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Yurok Tribe: Klamath River salmon stock conditions dire, fishery canceled for 5th time

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The Yurok Tribe said it's sounding the alarm as culturally invaluable salmon edge closer to extinction. The Yurok also said Thursday it is canceling its commercial fishery for the fifth time this year.

Tribal officials said Thursday, past water management decisions and climate change have put Klamath river salmon stocks at risk.

The tribe said it's gravely concerned about the rapidly declining salmon stocks in the Klamath River Basin, where communities from the headwaters to the coast are suffering due to past water management decisions and drought.

According to tribal officials in a typical April, Upper Klamath Lake rises with the spring snowmelt, but water levels are currently dropping. The Yurok said equally worrisome is the prevalence of Ceratonova shasta, a deadly juvenile salmon disease, that is climbing at a rapid rate.

The Yurok said Thursday a repeat of 2014 and 2015 when approximately 90 percent of sampled juvenile fish were infected by the deadly pathogen and most of those fish died, is nearly inevitable. In the next few months, Yurok officials said many juvenile salmon are expected to die from the disease if additional flows are not released to flush the pathogen out of the river.

According to the Yurok the US Bureau of Reclamation released a temporary operations plan for the basin in an attempt to minimize the ecological and economic damage caused by a combination of last year’s water mismanagement and the current drought on Wednesday. Tribal officials said the plan provides bare-minimum flows for imperiled Klamath salmon and sucker fish populations.

“It is unfortunate that a severe drought and climate change, coupled with risky decisions made in 2020, have left us all in this impossible bind this year,” Yurok Tribe Vice Chairman Frankie Myers said. “Based on the current conditions, the Yurok Tribe is acutely concerned about the health of the entire river from the headwaters to the sea, because it is the beating heart of all the Tribes in the basin. The Klamath salmon are now on a course toward extinction in the near term.”

During the past five years, the Klamath has experienced some of worst salmon runs on record. To protect these invaluable fish stocks, the Yurok Tribe said it will be cancelling its commercial fishery for the fifth time this year.

“Following five years of record-low fish runs, juvenile salmon kills and commercial salmon fishing closures, the Yurok people have paid a heavy price for the past mismanagement of the river. While we are sympathetic to our upstream neighbors, many Yurok families are also unable to pay basic bills due the fishing closures. We don’t have enough salmon for our ceremonies or to feed our elders as we have since time immemorial.” Yurok Attorney and Ridges to Rivers Conservation Fund Principal Amy Cordalis said. “We are concerned that conditions on the river are so dire that even if Reclamation’s plan is followed and minimum flows are provided, we are going to face a catastrophic loss of this year class of fish and the ecological collapse of the Klamath River. We have a duty as Yurok people to prevent that from ever happening.”

According to a press release the BOR’s plan provides $15 million in emergency assistance funds for irrigators in the upper basin and $3 million for Tribes. It also contains a real-time management component, but the Yurok Tribe said tribes were not included in that process. The Yurok Tribe said Wednesday the USDA committed another $10 million for farmers.

“Reclamation’s plan does not provide for adequate tribal consultation in the real-time management aspect of the 2021 water year. The Yurok Tribe is suffering significant economic damage on top of the extreme cultural and social impacts of failing fish runs,” Vice Chairman Myers said. “While we have never and will never put a dollar value on our fishery, there is a clear disparity in the federal relief to Tribes.”

The Yurok Tribe said there is an urgent need to resolve the ecological and economic threats to the communities in the Klamath Basin so it's calling for the creation of a long-term, stakeholder-driven plan that contemplates the impact of climate change and resolves the complex water challenges.

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“All of this points to the need to find equitable and durable solutions that result in sustainable communities from the top to the bottom of the Klamath Basin,” Yruok Vice Chairman Myers said.

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