te or federal incidental take permits

 


DELTA

Captain Steve Smith of the Bay Area "Smith" fishing clan has been fishing Alaska's Kenai Peninsula for 26 years. 800.567.1043


Captain Stan Koenigsberger
 

February 08, 2016    Headlines

 Delta Stripers and Sturgeon

Delta Report
By Dave Hurley

The organizers of the Foundation Sportsmen’s Club Original Sturgeon aka, “Super Bowl” Derby couldn’t have dialed up better weather over the derby weekend, and there were boats scattered to and fro from the upper end of the Delta at Freeport through Suisun and San Pablo Bays into the south bay of San Francisco Bay. The overall participation was down from last year’s 1110 participants, but the top prize money remained over $6000.00 for both Saturday and Sunday at $6287.00. Anglers went out in search of the 57-inch target length starting at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning through Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. Many participants fished throughout the entire 30 hours of the event, and although participation was down slightly, private and party boat operators reported horrendous boat traffic on the Delta throughout the event.
 

Foundation Sportsmen’s Club Original Sturgeon Derby Results

57-inch Target Length

Payout

Saturday Length

Saturday Winner

Sunday Length

Sunday Winner

1st

$6287.00

56 ¾th  

Steve Gollnick

56 ¾th

Lath Yoeung

2nd

$2515.00

57 1/2th

Mike Newman

57 5/16th

Matt Bruce

3rd

$1257.00

59 9/16th

Roy Davis

57 5/16th

Klifford Brueker

4th

$1006.00

56 5/16th

Floyd Porteous

56 3/16th

Manuel Roman

5th

$628.00

58 7/16th

Mike Parker

56 1/4th

Brian Buehler

6th

503.00

55 3/8th 

Gary Faselli

57 5/16th

Jerry Borchers

7th

$377.00

54 3/4th 

Keith Peddle

58 3/16th

Dion Childs

 

Captain Steve Talmadge of Flash Sport Fishing, organizer of last weekend’s Diamond Classic Catch and Release Sturgeon Derby, said, “What a difference a day makes! On Saturday 2-6, we fished near Seal Island with 5 fishermen on board. We had the same plan as the day before. We fished hard with 1 keeper bass and an oversized sturgeon for the day. The day before I had a light load of 2 fishermen, and although one of the anglers was a beginner and did not have a second rod stamp, we had an epic day, hooking at total of 10 sturgeon and landing 6. The novice was on fire using a San Francisco 49er rod, and in spite of some beginner mistakes, breaking off three fish by thumbing the spool, two of the six fish were keepers to 59 inches that were released. Straight eel was once again the bait of choice. I like the tides for the next two weeks, and now is the time for sturgeon fishing.”

Captain Bill Clapp of Bill’s Sport Fishing was also out of Martinez Marina, along with Jonathan Smith, who ran his other boat.  Both boats were not entered into the derby. They started off near below the Benicia/Martinez Bridge where Rich Rodriguez of Fremont landed a fat 58-inch sturgeon on salmon roe on Smith’s boat. He was in 40 feet of water while Clapp was anchored in 34 feet of water. Clapp said, “We had a nice steady stream of fish coming through during the afternoon hours. Later in the day, we ran up to the creek channel between the two sand bars south of the ships, but there were only a half-dozen sturgeon marked in the area of which a young angler caught and released a big shaker on my boat, also on salmon roe.”

Captain Steve Mitchell of Hook’d Up Sport Fishing out of Pittsburg fished the entire length of the derby, and they found fantastic action, hooking a total of 13 sturgeon with four keepers that were released as the fish were not close to the target-length, and oversized, and a number of shakers just short of the 40-inch legal mark. He said, “We had a lot of action throughout the derby, and with the heavy boat traffic, we went into the shallows near the top of the Fleet.  There were boats running full out in 2 feet of water, and the boat traffic slowed down the bite for several hours until the water calmed down. We landed sturgeon in deep water as well, and the pattern was all on the incoming tide. The fish weren’t biting on the outgoing tide, but once the tide turned around, it was like the dinner bell turned on.” Mitchell was using salmon roe and lamprey eel.

Tony Lopez of Benicia Bait fished the derby throughout, and he said, “Most of the winning fish came out of either the Napa River or near Alviso, and we had a rough time hooking a derby fish. We were in deep water in the main river, and our boat was rocked so hard from a wake that the rods came out of the holders and we had gear all over the deck. At Benicia Bait, Curtis Hayes has been shrimping all week long, and we were able to make our bait reservations with at least ½ pound of fat grass shrimp for all customers. The quality is really good, and there are no pile shrimp in the mix as shrimping has improved over the past few days.”
Bait was a big concern prior to the derby, but several shops were able to stock up with ghost shrimp for the first time this season.
In the upper Delta near Freeport, Johnny Tran of New Romeo’s Bait and Tackle reported the Sacramento River has cleaned up nicely with minimal debris, and eel/nightcrawler or pile worm/ghost shrimp combinations are working for sturgeon from Freeport to Clarksburg. Stripers are starting to show up in Sutter Slough with sardines coated with garlic spray while stripers are also found in the Deep Water Channel with frozen shad or blood worms. The cleaner water will bring out the striped bass out of hiding.
Boaters need to take extra caution while motoring under the Three Mile Slough Bridge as the clearance is much lower at the bridge due to construction crews running rigging across the entire bottom length of the bridge with rows of pipes hanging down. These pipes have the ability to rip off a rocket launcher or radar unit from the top of a boat, particularly during high tide or in the fog. There are warnings posted a Brannan Island State Park, but the clearance is deceiving for those approaching the bridge.
With most anglers concentrating on sturgeon in the Sacramento River, the number of fishermen working in the San Joaquin has diminished over the past month. Where the San Joaquin was once a hotbed for sturgeon fishermen with legendary Delta fishermen such as Jolly Jay Sorensen anchoring off of the pipes at Twitchell Island, the Patio, or the deep hole near Steamboat Marina, sturgeon fishermen are now avoiding the San Joaquin.
The best fishing remains in the clearer water in the south Delta near Holland Tract or in Discovery Bay. Doug Chapman of Gotcha Bait in Antioch said, “Bait was hard to get for us this weekend for the derby, and we were unable to obtain ghost shrimp. Striped bass are still caught from the Antioch Fishing Pier, but most of the linesides are small. The best action has been in either Holland Tract or Discovery Bay, and one of our employees landed a 10-pound largemouth bass on a jumbo minnow in Holland Tract.” They have plenty of minnows of all sizes in the shop.

