Month Email

Subject of Email

Salmon's Path and Ours Monterey Fish Market

The California 2011 Commercial
Salmon Season Opens on May 1st

king salmon

This is great news.

We share the pathways that are the salmon runs, through the Golden Gate, right before us here in Berkeley,  through the Carquinez Strait to the Delta, then up the Sacramento & San Joaquin Rivers and their tributaries.

We can make a difference by supporting the local fishermen, the salmon runs and river restoration.

An opinion by Paul Johnson,
President and founder of Monterey Fish Market

"Sustainability" is the new buzz word for energy and commerce, appended to everything from solar arrays and plug-in hybrid cars to organic salad greens. To be a player in the emerging economy of the 21st Century means you'd better have your sustainability bona fides in order.

A lot of this, of course, is marketing hype, new lipstick for old pigs.  But that doesn't mean sustainability is a fantasy issue.  We have more people and fewer resources on this planet every day, and we must identify ways to improve productivity and minimize waste if we want to maintain a high standard of living.

The irony is that we don't have to look to the future to identify a superb sustainable business model.  In California, we have been pursuing such an enterprise for 150 years.  For all that time, it has produced some of the healthiest, most delicious food on earth, providing generations of working families with prosperous livelihoods.  And it has accomplished this with minimal environmental impacts.

I'm talking about the state's salmon industry.  Chinook salmon from the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers have long been a major economic driver for the state.  They supported commercial fishermen and fish processors, and bolstered the profits of thousands of restaurants specializing in fresh local seafood. They also fed the people.  We didn't have to create an elaborate infrastructure for this industry, nor did we need to empty our public coffers to provide lavish subsidies. The salmon spawned in our rivers and fattened on the marine pastures off our shores.  All we had to do was catch them.

As recently as 2002, the Sacramento River produced 1.5 million fall-run salmon.  Business was good, and so was the eating.   But by 2009, the runs had collapsed, yielding a scant 39,000 fish; not enough to support a commercial or sport fishery.  The seasons closed.   Along a thousand of miles of coastline, tens of thousands of people lost their incomes.  By 2011, the fish had returned to a modest degree, and a limited season has been authorized.  But the runs remain well below the historic average.

What has happened to this formerly robust and sustainable industry? It's simple.   We took one of the few things the fish need, clean, cold fresh water, and transferred it to a business that is utterly unsustainable:  subsidized corporate agriculture in the western San Joaquin Valley.

The "Westlands" is not about family farming.  It is about an agribusiness complex massive in scope, but controlled by a handful of corporations and billionaires.  It is about the production of government-subsidized export crops with government-subsidized water on lands so tainted with poisonous selenium that the run-off from the fields is lethal to fish and wildlife. It is about the network of politicians and lobbyists who support this arrogant cabal to the detriment of our water, working people, fisheries and wildlife.

For a while, it looked like things could be turned around.  In 2008, federal agencies began the implementation of peer-reviewed and science-based plans to restore the Bay-Delta's threatened fisheries.  Limitations on excessive pumping were central to this effort.

Unfortunately, the Westlands Water District plutocracy and their political allies, led by California Representatives Devin Nunes and Tom McClintock, and California Senator Dianne Feinstein, have resisted these reforms tooth and claw.   Attempts to undermine the studies that support the restoration measures and new legislation that undercuts fisheries recovery programs are threatening to put California salmon , and salmon fishermen -- back on the road to extinction.

Unlike Westlands agriculture, the salmon industry doesn't need any hand-outs.  It supports a diverse array of working families, from commercial fishermen to the chefs and waiters staffing our restaurants.  We need to remind our politicians where their first obligations lie.  We didn't elect them to pander to a corporate elite while laying waste to the state's oldest sustainable business enterprise.  They need to remember who brought them to this dance.
The Westlands  may have the dollars, but we have the numbers.


monterey fish market logo