Huffman files bill to protect, bolster salmon rivers

Published on
October 18, 2019

A California congressman on Thursday, 17 October filed a bill in Congress that he claims would restore and protect the country’s salmon rivers and watersheds.

By drafting H.R. 4723, dubbed the Salmon Focused Investments in Sustainable Habitats (Salmon FISH) Act, U.S. Representative Jared Huffman in a statement said he wants to make the rivers that support salmon populations more resilient. The Democrat’s bill would call on NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate core abundance areas as “Salmon Conservation Areas” and the purest ones as “Salmon Strongholds.”

Those areas would be protected to ensure future government actions do not threaten their salmon populations. Huffman’s bill would also allow state governments, tribal nations, non-governmental organizations and the general public to nominate areas for designation.

The bill also includes a grant program that would run for the next five years to improve on conservation and restoration efforts.

“Salmon have great ecological, cultural, and economic importance, and are a symbol of the American West,” Huffman said. “This is certainly the case for the fisheries and communities in my district, including many tribes that have relied on salmon since time immemorial. The Salmon FISH Act will protect and restore the outstanding salmon habitats that still remain so that they can not only support thriving wild salmon, but also the communities and economies that depend on them.”

Some rivers, through the building of dams and other developments, have seen their salmon runs taper off significantly over the years. A report by the Seattle Times indicated that 40 percent of the Chinook salmon runs are already extinct.

As a result, the population of Chinook salmon in Salish Sea rivers has gone from a population of more than 1.2 million 35 years ago to less than 500,000 in 2010, according to an Environmental Protection Agency report.

“There is definitely a need for restoration within these core salmon producing watersheds,” said Grant Werschkull, co-executive director of the Smith River Alliance in northern California. “Investing in salmon habitat restoration brings diverse partners together and truly is investing in the health and future of our communities.”

The Smith River, California’s longest undammed river, is considered one of the nation’s strongest for salmon runs. Werschkull said Huffman’s bill would help keep it that way.

The reduction in salmon doesn’t just affect fisheries, it can also have wide-ranging effects on the ecosystem in the watershed areas feeding the rivers.

“Salmon stronghold rivers and other important salmon conservation areas contain the most important wild salmon populations left on the planet,” said Guido Rahr, president and CEO of the Wild Salmon Center. “By protecting them, we will ensure strong runs of wild salmon into the future. Salmon are foundational for resilient coastal communities: a sign of ecosystem health and clean water, a source of jobs and food, and an inspiration to us all.”

Huffman serves as the co-chair of the Congressional Wild Salmon Caucus. He also serves as the House Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee chairman and is drafting a bill that would reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act. He’s in the middle of a roundtable tour where he’s eliciting public comments to shape the bill’s language.

Photo courtesy of United States Congress

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