The New York Times took a deeper look at an emerging issue with implications for us in Southern California: The plight of the Chinook salmon.

In a story today, the Times says:

The Chinook salmon that swim upstream to spawn in the fall, the most robust run in the Sacramento River, have disappeared. The almost complete collapse of the richest and most dependable source of Chinook salmon south of Alaska left gloomy fisheries experts struggling for reliable explanations — and coming up dry.

The decision is likely to limit or cancel this year’s salmon fishing season along the entire Pacific coast — as well as continue to focus attention on the health of fish that spend time in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

We visited a related salmon issue in a story a week ago looking at the decline of the longfin smelt, which could expand the duration of water pumping restrictions on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. That story said:

Bill Bennett, a research ecologist at the Center for Watershed Sciences at University of California, Davis, said the Chinook salmon’s spring and winter runs, both protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, are struggling.

The Bay Institute and other environmental groups have litigation pending before U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger challenging the validity of a federal permit that allows the State Water Project’s exports to impact the two Chinook salmon runs. The groups filed a similar suit on the delta smelt, which thrust the smelt into the public spotlight last summer, when Wanger sided with environmentalists and invalidated the permit allowing the project’s pumps to impact the tiny fish. That decision led to the current restrictions on water exports from the delta.

ROB DAVIS

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