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Schwarzenegger's 'Gift' to Californians: the Pelagic Organism Decline

by Dan Bacher

The results of the just-released California Department of Fish and Game annual survey of pelagic (open water) species in the California Delta continue to demonstrate an estuary in collapse.

The Fall Midwater Trawl Survey, which produces indices of “relative abundance,” has been conducted since 1967. "The collapse of Delta species mirrors the decline of salmonids," said Bill Jennings, chairman/executive director of the California Sportfishing Alliance (CSPA).

Sacramento River fall-run Chinook salmon, numbering nearly 800,000 in 2002, dropped to 90,000 in 2007, to 66,264 in 2008 and to a record low of 39,530 in 2009 before rebounding slightly this year. The collapse resulted in the closure of commercial and recreational fishing off the California and southern Oregon coast in 2008 and 2009, a very limited commercial salmon fishing this year and severely restricted recreational salmon fishing seasons on the Sacramento over the past three years.

The striped bass and Sacramento splittail populations reached record low population levels in this fall's survey, while Delta smelt continued their journey towards extinction. Longfin smelt, threadfin shad and American shad populations showed slight increases from last year's abysmal levels, but continue on the path to oblivion.

Results of the 2010 Fall Midwater Trawl reveal that:

Striped bass populations continue to collapse. "The 2010 index of 43 showed a 40% decline from last year's historical low of 70," said Jennings. "The index was 12,473 as recently as 1983."

Splittail populations also matched their historical low. The 2010 index was 0, compared to last year's index of 1. The splittail index was 281 in 1998.

Delta smelt continued to be found at near record low numbers. The index of 29 was only slightly higher than last year's 17. In 1993, the index was 1,078.

Longfin smelt rebounded slightly to 191 from last years abysmal index of 65. "Of course, in 1982 the index reached 62,905," Jennings pointed out.

Threadfin shad numbers also increased slightly to 120 from last years record low of 13. In contrast the index was 15,267 in 1997 and 14,401 in 2001.

The American shad index increased from last years 624 to 683, but this still the fourth lowest index since records have been kept. As recently as 2003, the index was 9,360.

The state and federal Pelagic Organism Decline (POD) team that began studying the fish population collapse in 2005 has pinpointed three factors behind the collapse: (1) increases and changes in Delta exports, (2) toxic chemicals and (3) invasive species such as non-native zooplankton and clams. Another factor is ammonia discharges from the City of Sacramento's sewage treatment plant and other municipalities.

The Schwarzenegger administration allowed the Department of Water Resources to pump record levels of water out of the Delta from 2004 to 2006, resulting in the current Central Valley salmon and California Delta pelagic species collapses.The largest annual water export levels in history occurred in 2003 (6.3 million acre feet), 2004 (6.1 MAF), 2005 (6.5 MAF) and 2006 (6.3 MAF). Exports averaged 4.6 MAF annually between 1990 and 1999 and increasing to an average of 6 MAF between 2000 and 2007, a rise of almost 30 percent.

Rather than trying to restore Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations, outgoing Governor "Fish Terminator" Schwarzenegger did his very best to push these imperiled fish species over the abyss of extinction. He continually attacked the biological opinions protecting Central Valley chinook salmon and Delta smelt and campaigned relentlessly for a peripheral canal and new dams.

He eviscerated the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) by implementing a privately funded MLPA process that took water pollution, oil drilling and spills, wave energy projects, corporate aquaculture, military testing and all other human impacts other than fishing and gathering off the table in its bizarre concept of "protection."

While corporate environmental NGOs and corporate-controlled politicians have praised Schwarzenegger as the "Green Governor" for his incessant grandstanding about cap and trade "green" energy scams, Schwarzenegger's true environmental legacy is the unprecedented collapse of Central Valley salmon and Delta pelagic fish species.

Originally posted to Dan Bacher on Wed Dec 29, 2010 at 09:25 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The governator was never remotely green, and the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trashablanca, tim woods

    CA environment, as well as the rest of CA, will pay dearly for his governorship for decades to come (if not longer).