 


Officials slash pumping to save threatened Delta smelt
By Alex Breitler Record Staff Writer 

More and more worried about the fate of the tiny Delta smelt, federal wildlife officials are requiring cuts in the amount of water that can be pumped south from the estuary.
They are the first such mandatory cuts in two years.
The decision is a bad sign for water users who rely on the Delta, since runoff from impending El Niño storms is needed for parched cities and farms from the Bay Area to San Diego.
Still, the cuts that took effect Friday were not as stringent as some scientists had recommended. The Smelt Working Group, an advisory science team representing multiple agencies, had called for stronger protections, citing in part the record-low number of fish. “Any level of salvage observed at either (pumping) facility will be of concern,” the group said in its weekly report.
An area manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also expressed concern over the state of the smelt but decided that the strongest protections recommended by the scientists were not yet called for.
The decision to restrict pumping is based on rules written in 2008 to protect smelt from the effects of the giant pumps. Water users sued to block those rules, but ultimately they were upheld by the courts.
While smelt frequently have been blamed for the drought, the restrictions that kicked in Friday were the first since March 2013. It is a cruel irony of California water that the storms so desperately needed also are more likely to draw smelt toward the deadly pumps in the south Delta, which makes it harder to obtain water from those storms.
How does this happen? Rainstorms wash sediment into rivers, particularly the Sacramento, which then rolls muddy and swollen into the Delta. If the pumps near Tracy are running, some of that muddy water is drawn farther south.
Problem is, the smelt tag along because they like muddy water. It helps them hide from predators. They follow the muddy water until they’ve wandered dangerously close to the pumps, which are so powerful that the Old and Middle rivers in the south Delta actually run backward.
No smelt are known to have been killed by the giant pumps this year, according to the Smelt Working Group, but the scientists recommended reducing “reverse flows” anyway. That’s because they’ve found smelt not far away in the San Joaquin River, and because they are concerned that coming storms will draw smelt even closer.
Smelt are so precariously perched on the edge of extinction that waiting for a few of them to show up at the pumps would be risky, the group said.
In the end, however, Fish and Wildlife agreed with state and federal water agencies that less drastic cuts in pumping will suffice for now.
Ted Thomas, a spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources, said Friday that it was not yet clear how much water officials will be unable to pump because of the fish. Many other rules also govern how the pumps are operated.

— Contact reporter Alex Breitler at (209) 546-8295 or abreitler@recordnet.com. Follow him atrecordnet.com/breitlerblog and on Twitter @alexbreitle

 

Three species plunge to new record-low populations

Species in peril in 2015

• Delta smelt: Lowest population on record, 99.58 percent lower than record high in 1970

• Longfin smelt: Lowest population on record, 99.99 percent lower than rec...

By Alex Breitler 
Record Staff Writer
 

The bad news: Delta smelt once again slipped to a new record-low population in 2015.
The good news: There are still Delta smelt.
“I continue to be impressed with the persistence of smelt,” Peter Moyle, an expert on California’s native fishes, said Wednesday. “There are so few fish out there I don’t see how they find one another to spawn.” But it’s still hard to be optimistic about their fate, he said. The smelt was one of three fish species in the Delta to reach an all-time low in this fourth year of drought, according to extensive annual surveys conducted by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife from September through December.
“It seems to be about whether (smelt) are going to be extirpated in the wild in one, five or 10 years, not whether they have a real future in the system,” Moyle said.
While smelt are small and seemingly insignificant, their health is an indication of the health of the Delta as a whole.
Six smelt were found this year, a low number when you consider how extensive the fall surveys are. Typically, crews spend about nine days each month trawling with a 12-foot wide net at 122 different locations around the Delta.
It wasn’t a sure bet that they would find any fish. Moyle said it’s possible a few smelt just got lucky in finding each other to mate. Or there could be a hidden population somewhere in the Delta. Or smelt are adept at dodging the nets of the surveyors. Whatever the case, the numbers are “very low,” he said.
“It’s the same old story, except eventually this story ends,” said Jon Rosenfield, a biologist with The Bay Institute, an environmental group. “It looks like we’re coming close to the end for Delta smelt and longfin smelt.”
The latter species, a cousin of the Delta smelt, appears to have fared even worse in 2015. The surveys turned up just three longfin smelt. None at all were found during the first three months of searching. A third species, American shad, also reached a new record-low. Striped bass, a popular sport fish that is not native to the Delta, fell to their second-lowest population level.
It’s been six decades since a species in the Delta went extinct.
Delta smelt live just one year and are therefore especially vulnerable in years with low flow. Not only was this another dry year, but state officials once again weakened Delta flow standards in order to hold back more water in upstream reservoirs. That strategy was intended in part to help endangered salmon above the Delta. But in the end, there still wasn’t enough cold water in the reservoirs to allow those salmon to successfully breed.
Rosenfield says water deliveries to senior water-right holders in the Sacramento Valley were too generous, leaving the salmon and the smelt both in the lurch.
State water board staff said earlier this month that they knew decreasing Delta flows would result in “less favorable” conditions for smelt, but said the tradeoff “appeared to be reasonable based on the information available at the time.”
The board acknowledged “real concern that these species may be at the brink of extinction” and said the status quo of the past two years is not sustainable. The board approved an order that calls for improved planning next year and a larger “margin of safety” for fish and wildlife.
Sacramento Valley growers have said that they worked over the past two years to manage a limited water supply for all users — farms, fish and cities — and that all have suffered from lack of water during the drought. Among other things, growers changed the timing of their diversions to save water upstream. And putting water on rice fields has the added benefit of helping migratory birds.
Still, Rosenfield said that while assistance can be provided to farmers during a drought, species can’t be resurrected once they go extinct. Asked if the smelt have passed the point of no return, he said, “We don’t know.”
But, he added, “Their record is they’ve survived millions of years and responded when there’s flow and gone down when there’s less flow, so all of the species we have now are survivors. … They’ve demonstrated they can survive if we give them the chance.”

