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The following is a revised transcript of the presentation that I gave when I was inducted into the California Outdoors Hall of Fame by Tom Stienstra, Outdoor Writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and award-winning author, at the ISE Show in Sacramento on January 11.

Jerry Brown Green Legacy

Tom Stienstra suggested that I include my 10 favorite destinations for fishing in California as part of my presentation today. These are the American River, Feather River, Sacramento River, Lake Valley Reservoir, Spicer Reservoir, Monterey Bay and Coast, Bodega Bay, San Francisco Bay, Fort Bragg and Trinity River.

Compiling this list was a really good exercise because although I’ve fished Costa Rica, Mexico, Alaska and British Columbia and many other places, this revealed that my favorite places to fish are close to home.

I also discovered that the one connecting thread of my 10 favorite destinations is that every one of these locations, from the Trinity River that is diverted to the Sacramento, to Monterey Bay, to Spicer Reservoir on the North Fork of the Stanislaus, is intimately connected to the Bay Delta Ecosystem.

If there is one message that I urge you to take home today, it is that if anglers, hunters and outdoors people don’t stand up now, this precious ecosystem and all of the great trout, salmon, steelhead, striped bass, halibut, and other fisheries that we enjoy will be lost forever.

There are two stories that I broke recently that really bring this home.

American River steelhead collapse

On December 29, I found out from the Nimbus Fish Hatchery manager the alarming news that only 10 adult steelhead have returned to the American River. Normally there would be hundreds or thousands of these fish. Last year there were over 335 adults by the same time. In banner years, over 2,000 steelhead would have returned by this time.

As one who has spent many hours in meetings, rallies and events working to restore the river, this is very disappointing. The previous low for the river was 200 fish in 1994.

Nobody’s really sure the reasons why the numbers are so low, but the mismanagement of Folsom Reservoir by the Brown and Obama administrations during the drought certainly played a key role. Folsom was drained to only 17 percent of capacity by the same time last year to provide export water to corporate agribusiness and Southern California water agencies. The cold water pool and carryover capacity were both imperiled by the draining and fishing was closed last winter to protect the steelhead.

Delta smelt and pelagic organism collapse

Last night I received dismal results of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fall Midwater Trawl Survey on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. These revealed that the Delta smelt, an indicator species that demonstrates the health of the Delta, reached a new record low population level in 2014.

Department staff found a total of only eight smelt at a total of over 100 sites sampled each month from September through December.

The Delta smelt "index," a measure of abundance relative to the volume of water sampled, is 9, the lowest in survey history. Delta smelt abundance was highest in 1970 and has been consistently low since 2003, except in 2011, according to Steven Slater, CDFW environmental scientist.

The smelt was once the most abundant fish in the Bay-Delta Estuary. It is considered an indicator species because the 2.0 to 2.8 inch long fish is found only in the estuary and spends all of its life in the Delta.

The survey also revealed the continuing collapse of striped bass, longfin smelt, threadfin shad and American shad in the Delta.

  • The striped bass index is 59, making it the third lowest index in the survey's history. Age-0 (young of the year) striper abundance was highest at the survey’s inception in 1967.
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  • The longfin smelt index is 16, making it the second lowest index in history. Longfin smelt abundance was also highest in 1967.
  • The threadfin shad index is 282, the sixth lowest in history and the seventh in a series of very low abundance indices. Threadfin abundance was highest in 1997.
  • The American shad index is 278, the second lowest in history. American shad abundance was highest in 2003.

The dramatic decline of fish species this year is part of a long-term decline, due to massive water exports out of the Delta, increases in toxic chemicals and the impact of invasive species.

The surveys were initiated in 1967, the same year the State Water Project began exporting water from the Delta. The surveys show that population indices of Delta smelt, striped bass, longfin smelt, threadfin shad and American shad have declined 95.6%, 99.6%, 99.8%, 97.8%, 90.9%, respectively, between 1967 and 2013, according to Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) and Board Member of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN).

Both the 2013 and 2014 indices for Sacramento splittail, another native fish found only in the estuary, were not released, but results from 2012 reveal that splittail indices have dropped 98.5% from 1967 levels. In 2011, the Brown administration presided over a record "salvage" of 9 million splittail in 2011, a record year for exports by the federal and state projects.

You can read the full report with graphs here.

What are some solutions to stopping this collapse, one that has been made much worse by the pro-corporate agribusiness policies of the Brown and Scharzenegger administrations?

First, we must strongly oppose federal "drought relief" legislation proposed by Congressman David Valadao that will make things even worse by overriding the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.

Second, we must relentlessly oppose Governor Jerry Brown's Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the $67 billion twin tunnels under the Delta. The plan is based on the premise that taking more water from the Sacramento River above the Delta will "restore" the collapsing estuary. We should support the Environmental Water Caucus Responsible Exports Plan that sets a cap of 3 million acre feet year year and proposes creative conservation and recycling strategies for solving California's water crisis.

Third, join a fishery conservation or environmental justice organization of your choice. The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Restore the Delta, California Striped Bass Association, California Water Impact Network, Klamath Justice Coalition, Friends of the River, Water for Fish and Save the American River Association are among the groups standing up for the fish. These are the groups that I work most closely with.

Fourth, representatives of fish groups, environmental groups and Indian Tribes need to get together and very stridently demand that Governor Jerry Brown, Natural Resources Secretary John Laird and DFW Director Chuck Bonham take emergency action above and beyond anything they are doing now, to address the mismanagement of our water resources to save Central Valley salmon and steelhead, Delta smelt and other species! We must DEMAND, not politely ask, that they take immediate action to address this crisis!

dan-bacher

If things continue in the direction they are going, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, Sacramento River winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley sturgeon and other species WILL become extinct in the coming years. We need to come up with new, creative, innovative and more confrontational organizing strategies to stop the state and federal governments from killing off what's left of the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.

For more information about the 2015 Outdoors Hall of Fame Inductees, including Armand Castagne and Roy Weatherby, go here.

dan bacher

Dan Bacher
Fish Sniffer