From San Francisco to Oregon, fish's population has plunged 70 percent since 1960s
Friday, August 6, 2004
By MIKE GENIELLA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The state Fish and Game Commission, citing continued declines of coho salmon on the North Coast, voted Thursday to bolster protections for the fish by designating it an endangered species.
Coho previously had been listed as a threatened species by both state and federal regulators.
The new designation under the state's Endangered Species Act provides one more layer of protection for coho salmon in the Russian River watershed and coastal streams from San Francisco Bay to near Cape Mendocino.
"It was time to bite the bullet here and list the species as endangered," said Sam Schuchat, commission vice president. "We're down to thousands of fish. If we hadn't done what we did today, the species is going to wink out of existence and be gone forever."
From San Francisco to Oregon, the coho population has plunged 70 percent since the 1960s, and is estimated to be just 6 percent to 15 percent of its 1940s level despite the release of millions of hatchery-raised fish, according to the commission.
Thursday's decision underscored the state commission's determination to impose further coho protections despite adoption in February of a $5 billion restoration program developed by a 21-member committee.
Coho have been under federal protection since the mid-1990s, and the practical effects of the new state designation were still being debated late Thursday.
Environmentalists hailed the added coho protection, contending state and federal agencies need to better coordinate recovery efforts to prevent possible extinction of the fish.
But timber industry representatives and agricultural interests said the endangered designation lacked scientific credibility. They predicted California's natural resource-related industries will be further hampered in a competitive global marketplace by added regulations.
"We keep adding environmental protections at the expense of doing business in California, and that's going to hurt," said Chris Quirmbach, president of the California Licensed Foresters Association.
Mendocino County Supervisor Mike Delbar said he was disappointed with the state decision, especially because the commission's designation for coho populations in the Eel River and other streams to the Oregon border remained "threatened."
"I had hoped the recovery strategy would be unified and working toward the same goals," Delbar said.
Species listed as "endangered" are viewed as being on the brink of extinction, making it illegal under state or federal law to harm or kill them. A "threatened" species doesn't enjoy the same full protection because its situation is not viewed as critical.
The commission actually signaled its intent more than 18 months ago to elevate the coho designation to endangered from San Francisco to near Cape Mendocino on the North Coast, but delayed formal action until the special committee delivered its coho salmon recovery report.
Commissioners then said state action was necessary to "avoid further deterioration of coho salmon" habitat in the Russian River watershed and coastal streams. Recent surveys and monitoring indicate that "near-extinction" has already occurred in some of the larger streams, according to a commission report.
Commissioners acknowledged there might be economic fallout from the added regulatory burdens that will be placed on businesses engaged in natural resource activity. But they said much of the costs have already occurred because of the earlier federal listings of coho as threatened or endangered.