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt -

    by enhydra lutris on Wed Dec 29, 2010 at 09:48:36 AM PST

  •  An index of "0" (0+ / 0-)

    means what? Is that the actual number picked up by the trawl? How does it relate to actual population in  the river and the delta? Does it mean extinction? Near extinction? Also, are these declines related to the recent drought conditions, and will the rains we're getting now ameliorate the situation?

    Money=speech; every dollar has a right to be heard. The Supremes

    by orson on Wed Dec 29, 2010 at 09:52:41 AM PST

    •  Oh sure, perspective for the data. (0+ / 0-)

      Next you'll want to compare results with a second sample set to check for sampling error.

      You're no fun at all. ;-)

    •  The Indices (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      orson, reflectionsv37

      An index of 0 means that none of this species were found in the trawl. They may be found elsewhere in the Delta, but it does mean they are on the verge of extinction.

      The indices are measures of relative abundance. These surveys are a scientific tools used to determine the relative health of the estuary.

      These declines have nothing to do with drought - and everything to do with the massive export of water to corporate agribusiness and southern California that has taken place in recent years. These water diversions, in turn, aggravate the other factors in the decline: the concentrations of toxic chemicals in the water; the proliferation of invasive species, which proliferate in saltier conditions; and ammonia discharges, which become more concentrated under smaller flows through the Delta.

      The heavy rains will help, but they won't solve the problem: the massive export of water to southern California and agribusiness that results in thousands and thousands of fish being trapped at the pumps and stranded by reverse flows through the Delta.

      •  Thanks (0+ / 0-)

        Excellent diary. I didn't doubt you. I just needed clarification. Sadly the delta is not unique. Rivers are in trouble around the world.

        Money=speech; every dollar has a right to be heard. The Supremes

        by orson on Wed Dec 29, 2010 at 02:01:54 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Well, as an actor he knew how to create illusions (0+ / 0-)

    While corporate environmental NGOs and corporate-controlled politicians have praised Schwarzenegger as the "Green Governor" for his incessant grandstanding about cap and trade "green" energy scams, Schwarzenegger's true environmental legacy is the unprecedented collapse of Central Valley salmon and Delta pelagic fish species.

     Nothing like diverting attention to one issue to cover up the mishandling of another issue behind closed doors.

    My Karma just ran over your Dogma

    by FoundingFatherDAR on Wed Dec 29, 2010 at 10:04:09 AM PST

  •  Excellent diary. This deserves an eKos tag. (5+ / 0-)

    As a salmon fisher, I watch these reports on eco systems that affect fish avidly.  I heard a report (which unfortunately I can't source) that in certain oceans 40% of the phytoplankton have disappeared.  The interview was a person interviewed on Countdown this week.

    Thank you.

    "Never, desist till we ... extinguish this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, will scarce believe that it suffered a disgrace and dishonor to this country.

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Wed Dec 29, 2010 at 10:49:00 AM PST

  •  Today in the Fresno Bee: (3+ / 0-)

    The Central Valley's fall Chinook salmon run surged back strongly this year.... Each major hatchery on Sacramento River tributaries roughly doubled its spawning numbers compared to last year. Some did even better.  The state's Feather River Hatchery, for instance, took in 17,209 salmon, compared to 6,205 last year. The Mokelumne River Hatchery spawned 3,332 -- far more than last year's 690 salmon. Biologists say the total may meet a minimum management target of 122,000 salmon set by federal officials.  In comparison, last year's run was only about 39,000 salmon -- the lowest ever recorded.  The prior two years were both well under 100,000....

    This year the commercial season on the ocean -- source of all wild-caught California salmon -- opened for just eight days.  The decline in Sacramento River salmon -- once the West Coast's biggest run -- has been officially blamed on poor ocean conditions in 2007. A shutdown of normal upwelling currents depleted the food supply that salmon normally rely on in the ocean, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.  Others, however, blame habitat problems in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where young salmon migrating to the ocean confront pollution, water diversions and predatory non-native bass....

    •  Two Major Problems with the Bee Article (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ybruti, Tyto Alba

      First, this report only considers hatchery fish - the numbers of wild fish haven't been tabulated yet.

      Second, this year's run is only good compared to last year's record low. Remember that in 2002, nearly 800,000 fish returned to the Sacramento River system.

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