Dead Fish Do Tell Tales:
Klamath River Fish Kill Points to Serious Policy Flaws
VP of Conservation Programs
10/2/2002 -- Arlington, VA -- Officials with Trout Unlimited, the nation’s largest trout and salmon conservation organization, today urged the U.S Dept. of the Interior and Secretary Gale Norton to reexamine current policy of diverting large amounts of water from the Klamath River for agriculture following the death of an estimated 30,000 salmon and steelhead trout there in low, warm flows. Fishery managers are calling it among the worst adult fish kills ever on the West Coast.
“We don’t need a peer reviewed scientific treatise, or a National Academy of Sciences study, to tell us that something is drastically wrong with the Klamath River,” said Steve Moyer of Trout Unlimited. “We certainly understand the tremendous demand for water in the Klamath Basin, but if ever there was a sign that the salmon and steelhead need a consistent, stable flow of water too, a river full of dead ones is it.”
“The Klamath is a resource in desperate need of a policy reflective of all who depend on it,” Moyer said. “That certainly includes the farmers, but it also includes the fish and wildlife, along with the people who depend on them.”
The Klamath River runs from southern Oregon into northern California, and has been a flashpoint of controversy in recent years pitting farmers highly dependent on irrigation from the river against Native American tribes and conservation groups concerned over the health of the river’s fish and wildlife. In 2001, irrigation was curtailed to leave water in the river for fish, leading to numerous protests and attempts to illegally force open head gates to allow water into irrigation canals. Earlier this year, following a review of the science requested by Sec. Norton, Interior decided that full deliveries of irrigation water from the Klamath would not harm the river’s fish. Those fish include ESA-listed coho salmon and suckers also sacred to local tribes, along with chinook salmon and steelhead trout, which fueled a once-thriving fishing economy. Flows this year have been decreased by some 25 percent.
“Clearly a catastrophe of this magnitude points to a policy run afoul,” said TU’s Jeff Curtis. “Anyone who’s experienced it can tell you a few thousand fish rotting in the sun is about as foul an outcome as you can get.”
For more information: Jeff Curtis, TU Western Conservation Director: 503.827.5700