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Frosting On Dead Fish

King Salmon. Delicious. California King Salmon, that is. In the nineteen sixties and seventies, it was priced a little bit more than hamburger. It was a staple on family plates. During World War One, canned King Salmon from the abundant rivers and tributaries of the Sacramento Valley fed American and Allied Forces in Europe, and a goodly portion of America too.

Last summer, I saw King Salmon for sale in a Bay Area fish market priced at thirty-two dollars a pound. Currently, one can purchase King Salmon at Costco for about half that price per pound, but it arrives frozen all the way from New Zealand on a ship. It’s raised in a salmon farm. Who knows what antibiotics are used? Frozen salmon is also available at varied supermarket chains. Some of it comes from Alaska, but it’s never King Salmon. A large portion of Alaska salmon sail frozen to China where it is unfrozen, processed and packaged, and frozen again before it’s shipped to your local store. Yum! It only takes two to four months to cross the Pacific twice.

Local congressman, Jared Huffman, co-chair of the wild salmon caucus, apparently has a remedy to restore King Salmon to their historical spawning grounds. According to a recent press release from his office, Huffman has introduced a bill that will provide forty million dollars to “provide identification of salmon areas and strongholds” to “sustain thriving salmon populations.” What a noble goal—restore salmon in California to “thriving” numbers. Who could resist? How about the fish?

I’ve read the bill. Huffman’s legislation purports to spend a great deal of money to identify “strongholds.” In other words, historic, salmon spawning grounds. Ask some old timers, or the Sierra Club, they’ll tell you exactly where they are and it won’t even cost a dime. Huffman’s bill also provides money to remove obstacles to salmon spawning grounds. Great idea. Start a company. Give it a fancy environmental name; rake the money in removing log jams and impediments blocking access to historical spawning beds. 

The only problem is that when salmon arrive at their “strongholds,” the gravel and pebbles needed to incubate their eggs will still be covered by hundreds of years of silt created by logging practices, housing developments, and agricultural expansion. Dig out the mud and silt, truck fresh gravel in to restore the spawning grounds? Now we’re getting somewhere. Like digging the Panama Canal, which will take a lot more than the forty million bucks provided by this bill to magically restore hundreds of miles of impacted salmon beds. Without spawning gravel replacement, without enough water to do the trick, it could take a thousand years to wash the mud and silt to the sea. By then, there may be a dozen wild salmon left.

There’s a larger issue here; one that impacts every one of us. On most rivers, salmon spawning grounds, in other words, their so-called “strongholds,” are blocked by dams. These strongholds no longer exist. Do you really care about salmon? Do you want their indigenous spawn to endure?  Simple. Take out every dam. In California, agriculture will cease to exist. There will be no juice for your Tesla, and people in Santa Rosa or Ukiah will be limited to one gallon of water a day. This bill is a feel-good farce.

Currently, off the shores of California, the highest percentage of salmon swimming in the sea (up to 90%) began their lives in a restorative hatchery on the endangered Sacramento River. They’re raised as juveniles and trucked to San Pablo Bay where they’re released to go to sea. Restorative hatcheries are not fish farms where salmon are aquatic prisoners dosed in antibodies swimming around in what comes out the other end. State, restorative hatcheries in California sustain what little salmon are left. Wild salmon spawning naturally? There are hardly any left, where—once upon a time—they thrived in every river north of the Golden Gate.

Restorative hatcheries? When it comes to Congressman Huffman’s bill, there’s not a single cent for that. Enjoy the symbolism on your plate.


  1. Eric Sunswheat February 4, 2022

    People in… Ukiah will be limited to one gallon of water a day?

    RE: Do you really care about salmon? Do you want their indigenous spawn to endure? Simple. Take out every dam. In California, agriculture will cease to exist. There will be no juice for your Tesla, and people in Santa Rosa or Ukiah will be limited to one gallon of water a day.