— Contact reporter Alex Breitler at (209) 546-8295 or abreitler@recordnet.com. Follow him atrecordnet.com/breitlerblog and on Twitter @alexbreitler


Gov. Brown’s plan doesn’t help fisheries or address flood protection
But it’s mostly the backroom deal kind of fix

 

BY JOAN BUCHANAN

AND MICHAEL MACHADO

Special to The Bee

Gov. Jerry Brown’s bid to build tunnels to isolate the Delta from its natural water supply has been repackaged as the “California Water Fix.”

It’s curious terminology indeed. Surely he can’t mean fix as in a “solution,” since this proposal solves none of the water problems plaguing California. His twin tunnels will produce no “new” water in the face of the annual shortage of at least 5 million acre-feet resulting from a promise to deliver more water than is available in the Sacramento River watershed.

Nor will Brown’s plan “fix” the fisheries dependent on Delta waters, which have been brought to the edge of extinction by reliance on water exports from the Delta. In fact, the operation plans for the tunnels would continue current pumping practices from channels in the south Delta in drier years. Fortunately, federal regulators saw through this charade and the attempt to gain long-term approvals were abandoned.

Nor does the proposal “fix” or even address the flood protection problems in the Delta, which threaten big portions of its cities, several major highways and rail lines, critical electrical and natural gas transmission facilities and freshwater supply facilities for Delta and Bay Area communities.

So maybe this is the “needle in the arm” type of fix, creating temporary euphoria and an escape from reality, but leaving nothing to face the future.

True, some jobs would be created to build this Chunnel-size boondoggle, but temporary construction jobs will disappear. Investing in regional water sustainability would create far more jobs per each million dollars spent, according to University of Pacific economist Jeffrey Michael.

Those who receive water will face significantly higher water costs and increased taxes to repay the $15 billion to $50 billion cost of the project without any meaningful increase in water supply. Water will go to the highest bidders to plant more almonds and pistachios in the desert for overseas export without addressing existing water shortages and quality issues that are impacting families and businesses throughout the state. Perhaps most importantly, we will have squandered the money which could have actually addressed and resolved these problems.

No, what this “fix” has been is the “Tammany Hall” type, in which the politicos make decisions that can’t withstand the light of day. There is no planned vote of the people, or even a vote of the Legislature or Congress authorizing this proposal.

Water has always been and should be a public discussion in California. In 1933, California voters authorized funding for the State Water Project. In 1982, voters rejected the peripheral canal. But the California Water Fix has never faced public oversight and was written behind closed doors, by and for special interests. Rather than provide responses to the thousands of comments from concerned citizens on environmental documents before moving forward, the governor is attempting to push through permitting of the proposal.

We need real solutions to our water problems, not needles in the arm and backroom deals. We need to spend our money to integrate flood control and water supply opportunities; reduce our export demands on the Delta so its people, farms and creatures can prosper; and conserve, recycle and reuse our available water supplies.

The California Water Fix doesn’t fix anything at all.

Joan T. Buchanan of Alamo served in the state Assembly from 2008 to 2014 and can be contacted at Joantbuchanan@gmail.com. Michael J. Machado of Linden served in the state Senate from 2000 to 2008 and can be contacted at mmfrmrpublic@gmail.com.


Readers, this is one of the best articles that simply explains what is going so wrong with our salmon fisheries. Far more than the current drought, the decisions made by the Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources to divert ever more water from our rivers and Delta to aquiculture during this drought is driving salmon and many other species to extinction. The current drought is their great excuse.
I want to commend Alastair for the time and effort he put in to inform the public on how we could lose all fisheries connected to the Delta is just a few more years. The article is a tad long but an accurate take on the cuase and effects of drought and water diversion on our fisheries.
Mike Aughney


 Salmon RIP? 

Reckless water management might wipe out California's Chinook salmon — and the state's fishing industry along with it.

