say the agreement falls far short of what's needed to save endangered fish stocks. – Seattle Times

Fish solo? Read this

The image is disturbing: A small fishing vessel bucking through wave crests and troughs like an untethered bronco. It’s Joe Jones’ boat, the Wild Thang, captured on video by a Coast Guard chopper about 200 miles south of Morro Bay, Joe’s last port.

 It’s disturbing because it’s now known that Joe wasn’t aboard his boat.

 I don’t know much about the man, other than he called Moss Landing his homeport and that he seasonally fished black cod out of Morro Bay. I’ve seen his picture and thought he was a man of pleasant features. He was a husband, father and friend to many.

 His son, Michael, told The Monterey County Herald, “I always thought of him as invincible. He was a father figure to so many people.”

 In short, his life had substance, and his death will be mourned.

 A Morro Bay fisherman believes this is what may have happened: Joe had run his black cod gear and was resetting. He got tangled in the buoy line and dragged over the side. His boat, on automatic pilot and with the buoy line still attached, continued to tow the gear for 11 hours at about a half-knot in speed. The gear probably chafed off and the boat increased in speed to 4.5 knots. And that’s when the Coast Guard took their video.

 Unfortunately, Joe Jones’ death isn’t an oddity, but there is something peculiar in this sad story: Joe’s boat was equipped with a vessel-monitoring system, and yet it took the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration —the agency that tracks the whereabouts of boats through the VMS—some 12 hours to alert the Coast Guard of the wayward Wild Thang. Why?

 Commercial fishermen are now mandated to have these monitors onboard so NOAA can determine if fishers are fishing where they should be. Although it smells to me like the same type of setup that courts use to monitor criminals in their homes, federal officials have touted these systems as safety features: We’ll be able to track and find boats in distress, seems to be the reasoning.

 That may have been the case here, but why did it take 12 hours for NOAA to roll?

 After talking to Coast Guard and Morro Bay Harbor Patrol personnel, the short answer is that while a firmly established protocol for using a VMS in emergencies is well established on the East Coast, where the monitors have been in use for some time, that chain of command is somewhat hazy on the West Coast, where monitors are a new development.

 So, after Joe Jones couldn’t be reached by phone and it was apparent he was overdue, rescue machinery rolled. It’s comforting to know that once it was notified, the Coast Guard threw a C-130 transport, a Falcon jet, helicopter and two of Morro Bay’s rollover boats into the effort.

 Yet I can’t help but wonder: Would a quicker response have saved Joe’s life? How many tens of thousands of dollars would have been saved in fuel and man-hours if his boat were found closer to the coast rather than 200 miles from home? Why can’t I get that bucking boat image out of my mind? -- Bill Morem, writing in the San Luis Obispo Tribune

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 

Killer whales blamed for killing Scotland's seals

Attacks by killer whales may be helping to drive the sudden and mysterious decline of seals around the northern coasts of Scotland, new research suggests.

 British populations of harbour seals (also known as common seals) are falling steeply, with numbers in Orkney and Shetland dropping by 40 per cent in the five years to 2006.

 So far, the declines are unexplained, but a new theory is that killer whales, or orcas, the bulky, black-and-white predators which are in fact the largest members of the dolphin family, have increased their taking of seals to such an extent that it may be causing populations to shrink.

 The harbour seal is one of Britain's two native seal species, the other being the bigger grey seal. But while grey seal populations remain buoyant, harbour seal numbers are tumbling, especially in the Northern Isles, where nearly half of them live. Surveys in Orkney and Shetland in 2001 found 12,635 animals, but when the counts were repeated in 2006, they showed that numbers had plunged to 7,277.

 Several possible causes have been put forward for the precipitate decline, including viral epidemics, shootings, drownings in illegally set nets and the disappearance of sandeels, the small fish that form an important component of the seals' diet. But research led by Andrew Foote from the University of Aberdeen presented at a conference of the European Cetacean Society has turned the spotlight on to killer whales, suggesting that they may be preying heavily on harbour seal pups at the pupping season in June and July (grey seals reproduce in the autumn).

 Orcas are among the fiercest animals on Earth, but in contrast with sharks and terrestrial predators such as tigers and lions, there is no record of them ever attacking people. One of the most gripping pieces of natural history footage ever shot was the scene in David Attenborough's The Trials of Life where killer whales hurled themselves out of the sea and up on to a beach in Patagonia to catch unsuspecting sea lion pups.

 The new study is based on analysing inshore sightings of killer whales around Scotland, and in Shetland especially. It showed a clear correspondence between the seal pupping season and peak orca sightings.

 The researchers constructed a bio-energetic model of the killer whales to get an idea of how many seals might be consumed by the orcas sighted to meet their daily energy requirements. Over the decade from 1997 to 2006, this worked out at 1,648 harbour seals, if the killer whales were preying on all age and sex classes evenly, and 3,829 if they were specialising in naive pups. These figures, likely to be an underestimate, would be adequate to drive a population decline.

 Recent declines of Steller sea lions in the Central Aleutian Islands in the North Pacific could have been caused by fewer than 40 killer whales, according to one estimate, and five killer whales alone could have caused a reduction in Alaskan sea otter numbers in the same area. In Hood Canal, a fjord off Puget Sound in Washington State, two incursions lasting 59 and 172 days by two killer whale pods, 17 whales in total, were estimated to have removed 1,800 seals. In the Southern Ocean, they may also be driving declines in elephant seals and minke whales.

 But why would the predator-prey relationship get out of balance? Five years ago, American biologists put forward a theory that orcas were driving declines in several Pacific marine mammals, including harbour seals, fur seals, sea lions and sea otters, because of a phenomenon known as "feeding down the food web" – a 50-year chain reaction set off by commercial whaling. They suggested that killer whales which once preyed extensively on sperm, fin and sei whales, had switched to smaller prey when great whale populations were decimated by humans. The mass slaughter in the Pacific of more than 500,000 great whales between 1949 and 1969, they said, forced the orcas to switch to the smaller mammals, causing their numbers to plunge in turn.

