Yurok Tribe Closes Fishing Four Days Per Week, Partially Blames Marijuana Farms
In response to the decline of wild spring Chinook salmon in the Klamath-Trinity Basin and concern about the status of green sturgeon, the Yurok Tribal Council has adopted stringent spring fishing regulations, including a four-day per week closure. “Closing the fishery is never an easy decision for our Council, especially when similar efforts aren’t made by others that harvest these imperiled stocks,” said Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr., Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “Our people depend on these fish to feed their families. We decided to make this sacrifice today to protect this crucial spring staple for future generations.”
The Tribe is concerned that wild spring Chinook of the Klamath Basin, especially those from the South Fork Trinity River (SFTR), are following a trend toward extirpation. More than 11,000 adult spring Chinook were estimated to return to the South Fork in 1964, yet during four of the last 12 years, less than 100 fish were counted during snorkel surveys of the river. Poor habitat is the primary factor that has led to the decline of spring Chinook, which has motivated the Tribe to engage in habitat restoration efforts in the SFTR. Harvest is not considered to be a primary factor contributing to stock’s decline, however the Tribe considers prudent harvest management to be a necessary tool to preserve this stock for future generations.
Currently, there are no regionally coordinated conservation objectives guiding the harvest of spring Chinook. The Yurok Tribe has chosen to reduce spring Chinook harvest impacts for the past couple of decades. This is consistent with the Tribe’s responsible approach to natural resource management, which puts a premium on long-term sustainability.
“We encourage co-managers regulating the harvest of this species to adopt similar rules to protect these fish and begin to rebuild the Klamath River’s spring salmon populations,” David Gensaw, Vice Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “It is not easy for our fishers to stay off the river, while others proceed without consideration for these imperiled fish.
In recent years, water quantity and quality has decreased on the South Fork Trinity as a result of numerous large-scale marijuana farms in the watershed. During the summer months, when juveniles are rearing/emigrating and adults are migrating upstream to hold until the early fall, millions of gallons of water are illegally diverted to support the clandestine cannabis growing operations. At the same time, fertilizers leached into the waterways degrade water quality critical for the survival of juvenile and adult spring Chinook.
Another component of the spring regulations requires that the dorsal fin be removed from all harvested spring Chinook, so that they can clearly be identified as subsistence-only catch. As in past years, to protect these limited stocks, the Tribal Council adopted regulations making it illegal to sell or purchase spring Chinook. The adopted regulations are the result of four public fisher meetings, as well as review sessions with the Natural Resource Committee and the Yurok Tribe Fisheries Department.
The Tribe also adopted several regulations to further protect green sturgeon, in addition to the four-day per week closure. While population numbers are not available for this species, there are concerns that green sturgeon numbers are in decline. The enormous fish don’t reproduce until they are at least 15 years old, which makes them especially vulnerable to over-exploitation and habitat degradation.
Yurok people are inextricably connected to the natural world. The health and welfare of the Tribe is directly linked to that of the diverse ecosystems in the temperate rainforests of Northern California. Since there are no supermarkets on or near the Yurok Reservation, traditional foods, such as spring salmon, provide sustenance to many Yurok families. The decrease in availability of these important sources of nutrition coincides with a spike in diabetes and other health-related issues. To see the complete Spring Fishery regulations, please visit www.yuroktribe.org