Posted on April 07 2008
While the state of California wants to lay blame on ocean currents, even commercial fishermen are beginning to believe that the problem of — and the solution for — the collapse of California salmon stocks lies in human management of water resources. “Many fishermen and environmentalists believe the main problem lies in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. They say too much water is being diverted to farms and water districts in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. They want the state and federal government to limit pumping from the delta, which disorients migrating salmon and kills young fish that get sucked into the powerful pumps.” Terence Chea writes that many commercial fishermen now support a state decision to ban salmon fishing this season.
If you want more insight into how quickly a great fishery can collapse, look no further than the Atlantic salmon fishery in the U.S. northeast, which for all practical purposes disappeared after the combined effects of pollution and market demand wiped out stocks in the early 20th century. A interesting account, written by Wayne Reilly, appears in today’s Bangor Daily News. Commercial fishermen, Reilly writes, justified taking enormous numbers of salmon by claiming their weirs kept salmon prices low. “‘If it rested upon the fly fishermen to supply the markets with salmon, the price of salmon steaks would never get below 50 or 75 cents a pound and salmon would be only on the tables of the … rich. It is upon the weirs that the market depends,’ said the [Bangor Daily] Commercial.” In retrospect, the commercial fishermen ensured that salmon would be eaten only by the wealthy.
A century later, we are looking to farmed fish from coastal South America to provide low-priced salmon to California markets.