Offshore drilling a ‘dangerous proposal’

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – An annual state legislative hearing on fisheries focused on fighting the re-emergence of what was described as a dangerous threat – new offshore oil drilling.

Alarm over President Donald Trump’s five-year plan to open coastal areas – including California’s – to new offshore oil and gas drilling was a featured aspect of a  March 9 Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture hearing.

Senator Mike McGuire, the committee’s chair, began the hearing by saying that “President Trump’s looming dangerous proposal” is a threat to fisheries. “This is a massive threat and potential assault on California’s $7 billion commercial fishing industry and our $2 billion recreational fishing industry,” he continued.

The annual hearing is named after the late Zeke Grader, a longtime fisheries advocate, and McGuire said Trump’s plan recalls the ones that Grader and other ocean advocates successfully fought off in the 1980s.

“I know that he would be shocked that we are right back at it again, with this administration, when we thought we won that war,” McGuire said. “We must double our efforts to win this battle once and for all because new offshore oil drilling is the last thing that California’s fishing fleet needs at the moment – you all have enough fires to deal with.”

Those include “changing ocean conditions” that have led to disaster declaration requests for the state’s Dungeness crab, salmon, sardine and sea urchin fisheries.

“Climate change is no longer a theory, it’s here,” McGuire said. “It’s here and California’s environment is paying the price, no matter how loud some in Washington, D.C. may shout and deny it.”

Noah Oppenheim, the executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, described offshore oil development as being “incongruous with the national need to curb greenhouse gas emissions.”

Adding that it also threatens the state’s ocean ecosystem and economy, Oppenheim said the Trump administration has advanced extremely erroneous claims about California’s fishing industry.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management “shockingly claims that commercial fishing doesn’t exist in northern and central California,” Oppenheim said. “Let me just state for the record that there are commercial fishing activities in central and northern California,” he continued as audience members chuckled.

“The fact that our organization is about to submit federal comments to a federal agency that points out this basic fact is astounding – it blows my mind,” he said.

Also at the hearing, Dr. Robert Lusardi, a California Trout-UC Davis researcher, presented alarming findings about the potential future of the state’s salmon species. He’s part of a team that has authored a report predicting that 45 percent of all salmon and trout will likely be extinct within 50 years and 74 percent will likely be extinct within 100 years if trends continue.

Salmon return forecasts for this year predict improvement for Klamath fall run Chinook but continued depression for the fall Sacramento River Chinook run, which is a predominant source of the commercial catch.

Dave Bitts, president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said the expected lack of improvement of the Sacramento run will affect the upcoming commercial salmon season.

“The ocean commercial fishery is on its knees,” he said, adding that fishermen haven’t seen a good salmon season since 2014 and “it looks as though this year may be even more restricted than last year’s.”

The last two salmon seasons are likely to qualify for federal fishery disaster declarations, Bitts continued.

The state’s Dungeness crab fishery hasn’t been significantly affected by domoic acid in the last two years but the 2015 to 2016 season was heavily delayed. The fishery’s season for that year is part of a recently-approved package of federal disaster aid.

Oppenheim told the committee he estimates that the state’s Dungeness fishery will be approved for $30 million to $40 million of relief funding.

A multi-state commission will determine how individual fishermen and businesses will be compensated.


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