 However, this theory is not universally accepted and Mr Foote does not think it explains orca predation on seals in the Northern Isles. "It's more likely that the killer whales have moved into the area following the movements of fish stocks, such as mackerel, and have just found there are lots of seals there, and are staying around feeding on them," he said. – The Independent, U.K.

Looks like bad news for the Fraser

Commercial and recreational fishermen may be shut out of this year's Fraser River sockeye salmon run -- given projections that point to plummeting returns.

 Below-average numbers are predicted for sockeye salmon returning to the Fraser River, Jeff Grout, Fisheries and Oceans Canada's region resource manager for salmon.

 Grout is expecting numbers to range from 1.9 million to 2.9 million. That's considerably lower than the historical average of 4.4 million for these fish, which are in the low year of the run's four-year cycle.

 Low numbers last year prompted federal fisheries to prohibit commercial and recreational fishing for Fraser sockeye, Grout noted.

 Fisheries managers will be monitoring the Fraser run through test fisheries. The first sockeye usually show up by late June or early July, peaking in early August, Grout said.

 The fisheries department is expecting returns will sustain the population, he said. – The Province, B.C.

To the editor: Juneau just screwed crab crewmen

Nothing is more infuriating than to simply be ignored. Six years ago, rubber-booted crewmen from Kodiak asked the North Pacific Fishery Management Council a question: Why was there so little discussion of potential crew and community impacts that might result from crab privatization? The crewmen were told, as far as the council’s concerned, crew don’t exist.

 The truth is, the council developed the fishery management plan that came to be called crab ratz. They did so with very little socioeconomic data. Without data you can’t write a discussion paper. And, we know, the council can’t decide on lunch without a discussion paper.

 The only data they had was a fish ticket, so they just used that.

 OK, let’s see, what’s going on here? We’ve got the cannery, boat owner and skipper. Skippers did get shortchanged, but they were on the fish ticket so they weren’t completely denied.

 In the years since implementation of crab rationalization the council has done very little to look back at what happens to towns like Kodiak when you tie up two-thirds of the boats, suck 75 percent of the money out of the paychecks and make the free market illegal.

 The City of Kodiak paid for a study by Gunnar Knapp that remains the best reference on the subject to date. Dr. Knapp couldn’t really go into much depth though, since documentation on the bulk of the participants amounts to 20,000 sheets of scribbled-on carbon paper.

 The Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference (SWAMC) recognized the need for more information and went to admirable lengths by asking fishermen and Fish and Game what would work best to fill the data gap. They commissioned a study by Northern Economics Inc. The preferred option was a program that would use a card-sized license to track crewmen electronically. The program was widely endorsed and passed the Legislature with the show dog name Seafood Harvesting Labor Data Program. It lost half of its funding right away but was still clinging to life when I went to Juneau a couple of weeks ago to lobby with our mayor and other City Council members.

 I speechified everyone I could corner. I told them it was vital for Alaska to have this data so we can represent the interests of the state. And that without it, the NPFMC can continue to act as though working fishermen and their communities don’t exist.

Heads nodded. We went home.

 Last week, the program was quietly left at the curb by the Alaska Senate as a result of a request from the governor to trim programs that were incrementally funded. When I called to ask why the crew data program got the ax, I was told it was because no one spoke up for it in subcommittee.

 Things are busy around Kodiak right now. The cod season just ended, longlining has begun and folks are getting ready for salmon. Am I to understand that after six years of effort, culminating in a turnkey program delivered by SWAMC, it quietly died in subcommittee because there was no fisherman there? I throw squid at every one of you in Juneau who knew about this and did not speak up for the 20,000.

 Does the governor know? It’s hard to believe that this is the kind of cut she would want, given her strong positions concerning Alaska asserting its rights over its own resources, and her skepticism about ratz.

 Six years. The crew data program was developed from the ground up. It had statewide support and was unanimously endorsed by the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly, Kodiak City Council and the Fisheries Advisory Committee. The citizens caught this fish and put it in the pan. And the Legislature turned off the gas and walked away. -- Terry Haines,  a Kodiak City Councilman, longtime local deckhand and member of Fish Heads, an advocacy group concerned with the economic effects of rationalization on coastal communities, writing to the Kodiak Daily Mirror

Chilean fishermen threaten net pen boycott

The Association of Artisan Fishing Organizations (AGO) from the southern Chilean regions of Aysén have threatened once again to organize an international boycott of Chilean-raised salmon should the government fail to declare a “moratorium” on the country’s US$2.2 billion farmed salmon industry.

 “The AGO will continue with its campaign for a moratorium on expansion of the salmon industry and starting May 8, as we already announced, (the campaign) will transform itself into an international boycott of salmon produced in Chile,” the Region XI-based local fisherman association stated.

The warning comes roughly one month after the organization first demanded a freeze on salmon industry expansion. In a declaration released March 7, the AGO called on President Michelle Bachelet to make good on a January, 2006 campaign promise to “cease handing out aquaculture concessions for large-scale farming until studies are conducted to determine exactly how much (fish farming) the waters and ecosystems can handle.”

The AGO and other critics of the once booming salmon industry claim it runs roughshod on workers’ rights and on the environment. Highly concentrated fish farms create tremendous amounts of organic pollution (feces and excess feed) that create “dead zones” in the surrounding waters. Lack of serious regulation has also allowed salmon companies to pump their fish with antibiotics at levels unheard of in other salmon producing countries. Those and other environmental consequences take a major toll on native fish species, on which local, small-scale fishermen rely for survival.

The AGO, which groups together 16 local fishermen groups, is particularly concerned about industry expansion into the relatively clean and disease-free waters of Region XI, an area of northern Patagonia also known as Aysén.

So far government authorities have made no indication they plan to heed the threat, even though the country’s principal local fishermen’s organization – the influential National Confederation of Chilean Artisan Fishermen (CONAPACH) – has since made its own demand for an industry moratorium. Instead, prompted by a scathing March 27 article in the New York Times, the government has turned in the exact opposite direction, coming out very much in defense of the private salmon companies. – Santiago (Chile) Times

California has enough water. Surprised?

