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Fishers hope sagging salmon runs improve

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Commercial salmon fisherman Duncan MacLean, based out of Half Moon Bay, said he would gladly talk about the boom times of his industry — if only he could remember them better. Due to massive shortages in stock, it has been three years since federal officials have allowed a full salmon season, and since 1978 the number of commercial fishermen in the state has fallen from 5,000 to just 341.

“To say we’re on the ropes would be a nice way of putting it,” said MacLean, who has been fishing for nearly 40 years. “This industry has been really hurting for quite some time, and if we don’t get a full salmon season soon the future doesn’t bode well for us.”

In 2002, the fall run in the Sacramento Delta produced 1.5 million adult salmon, according to Dick Pool, who owns a Concord-based fishing manufacturing company. In 2009, that total had shrunk by 97 percent to just 39,000 fish.

Pool, MacLean and others in the fishing industry blame the decline on the irrigation practices of Central Valley farmers.

MacLean said wasteful water practices that drain rivers and streams, and harmful runoffs from pesticides and herbicides, have created a toxic environment that makes it nearly impossible for salmon to navigate the 400-mile journey from inland California to the ocean.

MacLean said he hopes a Dec. 4 summit on the state of the salmon industry — sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo/San Francisco — will prompt state and federal authorities to enforce existing laws, such as the Central Valley Improvement Act, which was passed by congress in 1992 to protect salmon, but has since had little impact.

Pool said the problem can be solved by more-responsible practices, such as increased water recycling systems, better conservation efforts in all industries and increased focus on desalination technology.

Executive Director Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition, an agricultural advocacy group, said farmers have “all but eliminated” harmful drainage issues in the past 10 years due to better practices. Concerning water conservation, Wade said farm production has increased by 89 percent since 1967, despite overall acreage growth of just 2 percent during that time.

Floating downstream

5,000: Commercial salmon fishermen in 1978
341: Active commercial fishermen currently
1.5 million Adult salmon recorded during fall run of 2002 season
39,000: Adult salmon recorded during fall run of 2009 season
8: Length, in days, of commercial salmon fishing season in Bay Area this year
0: Length, in days, of commercial salmon fishing seasons in 2009 and 2008

Source: Dick Pool, Pro-Troll

Salmon summit

When: Friday
Time: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Mavericks Lodge and Event Center, 107 Broadway, Half Moon Bay
What: Discussion and impact on current state of salmon populations in California
Who: Reps. Jackie Speier, Anna Eshoo, Mike Thompson

wreisman@sfexaminer.com