Yurok significantly affected by low runs
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
The U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker declared a fisheries disaster for nine salmon and crab fisheries in Alaska, Washington and California in January. Of the nine fisheries, the two in California include the Dungeness and rock crab fishery and the Yurok Tribe Klamath River Chinook salmon fishery.
The Yurok Tribe and North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman acknowledged the importance of the declaration which, according to a press release from the Yurok Tribe, is linked to the Klamath dams which were considered a catalyst for juvenile salmon disease outbreaks.
Huffman said in statement the Klamath River tribal Chinook salmon fishery was the lifeblood of Northern California’s coastal heritage and an integral part of the Yurok Tribe’s cultural and subsistence fisheries practices.
“The closure of the fishery, a laudable voluntary action on the Yurok Tribe’s part to save their sacred runs from extinction, served as a reminder of the devastating effects of climate change and of destructive deadbeat dams on fisheries,” Huffman said. “I commend Secretary Pritzker’s recognition of the Yurok’s conservation actions and applaud her declaration of a fishery disaster. I will do everything in my power to ensure that Congress now does its job, to financially assist communities and tribal members affected by the closure.”
The secretary of commerce is authorized to make the disaster determination because of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The designation will enable Congress to provide financial relief to West Coast fishers, which includes federally recognized tribal fish harvesters like the Yurok Tribe.
Dave Hillemeier, the Yurok Tribe’s Fisheries manager said there were record lows of the fish populations within the Klamath for the past two years and the Tribal Council canceled the entire 2016 commercial fishery to protect salmon stocks.
Within that same year, the tribe determined it would be unethical to serve salmon at the annual Klamath Salmon Festival, due to the low numbers of fish, which according to Hillemeier had less than one fish per tribal member. This was the first time in the event’s 54-year history that the Yurok were unable to supply the festival with fish.
He also said some diseases were directly linked to the low flows and Klamath dams which contributed to low fish numbers and further devastated the fishery.
“The disease is called Ceratonova shasta. In 2014, 81 percent of sampled juvenile salmon were infected and in 2015 the infection rate among sampled fish was 91 percent,” Hillemeier said.
The disease outbreak was intensified by the dams’ conditions, which were deemed by the Yurok Tribe to be unnatural and did not allow for the high river flows that are needed to disrupt the organism’s lifecycle. If the size of a year’s worth of Chinook stock is enough to support a sustainable harvest, the tribe will continue with a tightly regulated commercial fishery.
While the declaration allows Congress to appropriate financial relief for the fisheries, it does not guarantee they will see any relief funds.
“It’s a large step toward receiving relief, but we still need Congress to appropriate the funding,” Hillemeier said.
NOAA Fisheries’ Samuel D. Rauch III said in a statement the agency was committed to helping communities affected by the fishery closures to achieve future success.
“We are proud of the contributions they make to the nation’s economy, and we recognize the sacrifices they are forced to take in times of environmental hardship,” Rauch said.
Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr. said the Yurok Tribe was grateful for Pritzker as well as Huffman in their efforts in recognizing the impact low fish runs have on the Yurok people.
“For tribal families,” O’Rourke said, “the lack of fish affects everything from our ability to practice our traditions to having enough food to making ends meet.”
Natalya Estrada can be reached at 707-441-0510.