 We hear endlessly about the “water crisis.” Politicians are pushing to build more dams, at a cost of several billion dollars each. Even the Peripheral Canal has resurfaced as a solution to our crisis. Yet do we really need to pile on to the state’s debt and wait decades for these “solutions” to be built? Isn’t there a quicker, cheaper, smarter answer to our problems?

 Let’s be clear. California certainly faces major water challenges such as global warming and increased demand. So, some people are rushing to build dams — expensive 19th century solutions to 21st century problems. We don’t need solutions that are expensive, destructive and useless. A little common sense shows us that the real answers to our problems are easy, efficient and smart.

 Why dams don’t work: Dams are expensive. Dams today are the most expensive option for water, costing billions of dollars each to build and maintain. Taxpayers could end up paying a bill that’s almost 50 times — yes, 50 times! — the cost of smarter solutions.

 Dams are destructive. California already has lost 90 percent of its river environment. We have lost 95 percent of our salmon and steelhead habitat. Our commercial fisheries — and the communities they once supported — are barely hanging on as it is. Building more dams will only destroy more rivers and more fisheries.

 Dams are useless. California already has 1,400 dams on its rivers. As a practical matter, there is very little water to collect behind new dams anymore. According to the state, new dams would provide even less reliable water than cloud seeding!

 Why common sense does work: Saving water is easy. Conservation really does work. California has cut its per capita water use by 50 percent over the past 40 years, even as the state has boomed. Simply using the tools we already have — such as new appliances and drip irrigation — we can easily cut our water use another 20 percent and still support a growing population and even bigger economy.

 Recycling water is efficient. Why spray clean, clear drinking water on our golf courses and median strips? We can use the rainwater that runs into our storm drains and recycle our wastewater. Through reclamation and recycling we can save enough drinking water each year for 1.5 million households — roughly all of Los Angeles.

 Storing water is smart. Every year enough water for almost 3 million households — one-quarter of all the households in California — disappears into thin air behind our existing dams. It’s much smarter to store our water underground, by allowing it to seep into the water table. In fact, we already store enough water underground to fill Hetch Hetchy 15 times over — and there’s room for much, much more.

 These three easy steps easily beat billion-dollar dams and canals. -- Tony Bogar, who works with Friends of the River, California’s statewide river conservation group, writing in The Eureka Reporter

Wednesday, April 16, 2008 

Editorial: Time for federal disaster declaration

For the first time in the 150-year history of the West Coast fishing industry, Oregon and California fishermen face the devastating prospects of a season without salmon.

 The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted last Thursday to cancel the Chinook fishing season in an effort to reverse the near disappearance of the Sacramento River’s legendary run of the pink fish known as king salmon.

 No one should point fingers at the council, which considered a range of options for saving the salmon after a dismayingly small number of Chinook returned last fall to spawn in the Sacramento River, once the second largest salmon producer in the lower 48 states.

 Ultimately the council had only one viable option, and that was to halt fishing throughout the salmon habitat all along the California and Oregon coasts. Only a reversal by the National Marine Fisheries Service or an emergency ruling by Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez could change the council’s decision, and neither is likely.

 The aborted season is terrible news for coastal communities in which salmon has long been a financial mainstay not only for fishermen, but for local businesses ranging from fish buyers and ice plants to supermarkets and truck dealerships.

 After two disappointing salmon seasons, a third could push fishermen out of business. Many have barely managed to hang on by turning to other species, such as crab and tuna.

 With no income from salmon, many will be unable to cover boat mortgage payments and moorage fees, and many of the businesses that rely on income from fishermen may also fail.

 That dire scenario can be prevented, or at least mitigated, if the federal government immediately begins the process of issuing the disaster declaration needed before Congress can approve emergency assistance for the fishing industry.

 The governors of Oregon and California, as well as the congressional delegations from both states, urged Gutierrez last month to declare a fishery disaster. He should do so immediately and avoid last year’s needless delay that held up desperately needed federal aid until, for some, it was too late.

 The collapse of the Sacramento Chinook has been nothing less than epic. The numbers of spawning fish have dropped from more than 800,000 just six years ago to just over 68,000 last year, and fisheries experts predict that few more than 50,000 fish will be in the river this fall.

 The National Marine Fisheries Service points to changing ocean conditions as the probable cause, in particular a recent lack of nutrient-rich deep ocean upwellings caused by water temperature changes.

 But ocean conditions are only a partial explanation, and the Bush administration must be held to account for its policies that have contributed to excessive water diversions from the Sacramento River Delta, agricultural pollution and deteriorated habitat.

 If that sounds familiar, it’s because similar policies and conditions contributed the Klamath River’s poor returns, which forced severe ocean-fishing restrictions in 2005 and 2006.

 Last year, the Columbia River Basin, which once had the world’s most prolific salmon runs, saw less than 2 percent of its historic salmon return in the fall. As a result, federal regulators were forced to cut commercial fishing, already at historic lows, in half.

 Fishermen and coastal communities will be in the same position for years to come unless there is a fundamental shift in federal salmon policy. It’s time Congress to conduct hearings on the West Coast salmon crisis and for lawmakers to craft a cohesive, workable policy that will bring the fish back to West Coast rivers.

 It’s also time for the two remaining Democratic presidential candidates, who may be visiting Oregon in the weeks to come, to commit to a forward thinking, flexible salmon policy, one that does not preclude the breaching of dams, if necessary, to save West Coast’s iconic salmon. – Eugene Register-Guard

Editorial: The trouble with salmon

The federal government’s decision to shut down commercial salmon fishing from the California coast to north-central Oregon is a blow to local fishermen and the coastal economy.

 This decision is necessary if there is to be any hope of salmon recovery. It will mean even more if it shocks Congress into a serious investigation of the West Coast salmon crisis, exposes the politically driven policies of the Bush administration and persuades a new president of the need to rebuild wild salmon populations and the economies that depend on them.

