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SSJID: Non-Native Fish Reducing Salmon Numbers
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Special To The Times

Delta sport fishing with its flashy bass tournaments and purses as high as $100,000 is threatening water supplies for South San Joaquin County farms and cities as well as elsewhere in California.

“The California Department of Fish and Game Commission goes to great lengths to protect it,” South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Jeff Shields said of the sport fishing industry.

Shields contends the state’s support of the non-native bass that fuels the sport fishing industry with 112 bass fishing tournaments annually in the Delta is the primary threat to native Chinook Salmon that spawn in the Stanislaus River. The federal government is pushing to increase water releases on the Stanislaus by cutting into water supplies being used by cities and farming in the belief it is low water that has triggered a long-term decline in native Chinook salmon.

“Bass are ferocious eaters,” Shields added. “They eat Chinook salmon.”

Shields also lays blames on the DFG for allowing ocean harvests of salmon that severely cut into their numbers and ultimately their ability to make it through the Delta and up the Stanislaus to spawn.

The SSJID and Tri-Dam Project partner Oakdale Irrigation District have prevailed in federal court against the National Fisheries Service’s premise that science supported their theory that low-water was the culprit behind the decline in salmon on the Stanislaus.

The two water districts have spent $1 million annually on biological research and restoring areas with gravel beds to allow for salmon spawning.

As a result, in the middle of December the environmental consultant the two districts hired counted over 7,000 Chinook Salmon at its counting station at Riverbank. That compared to just over 400 that were counted at the same location in 2007.

That court decision basically accepted the river and fish data compiled by the SSJID and OID and rejected the federal premise with the judge ordering them to support their claims with science. The ruling also made it clear that the Bureau of Reclamation could not use water secured via adjudicated water rights by the SSJID and OID prior to 1914 to address any water flow needs for the salmon.

That puts further pressure on the Bureau and the remaining water stored behind New Melones, the Stanislaus River watershed as well as flows on the Tuolumne River to address the salmon’s needs. That’s because water from sources flowing into the San Joaquin River south of Turlock have been tied up to address a fish flow settlement involving Friant Dam.

The federal government’s solution, Shields warned, would elevate temperature in the river by releasing water that was normally held back for other purposes. High temperatures in the Stanislaus River would decimate fish.

The biologists hired by the districts have indicated water flows, temperatures, conditions downstream and the ocean also play key roles in fish numbers in addition to gravel beds for spawning.

Had the federal government succeeded in court it would have jeopardized water supplies for Bureau customers as well as the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon as well as farmers in the OID and SSJID territory.