By Patty Unterman and Alice Waters
Today, one of our state’s most iconic local foods, chinook salmon, is in critical danger, threatened by drought and Congress.
This week, 39 leading Bay Area chefs and restaurant owners joined the Golden Gate Salmon Association in opposing antisalmon bills in Congress. Instead, we urge legislators to support rebuilding salmon runs.
Although many link this magnificent fish with rivers to the north, the most important California salmon habitat is closer to home. San Francisco Bay and its rivers represent the biggest salmon system south of the Columbia River.
Historically, this ecosystem produced millions of salmon annually. Young salmon emerge from the gravel in cold Central Valley rivers every spring. They spend the next few years in the ocean, returning to spawn where they were born.
Every year, the return of salmon is eagerly anticipated by California fishermen, restaurants and the public.
Tragically, during the past two drought years, nearly all wild salmon in some California rivers have been killed by high water temperatures. Because of shrinking salmon runs, the fishing fleets at Fisherman’s Wharf and dozens of other ports face severe restrictions. Thanks to careful regulation, we still have salmon in our markets and on our menus, but it’s scarce and expensive this year.
Unfortunately, some hope to take advantage of the drought, seeking to weaken protections for salmon to squeeze more water from vulnerable salmon rivers. We need to choose, they claim, between fish and people.
Bills in the Senate, S2533 by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and the House, HR2898 by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford (Kings County), threaten the future of California salmon by undermining legal protections for salmon and mandating maximum water pumping from San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. These proposals could not come at a worse time. Although Feinstein’s bill has some positive provisions, both bills would imperil our salmon runs.
Those of us in the food community know we don’t need to choose between fish and people. California salmon is among the world’s most delicious and perfect foods. And salmon are essential to the families, businesses and communities that depend on them. Salmon link California’s environment, economy and people.
Salmon don’t have the choices we have during the drought. Farmers can install drip irrigation and plant less thirsty crops. Urban residents can replace lawns, and water agencies can reclaim wastewater. But salmon depend on the water we leave in our rivers and in the habitat we restore for them.
We can have strong salmon runs, a thriving fishing industry, reliable water supplies and a precious sustainable food source. The future of this remarkable fish is in our hands.
Patty Unterman is the owner of the Hayes Street Grill in San Francisco. Alice Waters is the owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley and the founder of the Edible Schoolyard.
This article originally posted by SF Gate.