 Chinook salmon runs in the Sacramento River in California’s Central Valley have collapsed. The numbers of salmon returning to spawn, which had held steady at about 475,000 for several years, dropped to 90,000 last year and were expected to be half that this year.

 Two factors are suspected. The federal government yielded to the demands of big agricultural interests and diverted so much of the Sacramento’s normal river flow to farmers that many baby salmon — who need free-flowing water to push them downstream — could not make it to the ocean. Scientists also believe that abnormalities in ocean temperatures, possibly related to global warming, could have deprived the fish who managed to get downstream of their food supply.

 Two other coastal systems, historically rich in salmon, are in trouble. The Klamath River Basin experienced devastating collapses in 2005 and 2006. In the huge Columbia-Snake River Basin, a dozen different varieties of wild salmon are listed as endangered or threatened. In both cases, federal policy that disproportionately favors energy interests and agricultural users is a major factor. Karl Rove himself intervened in the Klamath to make sure the farmers prevailed.

 In the Columbia-Snake system, where dams are a huge problem, a federal district judge in Oregon, James Redden, has rejected three federal recovery plans, including one from the Clinton administration. He has threatened to assume management of the dams if Washington cannot produce an acceptable fish recovery plan.

 California’s Congressional delegation said last week that it would seek as much as $150 million in disaster aid to help coastal fishermen. A long-term salmon recovery plan would be of even greater value. – New York Times

Leader Creek pays fine

NAKNEK -- Leader Creek Fisheries, LLC (Leader Creek), an Alaskan seafood processor located in Naknek has agreed to pay a $54,061 penalty to settle alleged federal Clean Water Act violations.

Based on an inspection of Leader Creek on June 24, 2003, and a follow-up inspection on July 7, 2006, EPA and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) found that Leader Creek was not in compliance with its National Pollutant Discharge elimination System (NPDES) permit.

Leader Creek’s grinder broke in early July 2006. During that time, Leader Creek had the following NPDES violations:

· Failed to grind its seafood waste to ½” or smaller before discharging;
· Failed to have a backup grinder or spare parts; and
· Failed to report the broken grinder.

EPA also alleged that Leader Creek:

· Failed to submit an annual report;
· Failed to perform daily inspections of its operations and the surface and shoreline to ensure that the facility was operating correctly; and
· Exceeded allowable discharge amounts.

According to Kim Ogle, NPDES Compliance Manager, it is extremely important for seafood processors like Leader Creek to continuously monitor their facility operations.

“Processors need to make sure that they have the necessary spare parts on hand to fix problems with their pollution control equipment,” said EPA’s Ogle. “Such proactive measures protect the environment and cost processors less in the long run because they will not have to choose between suspending operations and processing out of compliance with their permit.”

The NPDES permit program, a key part of the federal Clean Water Act, controls water pollution by regulating sources that discharge pollutants to waters in the United States. – Press release

To the Brits: Stop Pebble

As Anglo American, the world's second-largest mining company, greets its shareholders at its annual general meeting this week in London, I wish to send a clear message from the far reaches of Anglo American's holdings – Bristol Bay, in southwest Alaska.

The proposed Pebble mine, one of Anglo American's newest projects, is a direct threat to the world's greatest wild salmon fishery and the communities and businesses that depend on it. It is important for shareholders to know that businesses and groups from Alaska, the UK and beyond who support responsible mining do not believe this mine will ever get permitted.

The proposed Pebble mine is a massive open pit gold-copper mine -- the largest in North America -- that would sit in the heart of the rich, salmon-spawning headwaters of Bristol Bay, between three national parks and wildlife refuges. It would cover 72 square kilometres, dewater free-flowing wild salmon streams and use an earthen dam twice the height of the Big Ben tower to hold back over 7 billion tons of harmful mine waste.

I represent Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of Alaskan Native corporations from the Bristol Bay area. Our region is home to an annual cycle of millions upon millions of fish surging upriver to spawn. Along their journey, they feed a world of consumers hungry for healthy wild salmon, our families and countless grizzly bears. Globally, wild salmon fisheries are in drastic decline. Yet the Bristol Bay watershed, with its intact rivers and undeveloped landscape, still supports a thriving, world-class wild fishery. Bristol Bay produces one-third of the world's sockeye salmon, sustains thousands of jobs and is worth about $400m annually. The clean water and salmon are the reason why we call our rivers and streams "the waters of life".

My village is downstream of Anglo American's proposed Pebble mine. Nearly 2,000 pages of Pebble mine plans and permit applications map out the massive scale of Anglo American's project. The vast footprint of this mine, along with the proposed road, power plant and slurry lines, are a direct and inevitable threat to the salmon.

I am worried that this mine will pollute our rivers with sulfuric acid and heavy metals. I am worried that the drainage from the mine and billions of tons of mining waste upstream will ensure that my generation will be the last to grow up knowing the salmon will always return to feed our people. I am worried that the clean Alaskan water and fisheries that the world takes for granted will become yet another memory from our past. Without our fisheries, I fear a bleak and impoverished future for Alaskan Natives living here.

Anglo American shareholders should know, too, that strange political bedfellows are joining strong local opposition to the Pebble mine, making it far from a sure thing.

Just about every commercial fishing organisation in Alaska opposes Pebble, as do many seafood processors. Ardent conservatives and anti-environmentalists, including Alaska's senior US senator Ted Stevens and David Keene of the American Conservative Union, think this mine is a bad idea. Sportsmen's organisations as varied as the Dallas Safari Club and Trout Unlimited don't want the mine built either. Even the retailers that outfit them, including UK-based high-end fly fishing rod and reel maker Hardy, are opposed to the mine.

Right now, commercial fishermen and Alaskan Native leaders are joining Republican sportsmen in backing a ballot initiative to prevent the Pebble mine from operating. Recently, prominent jewellery retailers, such as Tiffany & Co. and Fortunoff, pledged opposition to the mine in recognition of the area's international ecological value.

