Monday, 24 June 2024

Wiggins accuses Fish and Game of failing to act on salmon collapse

NORTH COAST – The North Coast's state senator has accused a state agency of failing to take action to help struggling salmon populations.


State Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) sharply criticized the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) on Jan. 29 for failing to take emergency steps to prevent salmon fisheries from collapsing. Her critique was issued after the DFG failed to place new restrictions on a gold mining practice that threatens the state's imperiled salmon populations.


Wiggins, who chairs the legislature's Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, also said she is considering new legislation to limit the use of "suction dredge" gold mining, which involves the use of large dredges to vacuum rock and sand from rivers and creek beds, killing fish. Coho salmon, in particular, are at great risk from this practice, according to Wiggins' office.


Wiggins led a group of legislators in writing a letter to DFG officials in support of a petition from environmental organizations and the Karuk Indian Tribe, whose lands include portions of the Klamath River, asking DFG to restrict suction dredge mining along the Klamath. Her office said the department has thus far refused, and officials there have yet to begin a court-ordered review of the situation.


“California's once-thriving salmon populations have plummeted to the point that they face extinction unless we take immediate action,” Wiggins said. She added that it will take courage and bold action on all our parts to bring the fisheries back to healthy levels.


Jordan Traverso, a DFG spokesperson, said the agency had no comment in response to Wiggins' statements.


However, DFG sent a letter on Feb. 2 to the leaders of the Karuk Tribe and several environmental groups, in which the agency explained that the petition for emergency action failed to provide
“substantial evidence that the magnitude of the potential harm caused by suction dredge mining to the state's fisheries is so great that an emergency exists” under the Administrative Procedure Act.


Last year, commercial fishermen were told to stop fishing for ocean salmon, and it is expected they will be told to do so again this year, according to Wiggins' office.


“Even though this puts tremendous pressure on them, their families and their local economies, they understand the need to regenerate the stock,” she said. “However, a small group of recreational miners are allowed to continue suction dredge mining on the streams that serve as nurseries for spawning salmon. It is more than unfair to ask an entire industry to make sacrifices while these other activities continue.”


Wiggins said the lack of appropriate action is one factor contributing to high rates of unemployment in the fishing industry, and that "it's time for our government to step up. If the Department of Fish and Game is unwilling to place the burden of rebuilding fisheries fairly upon all users, I will continue to take legislative action to get government to do its job."


Accordingly, Wiggins says she is considering re-introducing a measure that would put a temporary halt on suction dredge mining until DFG completes its court-ordered mandate to fix long-term regulations.


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