The consideration that fishermen must have for other users’ rights is a necessary part of sharing a limited resource. In most cases, fisheries are divided by recreational and commercial users, different gear types, and beyond that, individual fishermen. When the resource is dwindling, everyone takes a hit.
That is, unless you’re a California farmer. As the statewide drought continues in its fourth year, Gov. Jerry Brown announced that for the first time ever, some residents will be required to cut back on their water use. His executive order mandates that the state's 3,000 urban water providers reduce their water use by 25 percent, and it includes other water-saving initiatives such as replacing 50 million square feet of green grass lawns with drought-tolerant plants, rebates for consumers who purchase water-saving appliances and bans on watering street meridians and irrigation systems for new housing developments. But there were no restrictions for the state's largest segment of water users, the agriculture industry.
For the state’s commercial fishermen, the lack of water means salmon either can't reach spawning grounds. And the problem isn't just because of the drought in and of itself: Fresh water is being diverted to support agriculture. A whopping trillion gallons goes to the Southern Central Valley, to be soaked up by the especially thirsty nut trees. To give an idea of how much, agriculture uses 80 percent of the state's water, while almonds suck up 10 percent on their own.
When water is diverted the salmon is misled into waterways that are too shallow and warm for them to survive in, according to San Francisco salmon fisherman Mike Hudson, interviewed for a PBS News Hour report about the competing interests of salmon and almonds for the state's water.
"I would argue that this is a fight for the livelihood of a farming family who has been doing this for generations,” an almond grower retorted in his industry’s defense. You can watch that report below:
How many times have commercial fishermen seen their livelihoods dwindle when agencies require cutbacks for preservation purposes? In some cases, a fishery will lose members, leaving the survivors with hopefully enough to carry on. It’s not ideal, but that’s the reality of a sharing a limited resource. But commercial fishermen seem to be the only ones required to make sacrifices compared to other industries in California that need water. Nestlé, which bottles water in California, has stated its refusal to slow down its water use. In fact, the company plans to increase the amount of water it bottles in California, according to the Guardian newspaper. “People need to hydrate,” said Tim Brown, chief executive of Nestlé Waters North America.