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California Fish Species Plummet to Record Low Levels
By Dan Bacher, CounterPunch
Fish species ranging from endangered Delta Smelt to Striped Bass continued to plummet to record low population levels in 2015 in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, according to the annual fall survey report released on Dec. 18, 2015 by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Only six Delta Smelt, an endangered species that once numbered in the millions and was the most abundant fish in the Delta, were collected at the index stations in the estuary this past fall. The 2015 index (7), a relative number of abundance, “is the lowest in history," Sara Finstad, an environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Bay Delta Region, said.
The Delta Smelt, a 2 to 3 inch fish found only in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, is an indicator species that demonstrates the health of the Delta, an estuary that has been dramatically impacted by water exports to corporate agribusiness interests and Southern California water agencies during the record drought, along with other factors including increasing water toxicity and invasive species.
The Fall Midwater Trawl Survey, used to index the fall abundance of pelagic (open water) fishes most years since 1967, conducts monthly surveys from September through December. The 2015 sampling season was completed on Dec. 11.
“In September, the only Delta Smelt collected were from index stations in the lower Sacramento River," Finstad said. “In October the only Delta smelt collected came from a non-index station in the Sacramento Deep Water Shipping Channel."
In November, no Delta Smelt were collected—and in December, the only Delta Smelt collected were from index stations in Montezuma Slough and the lower Sacramento River, according to Finstad.
The population of striped bass, a popular gamefish, has also declined to record low levels. The 2015 abundance index (52) is the second lowest in history. Only 42 age zero striped bass were conducted at the survey stations, noted Finstad.
Likewise, Longfin Smelt, a cousin of the Delta Smelt, declined to the lowest abundance index (4) in the history of the survey. Only three longfin smelt were collected at the index stations throughout the three-month period.
The abundance index (806) for Threadfin Shad, an introduced species from the East Coast that provides forage for larger fish, reached its eighth lowest level in survey history. The biologists collected 634 Threadfin Shad at the index stations.
Finally, the 2015 abundance index (79) for American Shad, a relative of the Threadfin Shad that is pursued by anglers on Central Valley rivers every spring, is the lowest in history of the survey. Only 59 American shad were collected at the index stations.
Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said the fall survey shows the “continuing collapse of the estuary caused by the failure of the state and federal regulatory agencies to comply with the law."
“Every survey conducted, including the 20 mm Delta Smelt, spring Kodiak trawl, summer tow net and the fall midwater trawl surveys, shows record low levels of the fish surveyed," Jennings said.
He emphasized that in spite of the continuing record drought conditions, that water exports south of the Delta through the state and federal pumping facilities averaged 7500 cubic feet per second (cfs) over the past week. “The State Water Project pumps are averaging 5154 cfs, while the Central Valley Project Pumps are averaging 2360 cfs," Jennings added.
As fish populations continue to collapse, the California Department of Water Resources and Bureau of Reclamation are going forward with permit petitions to the State Water Resources Control Board to change the point of diversion on the Sacramento River to implement Gov. Jerry Brown's Delta Tunnels Plan, the so-called “California Water Fix."
Jennings and other public trust advocates point to these latest fish survey results—and the state and federal water agencies' permit petitions to divert more water from the Sacramento River at new diversion points—as just more evidence of the “capture of the regulators by the regulated."
The current collapse of Delta fish species occurs as part of a long-term decline. The operation of the state and federal water projects by the California Department of Water Resources and Bureau of Reclamation Reclamation has brought fisheries to historic lows.
Since 1967, abundance indices for striped bass, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, American shad, splittail and threadfin shad have declined by 99.7, 97.8, 99.9, 91.9, 98.5 and 97.8 percent, respectively. according to Jennings.
The natural production of Sacramento winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon has declined by 98.2 and 99.3 percent, respectively and are only at 5.5 and 1.2 percent of doubling levels mandated by the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, California Water Code and California Fish & Game Code. To make matters even worse, more than 95 percent of endangered juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon perished in lethally warm water conditions on the upper section of the Sacramento River in 2014 and 2015, due to mismanagement by the state and federal water agencies.
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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