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Delta bares brunt of hungry oceans
Some claim that the drought is being made worse by man-made decisions relating to water flow for fish in the Delta. This is what Woodward Reservoir some 16 miles northeast of Manteca looks like today. It helps supply irrigation water for farms plus domestic water for the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy. - photo by HIME ROMERO
I’ve just finished reviewing “Hungry Oceans:  What Happens When the Prey Is Gone?” that is an in-depth look at what is happening to fisheries around the world.  The report was compiled by Oceana, an international organization that is dedicated to protecting and restoring the world’s oceans.  The conclusion of the report states that the disappearance of small fish normally eaten by big fish is causing a collapse in fish numbers.

A news release announcing the report read that “prey fish underpin marine food webs and are being steadily exhausted by heavy fishing, increasing demand for aquaculture feed, and climate change.”

Why would I take the time to read this exhaustive report?  Well, it seems that those farmers who rely on water flowing from the Delta and the 25 million Californians that rely on this water supply are being unfairly characterized as the reason the salmon numbers are declining.  This characterization is supported by the argument that the pumps that send water flowing from the Delta are grinding the salmon smolts before they reach the ocean.

The Oceana report identifies krill and small fish as important to the survival of Pacific salmon.  Once Chinook and Coho salmon reach the ocean after migrating from their home rivers, their diets consists mainly of Pacific herring, Pacific sand lance and surf smelt that is normally in abundant supply along the coast.  

I’m not sure what an emaciated salmon looks like but research for the report says more and more of these scrawny predators, including dolphins and even whales, are turning up along coastlines all around the world.  

The reason for a diminishing food supply for such predators as salmon is several-fold.    Overfishing, both commercial and recreational, is suggested as one of the leading causes.  Changing water temperatures in the oceans as documented by El Nino and La Nina are also causing the prey fish to move from one location to another in order to remain in certain temperature zones to which they’ve become accustomed.  Climate change is also linked to the decrease of fisheries around the world as well as harvesting these prey fish for a feed supply in the commercial aquaculture industry.

Among the solutions listed by Oceana to solve this worldwide problem is to limit both commercial and recreational fishing.  California’s salmon industry experienced the effects of a closed fishing season last year and the prospects look dim again this year.  This is not good news for those individuals who rely on fishing for their livelihoods.  

The claim that the Delta pumps are the cause for the dwindling salmon numbers becomes even more suspect after reviewing the Oceana report.  An extensive list of scientists who collaborated on the report present an interesting viewpoint as to why the numbers of certain fish are declining.  Perhaps the critics of the Delta pumps should sit down and read “Hungry Oceans.”