Experts say California must protect salmon

California has most of the laws and regulations it needs to protect dwindling salmon populations. What it lacks is money and willpower to do it, a panel of legal and fishery experts told legislators Tuesday.

Illegal water diversions, pollution, habitat degradation and a lack of basic data all threaten the state's salmon. The situation is so grave that two-thirds of the state's native salmon and trout species face imminent extinction threats.

One is the Central Valley fall-run chinook, which has supported the West Coast's commercial salmon fishing for decades but last year set a historic population low. As a result, all salmon fishing in California is likely to be banned for a second straight year.

A stream of legal and environmental experts told the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee at a special hearing Tuesday that California's salmon are in peril largely because state government has not had the nerve or resources to help.

"There is, indeed, a salmon crisis in California," said Holly Doremus, a UC Davis expert on state environmental laws. "We think it's important to note that this is not new. It's as if we've waited until we've had a heart attack to seek medical attention rather than take preventive action."

The reasons are not sexy and don't make good political theater. Rather, they deal with the nuts and bolts of government neglected amid budget cuts and infighting.

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