The Eugene Register-Guard takes Gordon Smith to task for his absurd answers on the 2002 Klamath fish-kill.
He told the R-G that he thought it was "gill disease" that killed the fish.
Smith, who pushed the Bush administration to help get water for farmers' potato crops and alfalfa fields, said he recalled that the salmon "died of some gill disease, which is not uncommon and happens periodically."
But even Smith's friends are laughing out loud at him.
Commercial fishing advocate Glenn Spain said Smith has been an ally over the years. But after reading the senator's comments, Spain said Smith's version of those events in 2002 did not square with his own. Spain said there was no question that diverting water reduced river flows to such low levels that returning salmon died in the lower Klamath River, with the death toll estimated as high as 77,000.
Smith attributing the dead fish to gill disease, Spain said, "is sort of like saying lung cancer kills smokers, not smoking."
"The triggering cause is low water flow. And then the fish die of a dozen different diseases, all of which are related to high water temperatures, crowding fish, stress and the fact that they can't get up the river ... because there's not enough water for them to travel in," said Spain, the Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "All of those were in play, but they all derived from low flows."
But it's not just Smith's friends taking him to task. Gordon Smith argues that we should look at all the best available science. Bummer for him -- the scientists are calling him out, too:
That was the same conclusion of a peer-reviewed evaluation of the fish kill, published in 2004 by the California Department of Fish and Game.
The California report said the fish had entered the Klamath River to encounter stressful conditions: warm temperatures, low flows and crowding because of an unusually large run returning to spawn. Under such conditions, they succumbed to diseases triggered by a parasite-caused bacterial infection, which led to lesions on the gills and elsewhere. While these parasites and bacteria are common, they don't typically cause fish kills, especially among wild fish, which made up the majority in this die-off, the scientists wrote. In this case they did, however, because of the river's conditions.
Among the factors that contributed to the fish kill, the report said 2002's unusually low water flows were unique.
"Flow is the only controllable factor and tool available in the Klamath Basin ... to manage risks" against future major fish kills, the report concluded.