By Alastair Bland

Last winter and spring, thousands of adult Chinook salmon nosed upstream past Richmond, through the Carquinez Straits and into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, on their way to spawn in the Sacramento River. At about the same time, officials at Shasta Lake, a few miles north of Redding, did something that critics say was stupid, negligent, and illegal: They opened the spigot on the reservoir's outflow pipes in order to send extra water downstream for farmers — and they didn't save enough for the fish.

Shasta Lake's levels dropped so low, and the summer grew so hot, that even the deepest, darkest, coldest corner of the lake — the pocket of water abutting the base of the dam — grew steadily warmer. By the time the salmon had reached their summer spawning grounds, the water exiting Shasta Lake and flowing past the fish was almost 60 degrees Fahrenheit — dangerously warm for temperature-sensitive fertilized Chinook eggs. For the second summer in a row, environmentalists and fishermen say, an entire year class of the endangered winter-run Chinook was mostly annihilated.

Just how this happened, and whether it could have been avoided, has been the source of finger pointing, excuse making, and legal wrangling. Officials with the US Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that operates Shasta Dam, have blamed the drought for the mass salmon die off and say there simply wasn't enough water to go around. Louis Moore, spokesperson for the bureau, said in an interview that his agency worked with all stakeholders to insure that water was released from reservoirs at the most optimum time, considering the needs of farmers as well as fish and wildlife.

But environmentalists and fishermen note that by the end of summer 2015, many farmers in the Central Valley had received 75 percent of their water contract allotments, while at least 95 percent of the endangered winter-run Chinook's fertilized eggs and newborn fish had been killed. Impacts to the fall-run Chinook — the run that supports the coastal fishery — are still being assessed.

Environmentalists say the Bureau of Reclamation had the power to protect the fish but opted to prioritize the state's agricultural industry instead. "The way this keeps getting told is that drought killed the winter-run Chinook salmon," said Jon Rosenfield, a conservation biologist at The Bay Institute. "But the agencies just chose not to protect the endangered winter run, the spring run, steelhead, and the fall run — which is commercially valuable."

Indeed, there's likely never been a worse time to be a salmon in California than right now. Dams and levees have made most of the state's major rivers incapable of supporting wild salmon, and increasing human demand for water threatens what habitat remains. Governor Jerry Brown insists he has a plan to save the delta and its salmon, but critics warn that his vision of diverting the Sacramento River underground through two giant tunnels and into the San Joaquin Valley will destroy the delta ecosystem.

Global warming will also have its impacts on salmon. Long-term forecasts call for reduced precipitation and warmer winters, meaning less snowpack and cold water — exactly what salmon need during their inland life stages.

Salmon are known to be a resilient species. If their habitat remains intact, they can bounce back from population drops in just a generation or two, thanks to short life spans and female fish that carry thousands of eggs. That means if plenty of rain falls this winter and the next, the numbers of salmon in California could rise back toward the one-million-adult mark.

"But they're only resilient to a point," noted Doug Killam, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife who studies the spawning fish each year near Redding. "The run is on the edge now. The bottom line is: Fish need water, and if it doesn't rain soon, they're going to be in real trouble."

And so is California's fishing industry.

If the state's reservoirs don't refill this winter, extinction of the winter-run Chinook will become an imminent threat. Fishery managers will probably curtail the ocean fishery in 2016, and may even close it to protect the winter run from decimation. If that were to happen, it could throw the coastal fishing economy — already reeling from the closure of the Dungeness crab season — into turmoil.

Last January, officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) sent a letter to California water officials warning them that their temperature modeling system wasn't working. "[Throughout much of the summer of 2014, actual water temperatures ... were upwards of 4 [degrees Fahrenheit] higher than Sacramento River temperature modeling results," the letter stated.

NMFS regional administrators Maria Rea and William Stelle advised David Murillo, regional director of the Bureau of Reclamation, to recalibrate his agency's temperature modeling system in order to avoid a repeat of 2014, when the bureau released warm water from Shasta Lake onto millions of winter-run salmon eggs and newborn fish, destroying nearly all of them.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The Bay Institute sent water authorities a similar warning notice in May.

But in the end, almost the exact same thing happened in 2015 as the year before. "We classify this as a 'year class failure,'" said Rea, referring to 2015, in an interview. "We think of the Chinook as a three-year fish, so losing two years in a row is serious."

Before the Gold Rush, Chinook salmon swarmed for months each year in the Central Valley's river system. There were easily a million spawners annually — and maybe twice that amount — with fish nearly clogging even the mightiest of California's waterways. Numbers began declining as European Americans arrived and made California their home. Mining activities sent mountains' worth of sediment into rivers, burying gravel beds where the fish spawned, while intensive fishing pressure curbed the population downstream.

Then, in the 1900s, as huge dams began appearing on most major rivers in the Central Valley, the Chinook became cut off from hundreds of miles of spawning grounds. Populations crashed. In the San Joaquin River, the fish never came back, while hatcheries in the Sacramento Valley, built specifically to offset the impacts of the dams, have helped maintain stable numbers of salmon. However, with more water leaving the delta than ever before via powerful pumps near Tracy, even the remnant runs of fish are now failing.

The Sacramento River's wild Chinook salmon spawn in the cold water that flows out of Shasta Lake. By measuring water temperatures throughout the lake, knowing the current volume of the reservoir, and looking ahead through the year at agricultural demands from the valley downstream, dam operators are able to calculate precisely how much water they can release while preserving the cold water pocket at the base of Shasta Dam.

But sometimes they mess up. Bureau of Reclamation officials told me that a pivotal thermometer in the lake wasn't working early this year.

