Capitol Alert

Decimated by drought, salmon fishing teeters on the brink in California

Spring-run Chinook salmon before they are transported from the Feather River Fish Hatchery to the Thermalito Fish Facility on Feb. 9, 2017 in Oroville.
Spring-run Chinook salmon before they are transported from the Feather River Fish Hatchery to the Thermalito Fish Facility on Feb. 9, 2017 in Oroville. The Sacramento Bee file

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A wet winter may have finally pulled the state out of its historic drought, but the tail is long for California salmon fishermen.

Five dry years brought abysmal conditions for the hatching and survival of new fish. The number of adult fall-run Chinook salmon has subsequently plummeted, with regulators this year expecting the worst return ever of fish to spawn on the Klamath River: 54,000, down from 1.6 million in 2012.

It’s a brutal blow for the salmon fishing industry. State and federal officials have imposed severe restrictions, with ocean and river fisheries in the most northern swath of California closed entirely for the rest of the year, even for recreational anglers. Native American communities, where salmon provides a critical food source and plays a significant cultural role, are bracing for allotments of just a few hundred fish, a fraction of the normal tribal catch.

Earlier this month, lawmakers representing the northern coast sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown requesting a disaster declaration that would enable struggling fishermen to receive financial assistance. The Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture will try to bring further attention to the salmon fishing crisis with a hearing on its causes, impacts and possible policy actions, 1 p.m. in Room 2040 of the Capitol.

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CLIMATE FIGHT: With the massive transportation funding deal behind him, Brown has turned his attention to his other major priority (and heavy lift) this legislative session: renewing California’s cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A tweet last week by his top aide that Brown would only sign a plan passed by two-thirds of the Legislature ramped up the pressure on Democratic leaders, particularly in the Assembly, where Speaker Anthony Rendon has admitted he would have an easier time if he only had to wrangle a simple majority. Brown will keep the drumbeat for his climate change agenda going at the “Climate Is Big Business” conference in San Francisco, hosted by the California Environmental Protection Agency and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, where he is set to speak at 11 a.m.

A PLACE TO CALL THEIR OWN: The deadly fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland last December put a spotlight on the lack of affordable living and work spaces for artists in California. That issue, a symptom of the state’s broader housing crunch, will be the focus of the Joint Committee on the Arts’ annual review of the creative economy, 1:30 p.m. in Room 3191 of the Capitol.

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DO YOU CARE?: Heard any big health care news this week? A legislative analysis that put the annual price tag for a single-payer system in California at $400 billion rocked the Capitol on Monday. Those who need help putting it all into context may want to check out the latest conference from the Independent Voter Project, the largely corporate-funded nonprofit that promotes a less partisan approach to politics, focusing on the state of health care in California. While not as glamorous as Maui, the more conveniently-located event begins at 9 a.m. at the Crest Theatre on K Street, with a half day of panels on industry perspectives, women’s health and improving cost and access. Participants include California Medical Association CEO Dustin Corcoran and Assembly members Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno; Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento; Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg; Blanca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park; and Rob Bonta, D-Alameda.

DROWNING IN DEBT: As the state’s unfunded pension debt climbs into the hundreds of billions of dollars, many Californians would like to place new limits on the retirement benefits offered to government workers. That’s unlikely to happen any time soon, with the Capitol dominated by Democrats who are closely allied with public employee unions – but it won’t stop Assemblymen Bill Brough, R-Dana Point, and Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, from trying. They will present ACA 15, a proposed constitutional amendment requiring voter approval of enhanced pension benefits, 10:30 a.m. in Room 125 of the Capitol.

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Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff