Click on Home or the logo above to navigate to the main California Fisheries Blog webpage.

California Needs a Wild Salmon Policy

Canada has a Wild Salmon Policy. California needs one. California can develop a better salmon policy by taking a good look at the Canadian policy.

In past posts, I have mentioned the need for a comprehensive California Salmon Plan.1 There are many plans in California, but there are few with real actions like NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service – NMFS) Central Valley Salmon Recovery Plan. The problem is that most plans have no “bite.” NMFS has been given a “bite option” in issuing take permits under the Endangered Species Act, but NMFS rarely uses its full authority in issuing biological opinions for federal projects. NMFS is particularly averse to issuing “jeopardy” opinions with mandated Reasonable Prudent Alternatives (RPAs).

Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy2

“Wild salmon hold tremendous value for natural ecosystems, cultural and spiritual practices, jobs and income, and recreational enjoyment along the coast and inland watersheds of the Pacific Region. They are important for Indigenous people, communities, individuals, groups and businesses.” (Policy, p. 5).

The value of California’s wild salmon public trust resources needs more consideration and recognition. For example: in setting rules for commercial and recreational harvest of the dominant fall-run Chinook salmon stocks, little or no consideration is given to protecting dwindling wild fall-run salmon populations.

While Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy is not exactly a plan with specific actions (the Policy leaves that to local and regional entities), the Policy does outline goals, objectives, strategies, approaches, and what might be called overarching concerns. Chief among the Wild Salmon Policy’s overarching concerns that also apply to California salmon are:

  • Diversity – There were once many salmon stocks located within and among the many rivers and tributary streams in the Central Valley. Preserving this genetic diversity deserves much more consideration.
  • Keystone species – Maintaining the role of salmon that were once important to the entire ecosystem, bringing in marine nutrients and carbon to watersheds, is important.
  •  Declines in specific populations – There is a need to immediately address sudden or unforeseen drops in abundance of any population or subpopulation.
  • Ocean and river conditions – There is a need to recognize and react to sudden or unforeseen changes in habitat conditions that have potential adverse impacts to salmon.
  • Less predictable returns – Accurate predictions are real problems for fishery managers; poor predictions are the norm.
  • Reduced available stocks for harvest – There is a need to anticipate and address stock collapses before and after they occur through aggressive planning and an array of actions; lower fishable stocks threaten traditional uses of public trust resources like salmon.

Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy has three main strategies:

  1. Involve stakeholders – Stakeholders have unique and important knowledge about Pacific salmon, how the local environment functions, and characteristic ecological relationships.
  2. Develop technical methods and tools – To support the status assessment of salmon conservation units, there must be initiatives to assess habitat and ecosystems, and day-to-day fishery and ecosystem management decisions within regional programs that reflect the principles, goals, and objectives of an overall wild salmon program.
  3. Develop and implement a comprehensive management plan – Canada uses a comprehensive plan with a five-year implementation plan and an annual-review process. (Note: the latest 5-Year Winter-Run Salmon Plan in California was dated 2016.)

The general approach of Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy is:

  • Engage partners and stakeholders at the local level to leverage local knowledge and expertise.
  • Facilitate collaboration through salmon governance processes and capacity building.
  • Consider guiding principles and objectives in ongoing management and program activities, both internally and with partners.
  • Adapt and update best practices based on lessons learned.

The strategies for and approaches to assessment in Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy are:

  • Standardized monitoring of wild salmon – To understand the current status of wild salmon stocks, it is important to have regular, standardized, science-based monitoring that identifies benchmarks for Conservation Units (CUs).
  • Determine the current status of Conservation Units.
  • Continue to monitor and assess status of Conservation Units.
  • Set Priorities – Implement prioritization method for assessing and monitoring Conservation Units or groups of Conservation Units.
  • Modify or develop metrics and document new status assessment methods.
  • Consolidate and improve documentation of standards for internal and external monitoring programs and improve data sharing through open processes.
  • Consider guiding principles and objectives in planning annual and multi-year work processes.
  • Continue integrated planning discussions through various mechanisms, including local roundtables.
  • Work on an integrated approach to wild salmon.

The delineation of Conservation Units and their benchmarks does not prescribe specific management actions, but rather is used to inform decision-making. As spawner abundance (escapement) decreases, a Conservation Unit moves towards a lower status, and the extent of management intervention for conservation purposes increases. A low Conservation Unit index is undesirable because of the risk of extirpation and the loss of ecological benefits and salmon production. Changes in status should trigger management actions, which will vary depending on species, geographic regions, and cause of the decline.

The implementation Plan of Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy involves:

  • Assessment of impacts and monitoring habitats.
  • Accountability in completing actions and reporting.
  • Maintaining and rebuilding salmon populations.

In conclusion, Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy provides a good model for a badly needed comprehensive Central Valley Salmon and Steelhead Protection and Recovery Plan or Program, for the entire array of federal and state salmon and steelhead projects that are undertaken in the Central Valley. It should encompass planned and ongoing projects funded by the departments of the Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, Defense, Energy, and by the EPA, as well as those jointly permitted by the California Resources Agency.