"They also had a lame excuse that their temperature control device wasn't working and they didn't know," said Tom Stokely, director of the environmental group California Water Impact Network.

The temperature control device to which Stokely was referring is a large metal box placed over the outlet hole on the inside face of Shasta Dam. It extends deep down into the cold bottom water that is so critical for salmon. On this box are shutters from top to bottom. When water managers open shutters at the bottom of the box, only cold water exits the lake, passing through electricity turbines as it heads into the Sacramento River. When salmon are not spawning downstream, shutters higher on the box open up, releasing warmer water and saving the cold water for later.

However, an exchange of letters in 2004 between Stokely and fishery managers with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that federal agencies have known for at least the past eleven years that the temperature control device on Shasta Dam doesn't function properly. In that exchange of letters, Rodney McInnis, regional administrator for NOAA fisheries at the time, suggested that entirely bypassing the turbines and using a separate outflow at the base of the dam could solve problems relating to releasing warm water into the Sacramento River.

That same solution could have been used this year to protect the spawning salmon in the river, Stokely noted. "But, of course, that would have meant losing hydropower generation, and the bureau wasn't going to do that," he said, referring to the fact that McInnis' solution would have impacted the generation of electrical power by Shasta Dam.

Stokely also noted that water from the Trinity River, which is pumped through a tunnel in the coast range and into the Sacramento River system just below Shasta Dam, is usually several degrees warmer than the Sacramento's water. He said the Bureau of Reclamation was pumping this water into the Sacramento during the summer spawning season. Holding off for a few weeks could have helped preserve the critical temperature levels.

"I am personally outraged at the deception and the lies by the Bureau of Reclamation and the fisheries regulatory agencies and how they just can't cop to the fact that their priority is to send water to [agriculture]," Stokely said. "It's not to save fish."

Rosenfield said the Bureau of Reclamation officials wrote up a decent plan for releasing flows from Shasta through 2015 — but then changed it. "They said, 'This is how much cold water we'll need so we're going to release water at a certain rate during the summer — this is our temperature plan,'" Rosenfield said. "Then they proceeded to not follow their temperature plan.

In its "Drought Contingency Plan," issued last January, the bureau stated that it would release from Keswick Reservoir — a holding pool just below Shasta Lake — 3,250 cubic feet of water per second through much of the spring, and then start to increase flows in late May. Instead, the bureau boosted flows dramatically in mid April. By April 18, water was gushing out of the reservoir at a rate of 4,000 cubic feet per second, and then a little more than a week later, the releases reached 7,000 cubic feet per second. Saving just some of that water in Shasta, Rosenfield said, could have saved millions of salmon.

In a normal water year, when reservoir supplies are plentiful, the senior water rights holders in the Sacramento Valley receive about 2.1 million acre-feet of water. That's enough to fill a skyscraper about 400 miles tall. This water comes mostly from Shasta Lake, but also from the Trinity River via a tunnel drilled decades ago in an aggressive maneuver to secure more water for farmers in the dry San Joaquin Valley. Because 2015 was a critical water year due to the drought, the Central Valley's senior rights farmers didn't receive their normal allotments of water and instead got 60 to 65 percent, according to Thad Bettner, general manager of the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, a consortium of farmers northwest of Sacramento.

But that's still a lot of water, according to environmentalists and fishermen who think deliveries should have been cut even more. Just a fraction of that volume, they've argued, could have been enough to keep cold water for the salmon eggs.

Last month, the NRDC, The Bay Institute, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, and several other groups filed a court complaint, alleging that the Bureau of Reclamation repeatedly violated the Endangered Species Act. They alleged that by releasing so much reservoir water from Shasta Lake for farmers, the bureau failed to safeguard the cold water in the lake that is critical for salmon. The complaint is being added to a decade-old lawsuit focused on delta smelt.

Kate Poole, a senior attorney with the NDRC, said in an interview that favoring farmers — no matter how senior their water rights — over endangered fish is illegal. Even protection of the fall-run Chinook, which is not listed as threatened or endangered but which is a commercially valuable resource, must be prioritized above senior water rights, she argued. "The seniority of water rights does not insulate [water agencies] from their obligations to protect public trust uses," Poole said.

However, Bettner of the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, contends that the estimated mortality rate of 95 percent of the winter-run salmon this year from the lack of cold water in the Sacramento River may be exaggerated. He suspects that other factors are causing the low fish counts.

The counting method used to estimate the survival rate of the young salmon, Bettner suggested, could be skewed. He also speculates that predators, like striped bass and even native trout, may be eating the young salmon. He's also argued that it's possible that the 2015 brood of winter-run juveniles is still in the river and that they just haven't migrated downstream past the fish counting station near Red Bluff, where a battery of rotary screw fish traps has been placed across the river.

But Jim Smith, a biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said in an interview that Bettner's optimism isn't supported by evidence. In most years, he said, the majority of juvenile winter-run salmon would have migrated out of the upper river by now. He believes the fish traps are working correctly and that mortality is indeed alarmingly high. He blames warm water. "Temperatures were higher in the river than they've been in 25 years," he said.

Not only did salmon in the upper reaches of the system suffer this year. Downstream, too, in the delta, reduced flows of freshwater led to saltwater intrusion from San Francisco Bay and reduced water quality overall, according to Rosenfield. He noted that the higher-than-promised springtime releases from Shasta and Keswick could have been used to improve water conditions in the delta — as well as give a downstream push to the fall-run salmon smolts as they tried to reach the sea. Instead, he said, nearly half the excess flows were siphoned for farms.

