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Friday, March 19, 2010

Paul Johnson's Lament for Local Chinook Salmon

Posted By on Fri, Mar 19, 2010 at 6:07 PM

click to enlarge A local specialty is just about dead. - JULIA MANZEROVA/FLICKR
  • Julia Manzerova/Flickr
  • A local specialty is just about dead.
Our favorite morsel from the blogs.

Dead fish: At the Ethicurean, Monterey Fish founder Paul Johnson ― a guy as responsible as anyone for feeding the Bay Area's loca-stainable restaurant ethos ― blogs an appropriately bitter lament on the disappearance of local Chinook salmon. Johnson:

Not long ago, Chinook salmon pulled from our cold, clean offshore waters, constituted up to 50 percent of my business. Today: zilch, nothing. That's because there hasn't been a commercial salmon season in California and Oregon for the last two years.
Sadly ― more than sadly, really ― Northern Cali salmon are all but cashed, the local equivalent of the polar bear on its Prius-size ice floe. Just five years ago, Johnson blogs, 800,000 mature salmon came back to the Sacramento River and its tributaries to spawn. Last year? A paltry 39,000. Let that sink in. And while this year's run promises to be only slightly less disastrous than those in the past two years, it doesn't mean salmon are thriving again.

How to fix it? Keep water from flowing south ― a prescription that only sounds easy. Johnson:

In California, water flows in the same direction as money. The West Coast's salmon fishers have been stripped of their rights and livelihoods by powerful corporate agricultural interests in the San Joaquin Valley. Though they are few in number, the owners and directors of these massive agribusiness enterprises have been able to seize the state's water for their own through lavishly funded political lobbying and a sophisticated, if deeply mendacious, public relations campaign. They technically receive water pursuant to "junior" state water rights ― meaning they are second in allocation after those who have held the rights longer ― but the spigot has been cranked wide open for them, at highly subsidized rates. Yet their only response has been to cry for more. Increasingly, they're not even using it to grow crops -- they're marketing it. A scheme to build 12,000 homes on environmentally sensitive San Francisco Bay salt ponds near Redwood City is predicated on obtaining water from San Joaquin Valley agribusiness.
We just called Bi-Rite ― tonight, you can buy wild Coho, wild King, and wild steelhead. The first two are from Alaska; the third, from Washington. We're sure they're delicious. But later in the spring, when local Chinook should be abundant and relatively affordable here, something tells us most of us will still be tasting fish from waters far, far from here.

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