    -> DECEMBER 2021. Ukiah Valley Groundwater Sustainability Plan
    The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act explicitly makes the sustainable yield a function of long-term conditions and of the conditions causing undesirable results.

    The sustainable yield in the Basin is not equal to the historic 1992 – 2018 average groundwater pumping, since those conditions have not resulted in overdraft.

    Water levels and groundwater storage have been in a dynamic equilibrium with inflows to and outflows from the aquifer system, with no significant, discernable negative trend in water levels or groundwater storage.

    Also, the sustainable yield cannot be defined for the Basin as a single number that is constant over time, as future conditions may decrease or increase the amount of groundwater that can be withdrawn without causing undesirable results…

    According to the SGMA definition, the sustainable yield for the Basin is estimated to be at least 6,500 acre-feet, based on the average groundwater pumping of the historical period.

  2. Jim Armstrong February 4, 2022

    I think the comment above must have been meant for a different subject.

    Mine is that a great many of Huffman’s ideas seem to prove the law of unintended consequences.
    Or maybe they are just high on the fatuous scale.

    Now PG&E wants to keep the Potter Valley Project after all. I can’t believe I actually think that may be a good thing.
    But if the current drought cycle persists, none of this means anything..

  3. George Hollister February 4, 2022

    What the current science indicates is the limiting factor for salmon populations is in the ocean, and not with freshwater spawning and rearing habitat. So, much can be done to improve freshwater habitat, but an increase in salmon populations won’t necessarily follow. The salmon population crashed in 1977 everywhere in California. That crash was seen on all creeks and rivers, regardless of human impacts.

    What is driving a change in ocean conditions that could possibly explain our current relatively low salmon numbers? One thing that is known is food available for salmon in the ocean is a factor, which is tied to nutrient upwelling. But there is more to the food chain than available food. How about predation, and competition? I heard the late biologist Michael Maas say, maybe 25 years ago, we have more freshwater salmon habitat than we have salmon.

    It seems to me the advantage of hatchery salmon is that large numbers of them can be placed in the ocean when ocean conditions are relatively good. This used to be called salmon ranching.

    • Harvey Reading February 4, 2022

      What needs to be done is to effect an end to timber harvest and water diversion All your bellowing does it to accelerate the end of salmon. By the way, I saw NO citation in your hyperbolic BS supporting your claim. So, as far as I’m concerned it’s just more Farm Bureau propaganda.

      • George Hollister February 4, 2022

        Look up what NOAA has to say about salmon and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, in conjunction with El Nino, and La Nina events. I have mentioned this before. Look at the results of studies on the Caspar Watershed on JDSF. I mentioned Michael Maas. Some of his studies are available on line. Then look at the history of human impacts on freshwater habitat. The heaviest impacts were concurrent with there being lots of salmon. I look at the Albion River, and Big River. Those rivers had dams for transporting logs and forest products going back to the 1860s. That implies woody debris was largely removed. Heavy woody debris is a component of what we consider good spawning and rearing habitat. Clear cutting was done in conjunction with dams, and lots of sediment appears to have gone into the rivers. Clearcutting, and burning was done down to the river bank edge. There were lots of fish. Going into the 1960s, bull dozer logging created a lot of sediment, and fish populations remained high, maybe even spiked. Look up Redwood Creek in Marin County. That former Coho Salmon stream has been mostly restored, and Coho Salmon reintroduced, but they have failed to reestablish themselves. The young fish go to sea and disappear.

        An objective view has to question the narrative that the primary constraint on salmon populations are human impacts on freshwater habitat. History suggests there is a lot more to this story, and human impacts on freshwater habitat are a small part. To understand the problem we need to look beyond what is human.

