Worst Salmon Run on Record


TRT File Photo

TRT File Photo

Tribes Prepare for Fishery Restrictions

By Allie Hostler, Two Rivers Tribune

This year’s fall Chinook salmon run is predicted to be the lowest on record signaling a crisis that has tribal fishermen preparing for another year of severe harvest restrictions.

The total tribal allocation—which must be shared amongst the Hoopa and Yurok Tribes—is set at about 814 adult salmon. Typically the Yurok Tribe claims 80 percent of the harvest allocation and the Hoopa Tribe claims the remaining 20 percent. That’s about 650 fish for the Yurok Tribe and about 160 for the Hoopa Tribe.

It is estimated that a mere 11,000 adult fall run Chinook will return to the Klamath River and its tributaries to spawn beginning in late July and continuing through October. Records have been kept since the late 1970s and never before has such a low return been predicted or realized.

During a typical year, the conservation standard, or number of fish that need to escape ocean and river fisheries to spawn, is about 40,700 salmon.

Fish biologist with the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s Fisheries Department, George Kautsky, said the abysmal salmon run can be attributed to several factors, mainly the extremely high disease rates in juvenile fish in 2014 and 2015 resulting from poor water quality.

“In 2014, 81 percent of juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean were infected and in 2015, 91 percent were infected,” Kautsky said.

Kautsky said many of the diseased fish may have died before they got to the ocean. The high rate of C-Shasta infection, coupled with high water temperatures in the ocean is a recipe for higher mortality rates.

Ceratonova Shasta—C-Shasta—is a parasite often fatal to fish. The parasite’s host thrives in slow, warm water, which is why increased scouring flows are believed to reduce the occurrence of disease.

This unprecedented fisheries crash will have far-reaching negative impacts for all of the tribes in the Klamath Basin.

“I’m afraid we are finally seeing the real long-term impacts poor management has caused to the river and fisheries,” Chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe Ryan Jackson, said. “The damage is so severe it cannot be reversed quickly, but we are hopeful that our recent legal victories will help improve water quality and in turn, reduce fish disease that is decimating the salmon runs.”

The Yurok Tribe recently announced they will close their commercial fishery for the second year in a row.

“This is a nightmare. I have never in my life dreamed that it could get this bad,” Thomas O’Rourke Sr., Chairman of the Yurok Tribe, said. “This is devastating to our people, not only physically but emotionally. It’s saddening and hard to believe.”

Farther up the Klamath River, the Karuk Tribe also announced a fishing restriction for its tribal members who fish with dip nets at Ishi Pishi Falls in Somes Bar. The tribe will allow the harvest of 200 fall run Chinook salmon for subsistence and ceremonial purposes only.

“It’s my saddest day as Chairman,” said Karuk Tribal Chairman Russell ‘Buster’ Attebery. “This is the first time in our history that we have imposed limits on traditional dip net fishermen working to feed their extended families and tribal elders.”

The Tribes are hopeful that recent courtroom victories will help prevent future disease outbreaks in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers.

“The good news is we have better conditions this year, which means the 2016 brood might fare better,” Kautsky said. “We’re implementing an ‘Extremely Wet Water Year’ hydrograph this year and the court has agreed with some of the principles set out by the tribes including deep scouring flows.”

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