The Annual Salmonid Restoration Conference kicked off it’s 30th anniversary last week in Davis, California, with a loud cheer from the audience as Chuck Bonham, the new Director of California Department of Fish and Game, led the crowd in a call-response during the audience participation segment of his unusually animated plenary speech. Not that plenary speeches are necessarily boring, but Bonham’s goal to get the crowd of laid back fisheries biologists from state and federal agencies, universities and consulting companies riled up was definitely uncommon. The annual conference of California’s salmonid biologists was well attended and session topics ranged from the “Genetic effects of hatcheries on Chinook salmon populations in the Central Valley” to “The role of coastal lagoons and ocean conditions on salmonid restoration”. At times the question and answer sessions would turn into heated debates, especially with regard to the effects of hatcheries on salmon populations, what one plenary speaker Jim Lichatowich called “the myth of hatcheries”. However, the debates remained civil and, as usual, the best discussions occurred over coffee in the courtyard.
Coincidentally, the conference followed on the heels of the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s decision last Thursday to approve California’s longest commercial salmon fishing season in years. Although there are indications that fall-run Central Valley Chinook salmon may be on the rebound, it is important to remember that the ESA listed fish stocks, such as the Sacramento River winter-run and the Central Valley spring-run Chinook, are still at critically low abundances. Conferences like these are important occasions for sharing ideas, sharing information and advancing the conversation on salmonid recovery. In the words of Chuck Bonham, “If all we’re doing is talking to ourselves, we ain’t getting closer to solving our problems.” Of course nothing is solved easily when it comes to California salmon and there is always more to learn.