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.