Sustained high prices for gold and other metals are fuelling mining across the world. While Anglo American can choose to go elsewhere for business, there's no replacement value or supplemental industry for Alaska's wild salmon fisheries.

My people have lived on these Alaskan lands since time immemorial. Now, when stock markets are volatile and the US dollar is sliding, Bristol Bay fisheries offer economic and social stability. If Bristol Bay has clear running streams and healthy wild salmon, the world can reap the commercial and recreational value of the fishery, while we will have food for our families and the strength of our cultural traditions to hand down to our children and grandchildren.

The proposed Pebble mine has the potential to do real harm to Anglo American's reputation -- you can't force a community to accept a mine it does not want. Although Alaska is pro-development, we draw the line at projects that threaten our wild salmon.

Anglo American shareholders should understand, as they go into their annual general meeting, that we will stand firm in our opposition to the Pebble mine. – Bobby Andrew, writing in The Guardian, UK

Thursday, April 18, 2008 

Editorial: Time for disaster funds & now!

For the first time since the birth of the West Coast fishing industry more than a century ago, Oregonians are facing a summer without salmon.

The Pacific Fisheries Management Council voted to cancel the 2008 commercial and recreational fishing seasons for Chinook salmon in the ocean waters off both Oregon and California.

It’s going to be a rough year for a lot of fishermen and for coastal communities where charter boats and commercial vessels dock. There will be boats lost to foreclosure and businesses going bankrupt. Real people in places like Newport and Depoe Bay will suffer very real economic tragedies.

But the federal fisheries managers who shut down the salmon season simply had no other choice.

Given the stunning collapse of Chinook runs in the Sacramento River — the West Coast’s last great spawning powerhouse and the river that produces most of the salmon swimming off the coasts of Oregon and California — many marine scientists say the closure is a key to saving the Pacific salmon fishing industry.

Just six years ago, 775,000 adult Chinook returned to spawn in the Sacramento and its tributaries. Last year, the salmon count in the Sacramento basin had fallen to 90,000, well below the minimum needed to maintain a healthy fishery, and the return for this year is projected to be a record low of 58,000 fish.

To keep catching Chinook this summer would have been the salmon fisherman’s equivalent of a farmer eating his seed corn.

That said, fishermen and everyone else in Oregon’s small coastal communities do still need to eat.

We know commercial fishermen to be a resourceful breed. While a few will undoubtedly be sunk by this economic torpedo, most have diversified to the point that they aren’t exclusively dependent on salmon. Thanks to tuna, crab and groundfish, they will survive financially to fish another summer.

Oregon’s charter boat skippers got a small concession from the fisheries management council, which decided to allow limited recreational fishing for coho salmon on holiday weekends this summer. (Their counterparts in California got no such exception.) Like the commercial boats, they’ll also be going after tuna and other species.

The communities most affected by the salmon closure will need some economic aid. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said he will make available $500,000 from his strategic reserve fund to help. That’s a start, but the need will be much, much greater.

The federal government is going to have to step in and help. Kulongoski was joined last week by the governors of Washington and California in writing letters seeking a federal disaster declaration because of the salmon shutdown. We hope Congress will act quickly in granting the declaration and allocating the much-needed disaster relief. – Corvallis Times Gazette

More bad news for the Fraser

Sockeye salmon returning to the Fraser River are expected to arrive in very low numbers this summer.

 The current estimate is for 2.9 million Fraser sockeye to return, according to Pacific Salmon Commission chief biologist Mike Lapointe.

 That’s a far cry from the good years when 10 to 20 million sockeye came back, and it may lead managers to ban all commercial and recreational sockeye fishing this season.

 “It’s going to be pretty slim pickings,” Lapointe said, adding a single very limited opening is likely the best the commercial fleet can expect.

 A bad fishery this year is no surprise. Sockeye run on a four-year cycle and this is the low year of the cycle. In the past that would have meant a lower return in the order of four to five million fish.

But in addition, the salmon now returning are the product of the disastrous 2004 season when the disappearance of 1.3 million sockeye sparked a firestorm of controversy and finger-pointing.

 Barely 500,000 fish made it back to their birth streams that year, a dangerously low level to spawn and maintain stocks.

 “We’re not expecting much,” Lapointe said.

 If enough salmon do come back now to help rebuild the run, he said, it will demonstrate their resiliency.

 Last year, 6.4 million Fraser sockeye were expected but barely a third that number showed up.

 Sockeye runs over the past two years are thought to have been hammered by hot ocean temperatures that left them underfed and vulnerable to predators.

 So far biologists say this year’s sockeye run likely faced more moderate ocean temperatures.

 High river temperatures are also deadly to salmon and are thought to be a major cause of 2004’s missing salmon, along with overfishing, poaching and poor estimates.

 Lapointe said the average mountain snowpack suggests hot river water shouldn’t be a major threat so long as there’s no quick melt.

 Commercial fishermen don’t have high hopes, according to United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union spokesman John Krgovich.

 “Everybody’s tightening whatever’s left to tighten,” he said. “I suspect we’re not going to see much fishing at all,” added Craig Orr of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society. – Peace Arch News

Wave energy farm on hold

There will be no giant buoys or train-sized devices bobbing in the ocean off the Mendocino Coast for at least two years, PG&E officials said as they unveiled a three-year plan to study ocean wave energy during a Mendocino County Board of Supervisors meeting.

 "We're moving slowly, incrementally," said William Toman, PG&E's Renewable Resource Department's senior program manager.

The placement of energy-harvesting devices is not allowed under PG&E's preliminary permit, granted last month, to study 68 square miles of ocean near Fort Bragg, he said, seeking to assure supervisors and concerned citizens attending the meeting that they would have plenty of time to comment on studies before any devices are floated.

"This is not a fait accompli," Toman said.

PG&E has applied for $6 million in California Public Utility Commission emerging technologies funds to pay for its wave energy studies along the coast of Mendocino and Humboldt counties.

There are about 80 different kinds of wave-harvesting technologies available, but Toman said he expects only about 10 will be ready to test when PG&E is ready to deploy.