"If there was ever a year when the state water board and the agencies were going to rise to the occasion and say, 'You know what? We need to protect these vital resources that we will lose forever and give less water to rice farmers,' this was the year,'" Rosenfield said.

The drought has brought misery to some farmers. In places, they have watched trees die and wells run dry. Heightened environmental restrictions on pumping from the delta caused additional burdens, and many farmers wound up with zero surface water allowances in the past two years, forcing them to irrigate their orchards with groundwater, buy surface water at high prices from others, or fallow their land.

Yet despite these challenges, farmers are still doing quite well in California. The state's agriculture industry sold $54 billion worth of crops in 2014 — an all-time record, though that was partly due to inflated prices in foreign markets. The almond industry, increasingly a symbol of one arid region's dependence on water imported from wetter places, is also thriving. Since June 2014, California farmers have planted 12 million almond trees — resulting in 75,000 acres of new orchards, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The almond industry, expanding rapidly for years, now occupies more than a million acres of California. That's about 1,600 square miles.

Meanwhile, not far away from these lucrative trees, one of the most prolific estuaries in the world is dying, with a lineup of fish species edging briskly toward extinction. The delta smelt is now considered to be doomed, if not quite gone. Right behind them are green sturgeon, Central Valley steelhead trout, river lamprey, Sacramento splittail, and Longfin smelt. Now, both the winter- and spring-run Chinook seem to be edging into the queue for extinction.

But many farmers say the destruction of the state's once-mighty salmon runs is not their fault. Mike Wade, director of the California Farm Water Coalition, a group that represents farmers throughout the Central Valley, claims that the decline of native fishes is largely the result of predators — like black bass, striped bass, and sunfish — that were introduced into the estuary.

And he said that because the restrictions on pumping that were intended to reverse the declines aren't working, other factors must be more significant. "We've been curtailing our pumping for 25 years, and we're still seeing fish declines," said. "So we need to start being smarter."

Wade argues that cyclical shutdowns of ocean productivity and loss of inland habitat where juvenile salmon used to spend the first months of their lives are key factors in Chinook declines. In fact, many scientists would agree and are now at work on projects that would restore the floodplains and wetlands alongside the Sacramento River, separated from these areas long ago by levees.

But scientists, environmentalists, and fishermen say the correlation between water pumping from the delta and declines in fish numbers is too strong to ignore. In the 1960s, when both striped and Chinook salmon were still very abundant (along with many other fish species), water diversions from the delta via the pumping stations near Tracy were about 1.5 million acre-feet a year. Water exports grew to about 4.5 million-acre feet annually in the 1970s and continued to steadily increase. In the early 2000s, water exports exceeded 6 million acre-feet for several years — record high pumping rates that were followed within three years by record low returns of salmon. The commercial salmon fishery was shut down for two years — a disaster for the state's salmon fishermen.

Nonetheless, Wade contends that the correlation between water exports and fish declines is just a coincidence that does not prove causation and does not merit denying farmers the water they need to prosper.

But Peter Moyle, a fisheries scientist at UC Davis, said many inter-related factors have affected salmon abundance, and while water diversions from the river system are not necessarily the direct cause of mortality, they have much to do with salmon survival rates — both in freshwater and in the ocean.

"Anyone who looks for a simple cause-and-effect relationship in nature doesn't understand how things work," Moyle wrote in an email to me. "Flows rarely act alone in affecting salmon survival. The timing of flows, for example, may be more important than the amount of water. Warm water from low flows may increase survival of predators and competitors, resulting in lower survival of juvenile salmon. Adult salmon may die on the way to spawn because of warm water from inadequate flows, resulting in fewer fish in following years."

Salmon fishermen, meanwhile, can't help feeling that they and the fish they live on have been shortchanged by California's water allotment system. "Salmon have just never gotten a fair shake on water to begin with," said Chuck Cappotto, a retired commercial fisherman who sits on the board of directors of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "When 80 percent of the state's [available] water is going to [2] percent of its gross domestic product, farmers have no room to complain whatsoever," he said, referring to California's agricultural industry.

Mike Hudson, a commercial salmon fisherman in Berkeley, said that aside from removing major dams, the most obvious fix for the state's straggling salmon populations would be to cut the water pumping rates from the delta. Of the 35 to 40 million acre-feet of water used by agriculture in California each year, just 5 to 6 million acre-feet originate in the delta. "It's basically a very small percentage of the water for farms," said Hudson. "And we just want them to cut it back to 3 million acre-feet." That's the level of water that fishermen and environmental groups, including the Environmental Water Caucus, say could be a sustainably removed from the delta each year.

Hudson believes this would have a tremendously beneficial effect on salmon numbers at a relatively small cost to the state's agriculture industry. "That the easiest thing to be done," he said. "But it's also the hardest thing."

For many commercial fishermen, the year ahead could be a financial disaster. The Dungeness crab season has been delayed indefinitely due to toxins detected in samples of crab flesh — an action that will cut into the incomes of thousands of people.

Now, to protect winter-run Chinook, fishing is probably going to be tightly restricted, if not closed entirely, next year. While fishermen on the ocean mostly catch the relatively abundant fall-run fish, baited hooks in the water can easily catch winter-run salmon. So imposing tighter restrictions on all salmon fishing in Northern California waters may be the only way to insure that the endangered fish are not eliminated.

