EUREKA — Representatives of coastal fishing communities and Indian tribes on Monday laid the blame for the massive Klamath River salmon kill on low water controlled by the federal government.
The representatives aimed their comments at the Bush administration. Representatives of the federal agencies declined invitations to take part in a hearing before a California legislative committee.
“We couldn’t get people at the federal level to take action to resolve this issue before it became a terrible tragedy,” Humboldt County Supervisor Jimmy Smith told the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture.
The hearing was intended to gather information on what caused an estimated 33,000 salmon to die since late September in the lower 40 miles of the Klamath River. It was also meant to explore the economic and social impacts of the die-off for the North Coast and Indian tribes.
Environmentalists, fishermen and Indian tribes along the river flowing from south central Oregon through northwest California blame low water levels for the fish kill.
But there are others, including groups representing Klamath Basin farmers, who argue there is no proof low water contributed to the kill. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating.
The kill has focused new attention on the Bush administration’s efforts to balance water from the Klamath Reclamation Project between farms and fish protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, members of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, and leaders of the Yurok, Hoopa and Karuk tribes said the federal government had failed to meet its obligations to sustain salmon runs in the Klamath Basin while creating a 10-year operations plan for the Klamath Project.
“How many years of this 10-year plan can we sustain before the fishery is gone?” asked Thompson. “We lost 30 percent this year.”
Strom-Martin, D-Duncan Mills, who called the Monday hearing, faulted the Bush administration for restoring full irrigation deliveries last summer to the 235,000 acres of farmland in the Klamath Project while reducing water flows for salmon in the Klamath River.
“To really fix this problem, we need a new president,” she said. “I believe their agenda is set. The purpose of this committee is rallying together to come up with a strategic action plan to deal with this problem.”
Sue Masten, chairman of the Yurok Tribe, said, “We would not be here today if the federal government had lived up to its tribal trust obligations.”
Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Jeff McCracken defended the agency’s decision not to attend the Monday hearing.
“It’s still premature to determine the outcome of this mortality and we are simply awaiting the biologists to finalize their findings before we can move forward,” he said, adding that the invitation was made informally and on short notice. “It was an administration decision.”