At that time, PG&E expects to build the infrastructure and invite companies that own viable devices to hook up for the testing phase. -- Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Yukon fish gaining popularity

ANCHORAGE – Bragging doesn't come naturally to Marvin Okitkun, but the Yup'ik Eskimo fisherman doesn't miss a beat when talking up king salmon, the valuable fish that makes life possible for villagers on the cash-poor Yukon River delta.

 "Once you've tried our salmon, you wouldn't want to have any other salmon from any other place," Okitkun said. "To us, everything else is hype."

 The sterling reputation of the Yukon king is buoying the fragile economies of the tiny delta villages, which are among the state's poorest communities. Strikingly high fuel costs and disastrously low fish counts in the last decade have pushed the mostly Alaska Native region deep into poverty.

 To survive, local fishermen have immersed themselves in the language and mindset of the modern gourmet in what has become a successful courtship of the upscale commercial seafood market.

 With help from a federal fisheries program, they are learning to tout the fish's exceptionally high fat content and lifetime in the wild as sources of health benefits and superior flavor.

 The fish naturally store enough fat to survive the 2,000-mile journey up the Yukon to spawn. Most wild salmon swim shorter distances and build up less fat as a result.

 "Yukon salmon come from well-managed salmon runs and they are not farm-raised," said Eunice Alexie, 43, of Pitka's Point. "They're all-natural, with 34 percent healthy omega-3 oils."

 Alexie recently traveled from her Yup'ik Eskimo village of 110 people to the Boston International Seafood Show to showcase the Yukon fish for Kwik'Pak Fisheries. The company was created in 2002 through a federally sponsored nonprofit to help delta residents secure a niche in the cut-throat international salmon market.

 "We want to build an economy based on the fishery," said Jack Schultheis, Kwik'Pak's Anchorage-based sales manager. "We don't have anything else."

 Foodies are responding to the marketing push by Kwik'Pak and the few smaller processors left on the delta. Several newspapers and seafood publications have featured the Yukon king in culinary write-ups since the campaign took off several years ago. The fish appeared on Food & Wine magazine's "Best New Ingredients" list of 2008.

 "I've been serving Yukon salmon each season for three years," said David LeFavre, executive chef of the tony seafood restaurant Water Grill in Los Angeles. "I think it's got great fat content. It sears up, grills and sautes incredibly nicely."

 But the fishery needs more than good publicity to survive. The Yukon delta is hundreds of miles from the state highway and railroad systems. Local villages can accommodate only small planes on their air strips, pushing up shipping costs.

 Annual returns of the two main salmon species in the summer fishery king and chum have rollercoastered in recent years.

 In the late 1990s, western Alaska's salmon stocks plummeted for reasons that remain unclear. The state declared the area a disaster in 2000. It cut short the commercial season, but allowed fishing for local consumption to continue.

 Fish buyers quit the region, village stores cut off credit and some mushers were reportedly killing their sled dogs rather than watch them starve, prompting a flood of pet food donations to the region.

 Commercial fishing resumed in 2002 with a rebound in the runs, but the fish have never quite recovered. The state may set strict limits on commercial fishing again this summer to make sure enough salmon reach their spawning grounds, according to Yukon area manager Steve Hayes of the Department of Fish and Game.

 The state has an agreement with Canada to allow a certain number of fish across the border and the limits are intended also to compensate for a shortfall last year.

 A commercial salmon fisherman on the Yukon delta generally pockets up to several thousand dollars each season, a significant sum to the largely Alaska Native workforce. The area's average annual income was $16,012 in 2005, while the state average was $35,564, according to Dan Robinson, a state economist.

 The seasonal salary helps roughly 1,500 residents sustain the modernized hunter-gatherer lifestyle that is common throughout rural Alaska. Snowmobiles, off-road vehicles and motor boats are must-haves in the seasonal pursuit of moose, seal, whale, berries and fish. Fuel currently $6 a gallon saps much of the cash.

 According to state estimates, the wild harvest in the region provides at least 600 pounds of food annually per person.

 "I'd say subsistence foods, they are the majority of our diet," said Okitkun, one of 600 people in the village of Kotlik. "A lot of it is salmon. My parents and other elders in town, they have dried salmon every day." – Daily News Tribune, Mass.

The man behind your favorite (formula) TV

The Perfect Storm wasn't just a book about terrible weather. At heart, it was about the awful risks Gloucester fishermen take every time they sail to the Grand Banks. The book became a best-seller and later a George Clooney vehicle because of its vivid detailing of those risks—weather, yes, but also getting yanked overboard by fishing gear or skewered by a swordfish.

 Sebastian Junger, the author of The Perfect Storm, began writing the book as part of a larger project about people with dangerous jobs, including smoke jumpers and war correspondents.

 That never came to pass, but Thom Beers has picked up where Junger left off, making it his business to spotlight occupations in which the risks go way beyond carpal tunnel syndrome.

 Beers is the producer behind Deadliest Catch, which begins its fourth season on Discovery Channel. Catch, which follows the Alaskan king crab fishing fleet in the Bering Sea, is an obvious descendant of Storm and, as entertainment, far outstrips the celluloid version of Junger's book. The show offers close-up looks at raging, frigid seas, footage that has seldom been captured so thoroughly and adeptly on television. That men go out and perform a difficult job in those conditions almost defies belief.

 Catch was Beers' first entry in the growing genre we might as well call Jungereality: programs about dangerous jobs and the men who do them. Ice Road Truckers follows men who drive supplies over frozen lakes in the Arctic Circle, while Ax Men spotlights lumber companies in the Pacific Northwest; both air on the History Channel, and both are produced by Beers.

 The newest Beers show, National Geographic's America's Port, focuses on the stevedores and anti-terror police working the Port of Los Angeles shipyards. Dirty Jobs, also entering its fourth season on Discovery, occasionally chronicles jobs that are dirty and dangerous. And more Jungereality is on the way—NBC recently announced a deal with Beers to produce several similar programs for the network, including one that will follow divers as they attach tracking devices to sharks.