Hudson knows this must be done — but he doesn't think it's entirely fair. "They're allowed to kill almost all of the fish in the rivers and the delta, but when it comes to protecting the last few hundred adult fish, they will shut our whole industry down," Hudson said. "They have a history of doing that."

Along the entire coast, commercial salmon fishermen are wondering how they will cope. Many are thinking about buying a costly state permit to fish for rockfish. Some are gearing up to fish far from shore for deepwater sablefish, usually marketed as black cod.

Hudson has considered installing an expensive refrigeration system on his boat so he can motor north into Oregon waters to fish for tuna. But the investment would cost at least $20,000, he said, and he probably isn't ready to take the plunge. "So, I'm looking at tying up the boat," he said.

Cappotto said a shutdown of the salmon season in coming years will create financial hardships that many small-boat, independent fishermen will not be able to overcome. "Crab season has got this enormous interruption, and so it will deliver a two-punch combo to the small-boat fisherman," he said. "In the past, we would balance our fisheries one against the other. When salmon was bad, hopefully we'd have a good crab season, and when crab was bad, hopefully we'd have a good salmon season."

Cappotto added that restrictions on fishing commercially for bottom-dwelling rockfishes have become so tight that it's nearly impossible for most boat owners to target them, even though the abundance of many rockfish species has boomed in the past five years. "So there's really not a lot a guy can go out and make a living doing," he said. "If either salmon or crab goes, there won't be a lot to keep these fishermen in business."

Cappotto said that before quitting fishing altogether, many struggling fishermen will defer boat maintenance to save costs, which puts them at risk of dangerous mishaps at sea. Such are the indirect but grave consequences, he said, of unfairly portioning Central Valley river water.

Protecting the salmon fishery benefits more than just fishermen, added John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association. The fishing economy, he said, serves as a sort of protective umbrella for much of the state's water resources. "When you're protecting salmon habitat, you're protecting freshwater habitat for many species," he said. "Protecting fishermen's jobs has been one of the most persuasive reasons for protecting the environment."

Because the Central Valley's watersheds have been so impacted by dams, pumps, canals, and levees, there would be almost no salmon at all if it weren't for fish hatcheries. Several of these cement-and-steel facilities produce millions of Chinook every year. These fish are not farmed, but neither are they entirely wild. They are produced by capturing adult fish by hand from the river and combining their eggs and sperm in trays and eventually releasing the juveniles into the wild to live out their lives. Because many of the natural selection forces that hone the strength and instincts of wild fish are removed by the hatchery system, the salmon produced by it essentially constitute a domesticated species, scientists have said.

Purists in the fisheries science field want to see greater populations of truly wild California salmon, and some have even suggested closing the hatcheries down, since they interfere with wild fish populations. "But there isn't enough habitat left to have wild fish," said Hudson. "Without hatcheries we wouldn't have any salmon at all."

In spite of the hatcheries, the numbers of salmon continue to decline for a variety of reasons. Projects are advancing that could improve post-spawn conditions for Chinook. The group California Trout is behind a plan that would restore thousands of acres of the Sacramento Valley's historic floodplains — wetlands that could provide critical habitat for newly born salmon and greatly improve their odds of reaching the ocean safely. The NMFS is also discussing plans to help transport adult salmon around Shasta Dam so they can spawn in the headwaters of the McCloud River, which flows off the slopes of Mount Shasta and runs icy cold all year long.

But the problems impacting salmon survival may be insurmountable. Some scientists believe the booming human population, its increasing demand for water, and a warming planet will eventually eliminate Pacific salmon, including Chinook as well as Coho, from the southern end of their range. According to these predictions, Chinook will be extinct in California before the end of the century.

But Hudson believes there is a future in California for salmon and fishermen. It depends, however, on leaving enough water in the delta and the state's rivers.

From the perspective of California's agriculture industry, on the other hand, farmers have already sacrificed enough. "I don't know how much more water [environmentalists and fishermen] think that agriculture can give," Wade said.

But environmentalists and fishermen note that, unlike salmon, California farmers are in no danger of extinction. In fact, they now grow more fruits and nuts than ever before. "Do they want to kill everything in the state just to grow a few more crops?" Hudson asked.


