California groups appeal reduction of salmon protections
January 19, 2012
• Contend that weakening of science-based plan threatens Central Valley salmon
• ‘This appeal is intended to restore science-based, rational protections’
A federal water management plan intended to protect threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead throughout the Central Valley should be fully reinstated, says a coalition of commercial and sport salmon fishermen, conservationists, and a native American tribe.
Their attorneys made the argument Thursday before the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The biological opinion by the National Marine Fisheries Service functions as a water management plan governing water diversions in the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary as well as dams on most major Central Valley rivers.
A district court found that parts of the plan contained some technical problems and sent it back for further review and analysis. The court left the biological opinion in force while federal water managers and wildlife agencies made the necessary fixes.
Large San Joaquin Valley agricultural interests and southern California water users compete for water flowing through the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers that is also needed by salmon, steelhead and other species.
The water users filed lawsuits challenging the opinion’s call for reductions in water exports from the Delta during critical times for young migrating salmon, primarily January through June. The fishing groups, conservationists, and a Native American tribe joined together to defend the biological opinion from the legal challenges.
The biological opinion protects not only federally protected winter and spring run Chinook salmon, but also commercially valuable fall run salmon that the coalition says are the backbone of California’s commercial and recreational fisheries.
“The protective measures under attack by San Joaquin Valley and southern California water interests are the bare minimum we need to keep our salmon fisheries alive,” says Earthjustice attorney Erin Tobin. “This appeal is intended to restore science-based, rational protections needed for California’s native salmon to survive and hopefully one day recover to healthy populations, while at the same time balancing other needs for Delta water.”
The public interest law firm Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed the appeal on behalf of NRDC, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers, Sacramento River Preservation Trust, Friends of the River, California Trout, San Francisco Baykeeper, The Bay Institute, and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.
“If we expect to save the salmon and the thousands of salmon industry jobs that depend on them, we need a fair balance of water, which is what we’re asking the appeals court to support,” says Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.