 Deadliest Catch has consistently ranked highly in the coveted 25-to-54-year-old demographic—at times, higher than any cable programming save sports. Will its offshoots enjoy similar success? A closer look at the elements that have made Deadliest Catch so compelling suggests its success will not be easily repeated.

 The subjects on display in Jungereality aren't daredevils—they're employees. But merely working for a living isn't enough. In addition to the man-against-nature theme, the shows add an element of man-against-man (and except for a lone female "ice road trucker," there are no women in Jungereality). The dollars earned by each worker are tracked as the season progresses. The game-show aspect of these programs can feel a bit unseemly—these guys work to feed their families, not to show up the guy working on the other side of the hill. Then again, these are high-risk, high-reward gigs, and knowing exactly how high the reward is informs the viewer.

 The accounting aspect of Jungereality works particularly well on Catch—it's astonishing to learn that a veteran deckhand can expect $20,000 to $30,000 for a few weeks of work, and it follows that the more crabs caught, the better the payoff for the crew.

 On the other shows, however, the chain of commerce is murkier. The ice road truckers compete to haul the most "loads," but there is no explanation of the pay scale: what factor the weight of their loads plays in their paychecks, whether they get docked for lost time, etc. Ax Men counts the trucks full of "green gold" (although the trees are brown) that each company of loggers sends down to the mill for processing, but since the size and nature of the forest tracts the men are asked to clear-cut differ wildly, this, too, feels forced.

 The sinking of the crab-fishing vessel Big Valley during the first season of Deadliest Catch was proof enough that the show's title was not hyperbole. (Five crewmen died, only two of whom were ever found.) The other Jungereality programs labor to remind the viewer that if all goes well, death will be captured on camera.

 America's Port isn't out of its first segment before Beers (who narrates all the shows except Catch) intones about the dockworkers, "When they come to work, they leave their fear of death at home." Granted, working around multi-ton shipping containers is more perilous than, say, bookkeeping, but thanks to high-tech equipment like computerized loading and offloading systems, being a stevedore isn't as tough as it was in Terry Malloy's day.

 On Ax Men, almost every lumberjack gets a turn saying things like "You might get killed on the way to work, at work, or on your way home," and the show goes out of its way to prove it.

 Four companies compete to bring in the most lumber on the show. Three are small firms that patch faulty equipment with elbow grease and jury-rig their operations to overcome a lack of loggers. The fourth, J.M. Browning Logging, is a large operation that employs helicopters to help haul felled trees up the slopes and expensive machinery to keep its operation chugging smoothly along.

 Why have such a big outfit competing with small fries? Because the titular head of the company, Jay Browning, lost an arm in an accident years ago, and each episode contains loving close-ups of his mechanical replacement—proof that Things Can Go Terribly Wrong out Here. Worst injury actually captured in the first several episodes? A wrenched back.

 The breakout stars of Jungereality TV look more like candidates for a night in the drunk tank after a barroom brawl than for a chat on late-night TV. Phil Harris, captain of the Cornelia Marie on Catch, is the archetype—a husky, bearded gent with a voice deeper than the Bering Sea who suffers no fools and drops Bibles full of truth in every episode. On Ax Men, world-weary Dwayne Dethlefs teaches old-school lumber techniques in a similar basso profundo to his son, Dustin, the show's comic relief, who can't resist needling his old man about how time has rendered him considerably less nimble than his son. Ice Road's resident Gruff Gus is Hugh "The Polar Bear" Rowland.

 These working-class heroes are crucial to the success of Jungereality. As the History Channel's marketing campaign is keen to point out, these are the kind of guys who made this country great, building it up through backbreaking labor. In a time when the American Way of Work is seemingly in its death throes, it's comforting to see that spirit still intact, if only at the extreme end of the want ads. Ice Road Truckers suffers in this regard, though, because the raison d'être for the whole ice-trucking operation—keeping a diamond plant in northern Canada operating through resupply—doesn't do much for anyone but the recently engaged.

 Ax Men, for its part, is simply depressing—several loggers mention halfhearted hopes of getting out of the forest and into school or a better job. Good luck: America's Port spent much of its debut episode tracking shipments from Asia, a grim reminder of the loss of our industrial base. It's only Catch, with its fishermen straight out of Jack London, that manages to meld thrills with nostalgia for a simpler, better time. -- Robert Weintraub, a freelance TV producer/writer based in Atlanta, writing for Slate.

Friday, April 18, 2008 

Canadian: Stop Bering Sea Chinook bycatch

Skeena (B.C.) Member of Parliament Nathan Cullen says the accidental catch of B.C. Chinook by Alaskan fishermen has to stop.

 The Chinook are worth millions of dollars and end up in American nets during the Alaskan pollock fishery season, he said.

 Cullen says that DNA analysis shows that half the 130,000 salmon ‘accidentally’ caught by Americans in the Bering Sea pollock fishery last year would have ended up in Canadian rivers, and most of them in B.C.

 Cullen says this only makes it harder for the industry since the high-value commercial fish already have restrictions on them due to conservation reasons.

 “If conservation was an issue before this happened, it’s a huge issue now,” he said.

 “The Chinook is an important species, and one that this area is trying to guard,” Cullen said. “It’s such an insult to injury when having done all that [conservation], 130,000 were caught anyways.”

Cullen spoke with Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn in late February, who promised to contact the Americans.

 “What is the penalty for doing something this bad?” Cullen asked.

 Cullen says there will always be accidental catches but that the scale of the Chinook catch is hard to take.

 The monetary loss to B.C. fishermen goes hand in hand with a loss of spawning stock for future fish runs, he added.

 “This is how you ruin a strong fishery. You make these ‘so-called’ mistakes, said Cullen, adding more money is needed for regulation and monitoring. – Terrace Standard, B.C.

Biologist says too many big fish caught

WASHINGTON -- Commercial and sport fishing destabilizes fish populations by targeting the biggest, oldest fish and leaving younger fish to proliferate too wildly, U.S. researchers said.