The striped bass bite in the upper Delta near Liberty Island has been ranging from very good to a struggle, and it was a tough bite on Sunday with the water temperatures plunging to 44 degrees in some areas. Sturgeon are also having to adjust to the quick drop in temperatures, and although the sturgeon are stacked up on the bottom in the deeper waters, they have been less willing to bite with the sudden plunge in water temperature. The action should be back on as soon as the fish adjust to the new conditions, and the coming storm should bring out some biting fish.
Up near Liberty Island in the north Delta, J.D. Richey of Richey’s Sport Fishing reports on Sunday 11-29, “We had three blow ups on topwater lures, but we never found a concentration of stripers as the water temperature ranged between 44 and 48 degrees. The water was clear depending upon where you were with the clearest water at the bottom of the tide. We struggled for a few keepers to 10 pounds along with a few shakers, and Mike Hooper of Sacramento landed the big fish on a swimbait. Although we didn’t find a concentration of fish, I had reports of up to 20 stripers in the same area the previous day.”
Johnny Tran of New Romeo’s Bait and Tackle in Freeport said, “The Deep Water Channel is still holding a number of striped bass, and Liberty Island, Steamboat Slough, and Miner Slough remain productive areas with live mudsuckers or trolling with shallow lures. The grass is thick in some areas, making for difficult trolling conditions.”  Tran touted sturgeon fishing at the mouth of Prospect Slough at Cache Slough, Courtland, and Clarksburg with eel/nightcrawler combinations or straight pile worms, and he landed a 60-inch legal sturgeon on an eel/nightcrawler combination soaked in Sturgeon Frenzy at the mouth of Prospect. A few salmon continue to move through the system, and Tran said, “A few salmon are being taken on jigs below the Freeport Bridge. Some are dark and some are clean. A 31 pounder was landed on Saturday below the bridge.”
Alan Fong of the Fishermen’s Warehouse in Sacramento reported a solid crappie bite in the clear water in the north Delta with live minnows or minijigs. He said, “There are some real slabs up there.” He confirmed Richey’s assertion that the striper bite has been up and down in the Liberty area with linesides to 28 pounds landed on big glide baits on Thanksgiving Day.
In lower Suisun Bay near Benicia, Tony Lopez of Benicia Bait reported an 8-pound salmon was landed inside the Benicia Marina on Saturday on a Rat-L-Trap, stating, “These fish have been inside of the marina for a couple of days, but they are getting pretty dark.”
Cold water created challenging conditions for sturgeon fishermen, and Andy Doudna of Oakley said, “The water temperatures are on the move downward, and the fish seem to be adjusting as the bite improved through the weekend as the temperatures stabilized. Eel and salmon roe seem to be the ticket as shrimpbaits are very hard to come by. I heard of sturgeon being landed at the Mothball Fleet, the slough, and in deep water near Pittsburg, and I spend an afternoon in the shallows in Honker Bay for one 42-inch keeper on Saturday. I expect to see the number of sturgeon landed this week increasing as the tide improve and the fish adjust to the temperature.”
Rio Vista Bait and Tackle reported sturgeon fishing has been best around the Sherman Island Power Lines, Pittsburg, and Martinez, but there have also been sturgeon taken above the Rio Vista Bridge near the Ryer Island Ferry.
Bill Clapp of Bill’s Sport Fishing was anchored above Chain Island on Sunday, and they caught and released a shaker sturgeon on fresh shad within 20 minutes of setting anchor. He said, “We marked a ton of fish on the screen, but we were limited to 6 to 8 shaker bass in addition to the undersized sturgeon. The water temperature had dropped 4 degrees in the past few days.”|
Jay Lopes of Right Hook Sport Fishing said, “We have been averaging at least an oversized or keeper each sturgeon trip, and we released an oversized along with a 54-inch keeper in deep water on salmon roe. I have been finding my best action on roe, but once the fresh water starts to flow into the river, we will put out more eel.” Lopes has been alternating sturgeon trips with striped bass outings into the north Delta, and he confirmed the recent slowdown up north, stating, “We had been crushing them until last week using live mudsuckers, but the bite slowed down after Friday’s big north wind.” He thought the sturgeon bite would take off once the fish adjust to the water temperature.
In the Pittsburg area, Do Doung of Dockside Bait reported three keeper sturgeon between 44 and 58 inches were brought into the shop on Saturday with the best action near Buoy 34, the Pittsburg PGE Plant, and Collinsvilee with salmon roe or eel. He said, “Ghost shrimp has been tough to get, and grass shrimp has been next to impossible.” Stripers in the 6 to 8-opund range are taken on live mudsuckers or frozen shad, leading Doung to state, “The bite is getting better and better.” 
The water hyacinth in the Stockton area is starting to curl up and show some shades of brown from the recent cold spell, but it hasn’t been cold enough despite Sunday’s record 25-degree low temperature to kill off the heavy hyacinth growth. Brandon Gallegos of H and R Bait in Stockton said, “It’s still more green than brown out there on the San Joaquin; however, there have been some clearer areas in the east and south Delta. Stripers in the 5 to 6-pound range have been taken off of Eight Mile Road at King Island with live bluegill or jumbo minnows and there is a great abundance of bluegill and shiner minnows in the area. Anglers are picking up the bluegill on red worms or wax worms and using the bluegill for stripers.” He added that the Bacon Island Road side of Whiskey Slough has cleared up, and stripers in the 22 to 24-inch have been taken in the area on mudsuckers or shad along with largemouth bass on red worms under a bobber. H and R received fresh shad in the total amount of 35 pounds over the holiday weekend for the first fresh shad in weeks, but it is of a smaller grade.
The launch ramps in the Stockton metropolitan area remain closed due to hyacinth, but Paradise Point Marina off of Eight Mile Road west of Stockton has remained operational.

There have been some huge striped bass caught and released in the south Delta including the 27 pounder released by Shawn Hill of Manteca near the Tracy Oasis and an estimated 30+ pounder by Ernie Marlan of Mixed Bag Sport Fishing on a Savage Gear Glide Bait. 
Marlan said, 
I was fishing in 6 feet of water when I hooked this beauty on a Savage Gear Glide Bait near some structure in the river. Almost immediately the fish took me under the structure and I was wrapped around it as the fish continued down river. After several minutes I was able to get it unwrapped and the fight was on! Big fish are smart and this one was no exception. It decided to turn around and make another run for the structure and wrap me around it again. Stuck for a second time I thought my luck had run out and the fish had won and I would only have a story about the one that got away! Fortunately the 50 lb FINS Braid, 20 lb GAMMA fluorocarbon leader teamed up with a Phenix Rod and Lew's reel held up against the ultimate test. I was able to get the line clear of the structure and the fight continued. From this point it became a more traditional fight with it making a run then me gaining some ground only for it to make another run. The story ended perfectly! The fish only had to pose for a couple of pictures and then she was released back into the river! I hope to meet her again!”


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