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Close to Home: California salmon on the brink of disaster

Brian Geagan

BRIAN GEAGAN ,

BRIAN GEAGAN IS A RECREATIONAL FISHERMAN AND HEALDSBURG RESIDENT.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein just handed the future of California salmon and our fishing economy over to the Trump administration.

During the closing hours of this year’s session, Feinstein worked with congressmen representing big growers in the Central Valley to stick a knife in one of Sen. Barbara Boxer’s greatest accomplishments and also into California’s salmon and coastal communities.

Over the past two years, Boxer painstakingly crafted a bipartisan bill to fund water projects nationwide, a rarity in the age of a gridlocked Congress. That bill included restoration projects for Lake Tahoe and the Great Lakes, funding for the lead contamination disaster in Flint, Michigan and other worthy provisions.

At the last minute, Feinstein, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Central Valley growers conspired to stick an anti-salmon rider on that bipartisan bill. That’s right. Feinstein forced Congress to decide whether to help Michigan children suffering from lead poisoning or California salmon and coastal communities.

Because of this double-dealing, Boxer was forced to lobby — unsuccessfully — against her own bill. This was the last thing she did before leaving the Senate after 24 effective years in office. We should all thank Boxer for her passionate work for California.

Feinstein’s bill gives the incoming administration authority to waive protections for San Francisco Bay and Sacramento- San Joaquin Delta salmon that federal judges and biologists have found to be based on the best information available today. Under President Donald Trump, those weakened rules could result in a disaster for salmon and the jobs that rely on healthy salmon runs.

If you have any doubt about where Trump stands on California’s environment and fishing industry, last June — after the driest four years in state history — he said that there is “no drought” in California. He’s already promised to gut protections for California’s keystone salmon runs to deliver more water to the Central Valley grower who supported him.

Trump and Feinstein appear not to know, or care, that the rivers that flow into the delta and bay support the most important salmon runs south of the Columbia River. Sonoma County is doing a great deal to protect local salmon, but most of the salmon caught off the California and Oregon coasts come from the bay and the delta. Feinstein’s legislation allows Trump to devastate those salmon runs.

Our environment is one of the things that make Sonoma County a special place to live. As an avid fisherman, it’s not an accident that I live a few blocks from our own salmon river. Nothing shows the connection between our environment and our economy better than a sustainable fishing economy.

Salmon support jobs far beyond the commercial fishermen in Bodega Bay. From Morro Bay to Crescent City, salmon fishing is critical to tackle shops, boat dealers, charter boats, restaurants and more. All told, a healthy California salmon fishery generates 23,000 jobs and more than $1 billion a year in economic activity.

Apparently, Feinstein doesn’t care about salmon, fishing jobs or those of us who consider salmon runs and a healthy environment essential parts of California’s natural heritage.

Thoughtful legislators know we don’t need to choose between water supply and our environment. Boxer and Rep. Jared Huffman wrote their own drought bills in consultation with water agencies, fishermen and environmental advocates. Those bills showed how we can restore our ecosystems and salmon runs while we secure future water supplies by recycling wastewater, conserving and more.

If you want to continue to see California salmon in your markets and local restaurants, if you value a healthy economy in fishing towns like Bodega Bay, take a moment to urge Sen.-elect Kamala Harris to carry on Boxer’s environmental legacy. And write to Gov. Jerry Brown. California has our own laws protecting salmon. For decades, however, state agencies have let the feds take the lead. Clearly, for the coming four years, we cannot rely on Trump and Feinstein to protect salmon. California may need to go it alone.

One more thing. Sonoma Country voters should remember this attack on salmon, coastal communities and our environmental values. Feinstein’s term ends in 2018.

Brian Geagan is a recreational fisherman and Healdsburg resident.