        • Harvey Reading February 4, 2022

          How many salmon would we have if water diversion stopped or was significantly reduced? You still have not provided a scientific article to support your thesis that the ocean is the problem you make it out to be. At high levels, guvamint agencies (like NOAA/NMFS) play politics, just like the state politicos ran with the hypothesis state biologists dreamed up that blamed winter run salmon problems on striped bass, when the root cause was too much water diversion. Agencies are also good at making resource end users (commercial and sport fishermen in this instance) pay the price of too much diversion by lowering take limits. Blaming lowered populations on the ocean is simply a ploy to avoiding angering wealthy diverters. Shame on you, you old pseudo-scientist.

          • George Hollister February 4, 2022

            Show me the science studies that support your thesis, and I will show you mine. I also have anecdotal information from my own experience and the oral narratives of natives from this area for the last 100 years.

            • Harvey Reading February 5, 2022

              Nice try, con man. If more smolts were able to make it TO the ocean, more would come back. Open a basic fishery biology book. Talk to real fishery scientists. Your “anectdotal” bullshit is worthless. From what I have read here over the years, it is truly bullshit. Yours is dominionist pseudo-science.

    • Michael Koepf February 5, 2022

      Just a few years ago, (7) my son and I sailed out of San Francisco on a 37 foot sailboat to anchor up and spend the night at Point Reyes. The next day, there was virtually no wind, so we motored back to the Golden Gate past Bolinas. As we moved along over a flat, calm sea it looked like it was raining on the surface of the sea, when, In fact, it was a gigantic school of anchovies 14 miles long and who knows how wide. Experts on the resources of the Ocean need to get up out of their chairs and feel the fog and wind on their face.

      • George Hollister February 5, 2022

        Experts need to get out of their chairs, and away from their computer programs, true. But ocean conditions involving El Nino, La Nina, and the PDO are understood, and have substantial impacts on marine life, including the lives of salmon. There are other factors that are not understood, or even known. We need to be open to explore these possibilities, and not make the unscientific assumption, that what we see that is bad must be because of something an uncaring human economy has caused. (BTW, the uncaring part is false. Humans are the only species that cares about the health of other species. That is why we react the way we do to events like a reduced salmon population.)

        • Harvey Reading February 5, 2022

          If more smolts make it to the ocean, more will return. They don’t make it to the ocean because of water diversions, primarily for welfare crop and livestock farmers. All your pontificating and political blowharding doesn’t change that. You really need to get your head out of your ass.

          • George Hollister February 5, 2022

            Common theory. But if all those smolts make to the ocean, and there is nothing, or little to eat, then what? And what about the sea life that eat smolts? Those predators likely do better with lots of smolts, and increase in numbers, so eat more smolts. Not to mention, there are sea life that eat the same diet as smolts, and have no desire to share.

            For the common theory to be true, the ocean would have to have an endless, constant, and available food supply for smolts. That is not the case for any other species in the marine food chain, so why would we assume this is the case for salmon?

            The marine food chain changes. There are times of abundance, and times of scarify. Every species is out for itself to take advantage of the abundance, and survive the scarcity.

            • Harvey Reading February 6, 2022

              Now, you’re going in circles, as usual. The diversion of water for scumbag corporate farmers goes on, no matter the conditions for fish in their freshwater habitat. Then they get their hired politcos and appointees to blame it all on the ocean conditions. It would appear to me that you are willingly complicit in the destruction of salmon runs, since you represent farmers, plant and livestock.

    • Michael Koepf February 5, 2022

      The sage of salmon—and everything else—has spoken. Aquatic news flash: salmon have tails. Water’s warming up? No feed near the surface? They descend into the cold, cold depths and feast as they may upon squid, a biomass that, as yet, human beings have not adequately excessed. Nothing to eat around here? Off they go to the seas off Canada, or anywhere else for a bite, before they return to where they spawn. If it still exists. Fishing on the internet, is not the same as on the sea.

  4. Pat Kittle February 5, 2022

    Come, come, noble Andersonvalleyadvertiserans — let us agree on what unites us, not what divides us.

    We all agree that human numbers can keep growing forever, if we act wisely!


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