Image courtesy of dphershman via flickr
In a last-ditch effort to save the Central Valley's collapsing chinook salmon populations, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to recommend the closure of fishing operations this past Thursday, reports The Sacramento Bee's Matt Weiser. This prompted Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's governor, to declare a state of emergency -- cautioning, alongside the Department of Fish and Game, that it would likely cost the state upwards of $255m and 2,263 jobs this year.This precarious situation was precipitated by another record decline in the Central Valley's salmon population -- the second-lowest in more than 35 years. In response, the California Fish and Game Commission is widely expected to support a closure of state waters; the sharp decline in stocks is blamed on a combination of factors, including surface warming, ocean acidification and pollution.
To mitigate some of the pain caused to commercial and recreational fishers, the state Department of Finance will reimburse $2.7m in permits for the 2008 season and make grants available for workers hurt by the closures. Schwarzenegger also signed SB 562, a measure that would allocate $5.3m for coastal salmon and steelhead restoration projects.
The state government could certainly do worse than listen to the sage advice of Orri Vigfússon, a former recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize and the founder of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, who has dedicated much of his life to restoring the Atlantic's wild salmon stocks. As he puts it, the problem is very straightforward: we're simply killing too many salmon:
"Basically, we are killing too many fish and we've been doing it for far too long. Governments spend billions on research to find out if there's something else to do, when the most important thing to do is to stop killing so many fish. The rule of thumb is to never kill more than 20 percent of the biomass--but nobody's abiding by that. So every year many scientists say no fish should be killed, and governments keep giving out quotas for far above that 20 percent rule."
His favored solution would involve establishing a longterm fishery infrastructure that would be controlled by the private sector -- a model that would revolve around a system of tradable permits:
"All the salmon, for example, should be covered by commercial agreements. People respect commercial agreements, not inter-governmental resolutions. If you give individuals the rights--fair rights--they will take care of the resource. Of course, the quotas need to be fairly divided. And then, I would have quotas transferable, with the ability to buy and sell quotas. This concept of managing fisheries is gaining ground all over the world."
Such market-based solutions would have to accompany more stringent guidelines and regulations set by local and state governments to succeed.