 They said fisheries should in fact encourage the taking of smaller, younger fish instead of requiring that they be thrown back.

 "That type of regulation, which we see in many sport fisheries, is exactly wrong," George Sugihara of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego said in a statement.

 "It's not the young ones that should be thrown back, but the larger, older fish that should be spared. Not only do the older fish provide stability ... to the population, they provide more and better quality offspring."

 Writing in the journal Nature, Sugihara said that current policies that manage according to biomass targets instead of individual fish size can also destabilize the population.

 A single large fish will simply grow a little when it gets more food, or lose a little weight when food is scarce. A population of many young, small fish, however, may explode in number or collapse depending on food availability.

 This is especially important to know when trying to rebuild fish stocks, Sugihara said.

 "A high harvest target may be set after an especially abundant period when the population may be poised to decline on its own," he said.

 His team analyzed 50 years worth of records of fished and unfished species from a study set up by the California sardine fishery after its collapse in the 1940s.

 Nils Stenseth of the University of Oslo said fishing practices that stress taking only the oldest and biggest fish can actually force quick evolutionary changes in the fish populations.

 "Many recent studies have provided evidence for this ... effect, and show that the ecological-evolutionary consequences of harvesting can occur at a much faster rate than previously thought," he wrote in a commentary. – Reuters

Rat Island to lose its namesake (maybe)

ANCHORAGE – A federal agency is moving forward with a plan to rid Rat Island of Norway rats.

 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the project will not have any significant impacts requiring further environmental analysis.

 Rat Island in the Aleutian Island chain is infested with Norway rats.

 The project to get rid of the rats is the first whole-island rat eradication in Alaska. The rats arrived on the uninhabited island from a shipwreck in the late 1700s.

 The agency says public comment on the program has been overwhelmingly positive. The project hopes to restore seabirds and native vegetation to the island by getting rid of the rats. –  Fox News

 Judge allows Columbia sea lion kill to go aheard

A federal judge refused to stop Oregon and Washington from trapping and killing California sea lions at Bonneville Dam this spring to keep them from gobbling endangered salmon.

 The Humane Society of the United States filed a lawsuit against the plan and asked for a preliminary court injunction to stop it.

 Humane Society attorneys argued that culling sea lions won't significantly benefit threatened salmon and steelhead runs. Shooting the animals would harm Columbia River kayakers and others who have relationships with individual sea lions, they said.

 But U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman rejected the injunction request. The judge agreed that it appears somewhat arbitrary to crack down on sea lions when fishing kills more salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act. But initial evidence indicates that sea lions do "very serious" harm to endangered and threatened salmon, Mosman ruled.

 "It's a rather remarkable thing to say that (destroying) an individual animal will cause irreparable harm," Mosman said early in the hearing. He later called the Humane Society's evidence of damage "far less weighty" than the government's.

 State officials said they could begin trapping sea lions as early as Tuesday, targeting animals that have been seen eating federally protected fish at the dam.

 The plan authorizes capturing and killing up to 85 sea lions a year for five years. But the states' goal is to capture 30 this year, with first priority given to relocating the animals to captive environments such as Sea World and the St. Louis Zoo.

 About 20 slots have been found so far, said Guy Norman, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Vancouver office. Only about four weeks remain in the spring Chinook's journey upriver to Bonneville, Norman said.

 "Our No. 1 step is to relocate as many sea lions as we can," he said. "Whether we will get to lethal means this year is unknown."

 Anglers and biologists have grown increasingly frustrated with sea lions that feast on salmon gathering to climb Bonneville's fish ladders. Last year, crews counted sea lions eating more than 4 percent of the salmon run, although biologists suspect they probably ate more. – The Oregonian

Editorial: More marine protected areas

The deep blue is a sick place, depleted by overfishing and neglect, and it's in need of a break in the form of more marine protection areas. A recent addition was off the central coast, south of Half Moon Bay.

 The next decision involves a zone along a 150-mile stretch northwards to Mendocino. Up to 15 percent of the offshore area would be off limits to commercial and sport fishing for bocaccio, yellow eye, blue rockfish and abalone, among others. Boating and diving may be permitted, but the overriding mandate would be to leave things alone underwater.

 The protected spots were chosen for their potential as underwater ecosystems where large, older fish, who are the most prolific parents, can rebound in numbers.

 The process to define and decide on these protected areas isn't without pain. The state's hard-hit commercial fishing industry isn't pleased. Its fortunes are clearly in decline: Fish catches have dropped by two-thirds over a 14-year period. The fleet has shrunk as well, from 1,760 vessels to 750. Further limits on fishing grounds will hurt this hard-pressed group, already facing loss of the salmon season.

 But it's in California's long-term interest to protect its coastal waters by carving out marine preserves. Underwater parks off-limits to fishing aren't new -- one of the earliest was at Point Lobos near Carmel in the 1960s -- but the concept was given broader reach in 1999 when the state Legislature approved a coastal inventory of possible sanctuaries along the state's 840-mile long coastline.

 Next week, a task force will decide on the size of the protected areas, with the 15 percent figure the largest among four alternatives. This number is favored by a broad population of environmentalists, scientists and outdoors groups, who have held numerous public meetings in recent months. After that comes a decision by state Fish and Game Commission. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has actively pushed for greater coastal protections, has a role to play by urging his appointees to approve the preserve maps.

 Will the preserves succeed in restoring the world under the waves? Scientists believe that by identifying the most likely places for a fish rebound, there's a good chance. Karen Garrison, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Ocean Initiative, said underwater populations returned in similar designated areas in Australia, Belize and elsewhere in the United States. Give these rocky coves and reefs time, and fish populations return on their own.

 One factor, she noted, will be public support. With only a limited number of park rangers and game wardens available, it will be up to California residents themselves to abide by the look-but-don't-take guidelines that go with marine reserves.

 The preserves offer the best chance to rescue an essential part of California. The protected areas are a sensible step in safeguarding this legacy. – San Francisco Chronicle