the film
Commentaries and editorials

House Dems Blast NMFS over
West Coast Fisheries Collapse

by Patrick Reis, E&E Daily reporter
Environment and Energy Daily, May 16, 2008

House lawmakers sparred yesterday over the recent collapse of West Coast salmon fisheries, with Democrats pointing fingers at the National Marine Fisheries Service and Republicans accusing Democrats of pushing a radical agenda.

"It's the National Marines Fisheries Service's job to manage fish stocks, but for salmon, they seem unable to produce a scientific and legally defensible biological opinion," said Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeline Bordallo (D-Guam).

In the past decade, federal judges have struck down several NMFS biological opinions on water conservation plans involving the Klamath, Columbia-Snake and San Joaquin-Sacramento salmon runs. "This is a failure -- one that will take years to overcome," Bordallo said.

The Commerce Department declared a "fishery failure" for West Coast salmon earlier this month and approved regulations to shut down this year's commercial and recreational catch for California and most of Oregon. The first freeze of the salmon fishery since the West Coast fishing industry began 150 years ago (Land Letter, April 10).

"To their credit, fishers supported the fishing ban at a cost to themselves," Bordallo said. "The National Marine Fisheries Service owes them answers."

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) questioned why NMFS had not been more active in decreasing water diversions and removing dams, which Democrats and fishing groups charge are responsible for salmon's decline. "You've got a group of customers sitting around deciding how much water to take," Miller said of the current water allocation process. "That's different from having independent scientists set the appropriate amount."

Michael Rode, a retired biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game, called the lack of river flow the "primary and only controllable factor" in salmon populations. He condemned NMFS's efforts since 2002, saying they consistently ignored the best available science in producing biological opinions that provided little protection for chinook salmon. "The common denominator in all of their failed biological opinions is that they don't address the lack of water flow in rivers," he said.

NMFS Southwest Regional Administrator Rodney McInnis argued unfavorable ocean conditions were largely responsible for population decreases, with riparian conditions playing a minor role.

Committee Republicans rallied to the defense of NMFS and decried proposals to tear down dams.

Rep. Bill Sali (R-Idaho) accused those wanting to breach dams as taking advantage of the collapse in order to push a political agenda. "I'm growing weary of the extreme agenda to breach dams," Sali said, arguing the breaches would increase reliance on hydrocarbon energy and lower crop production.

Sali cited studies that indicate between 91 percent and 98 percent of juvenile salmon survive passage across dams as an indication that dams are not responsible for fishery failures. "What part of that do those advancing breaching not understand?"

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), noted 30 percent of the electricity rates that customers in her district pay are related to salmon revival efforts. "This nation has rightfully made salmon survival a priority, but there are other impacts that must be considered," McMorris Rodgers said. "What we need now are new approaches, not the same bitter tune against agriculture and energy." Aid to West Coast fishermen included in farm bill

Salmon disaster assistance was tacked onto the farm bill, which the House and Senate approved this week. The conference report includes $170 million to aid commercial fishers and businesses that have been affected by the salmon closure in California, Oregon and Washington.

Inclusion of the disaster funding in the farm bill has faced some criticism. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) raised a last-minute point of order against it on the Senate floor yesterday. Her objection was narrowly defeated.

Commerce last declared a fishery failure in 2006 for Klamath Basin salmon. Lawmakers included $60.4 million in disaster funding for Klamath fishers in last year's Iraq war supplemental spending bill.

Patrick Reis, E&E Daily reporter
Allison Winter contributed to this story.
House Dems Blast NMFS over West Coast Fisheries Collapse
Environment and Energy Daily, May 16, 2008

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation