Mega fishing fee hikes ripped – Mad River Union

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

NORTH COAST – With North Coast fishing gutted by a doomsday falloff of salmon and crab stocks, state legislators are savaging a Department of Fish and Wildlife proposal to lash fishermen with staggering landing fee hikes of 1,300-13,000 percent.

At the “low” end, the 1,300 percent levy would apply to almost every fishery in the state, legislators say.

For crab fishermen, the new tax would be a colossal 13,000 percent increase.

Sen. Mike McGuire (D-2nd District) accuses the Department of Fish and Wildlife of rank hypocrisy in its complaint about industry objections to the soaring fees.

Recently “we heard representatives from Fish and Wildlife say that they were ‘hurt’ by the fleet criticizing these increases,” McGuire said last week at a senate hearing he chaired about the salmon collapse. “The only ones who are hurting in California are those who are losing their boats, those who are literally losing their homes, those who struggle to put food on the table at the holiday.”

For those beleaguered fishermen and their families, McGuire said acidly, the department’s pangs are “crocodile tears.”

Governor Brown’s proposed 13,000 percent toll on crabbers would strike a fishery which suffered unprecedented setbacks in the 2015-2016 disaster, when seaborne domoic acid forced shutdowns.

Many fishermen harvest both crabs and salmon and additional landing taxes would hammer them with a double blow.

Introducing last week’s meeting of the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, McGuire called “unconscionable” the attempt to bridge Fish and Wildlife’s $20 million budget gap with heavier financial burdens on fishermen.

“What we need is action in support of the industry from the agency that regulates the fishery,” McGuire said in his rebuke.

Assemblyman Jim Wood (2nd District), committee co-chair, echoed that. “The hard working men and women who rely on these fish to support their families have been put in a terrible situation through no fault of their own.”

The salmon industry is being whipsawed by a panoply of Cassandra-like trends: Global warming, poor ocean conditions, prolonged drought, juvenile salmon disease, illegal stream diversions by illicit marijuana growers and federal water management policies that have caused high mortality and very low survival rates for juvenile salmon.

Landings by the commercial fleet plummeted to 55,051 salmon in 2016 from 502,110 salmon in 2004, an 89 percent nosedive.

The unprecedented loss of Klamath River salmon stocks means there will be no commercial or recreational fishing in the Klamath Management Zone this year. The Klamath and Trinity River recreational salmon fisheries will be closed.

Thomas O’Rourke, chair of the Yurok Tribe, testified that the impact on his tribe is “devastating across the board.”

Conservationists and environmentalists fear the Trump White House is poised to make matters worse.

At last week’s Group of 7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, President Donald Trump skirted the issue of whether he will withdraw the U.S. from the milestone Paris Agreement on climate change, which went into force in November.

A year ago, candidate Trump said he would “scrap completely” the pact. But an aide said Trump’s views are “evolving” under pressure from world leaders not to withdraw.   

“We are at an inflection point,” Doug Obegi, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told McGuire’s panel. He called the Trump administration “a clear and present threat to California salmon.”

Obegi cited the nomination of Colorado lobbyist and attorney David Bernhardt to be deputy secretary of the Interior, the department’s chief operating officer, responsible for the Bureau of Reclamation and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Bernhardt “sued to reduce protections for endangered salmon on behalf of Westlands,” Obegi recalled, referring to the  San Joaquin Valley’s Westlands Water District lawsuit that sought to undo court-imposed protections for endangered salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Although Westlands dropped the suit, “we can expect that in the years to come the Trump administration will seek to weaken protections for both endangered salmon and the fall run Chinook salmon that are the backbone of our state’s fishery,” Obegi asserted.

However, at Bernhardt’s May 18 Senate confirmation hearing, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, endorsed Trump’s nominee as “an excellent choice, an avid sportsman who understands the need for balance between conservation and development.”

As Bernhardt’s nomination goes to the full Senate, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a statement late last week saying that Brown and Oregon’s governor have written to the U.S. Commerce Department seeking the declaration of a regional fishery disaster and a commercial salmon fishery failure.