Salmon fishermen need equal dedication from fish agencies

That is why I, along with 79 other commercial and recreational fishermen, sent a letter to agency leaders in the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Water Resources, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, asking them to fulfill their obligations under the San Joaquin River Restoration Program and bring back our salmon.
 
The San Joaquin River was once among the largest salmon producing rivers in the Pacific. After the Friant Dam was built in the 1940’s, all the water was diverted, the river ran dry, and the salmon was gone.
 

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It has been more than six years since we won the 18-year court battle over the dewatering of the San Joaquin River. The court sided with salmon fishermen and our allies, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, ruling that the fish and salmon management agencies needed to restore and maintain fish populations in good condition – naturally-reproducing and self-sustaining populations – in the main stem of the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam to the confluence of the Merced River.
 
The resulting San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Agreement called for an extensive multi-agency effort to put enough water back in the river to support fall and spring Chinook salmon runs. These leading state and federal fish agencies committed to a salmon reintroduction that was supposed to begin by 2012.
 
As a charter boat captain who takes locals and tourists out sportfishing for salmon, I get upset when overfishing is cited as the cause for today’s depleted salmon stocks. Today’s fleet is not made up of the same fishermen who, in the 1850’s, began gillnetting the large and seemingly inexhaustible salmon population to feed settlers and gold miners. I have been doing this for more than 40 years, and I owe everything to salmon.
 
Salmon fishermen, both commercial and recreational, are very invested in the future of our salmon. We do our part every season.
 
To be a salmon fisherman today demands a working knowledge of water policy and environmental law. It means higher fishing permit fees every season to help pay for habitat restoration, hatchery projects and public education. It means actively engaging in legislative advocacy to fight for more water in our rivers and tributaries, and taking time off from fishing to testify in Sacramento so lawmakers don’t forget about us. It means suing to stop excessive water diversions. It means voluntarily curtailing our seasons, and even going along with season closures, because we understand we need to conserve our resource in order to keep it around. It means donating our boats, paying for gas and crew out of our own pocket to help with salmon conservation and hatchery experiments.
 
Now we ask the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Water Resources, and the National Marine Fisheries Service to do their part.
 
These agencies agreed to terms that would reintroduce our fall and spring Chinook salmon. We expect them to abide by these terms and push forward, through politics and budget problems, to get the job done.
 
Douglas is owner and skipper of the charter boat Wacky Jacky and is known as the matriarch of the San Francisco fishing fleet. For more than 40 years, she has led locals and tourists on salmon fishing trips out of San Francisco’s Fishermen’s Wharf. She is also the Chairwoman of the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association, and has received numerous awards and honors for her work in salmon conservation.