National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via Eureka Times-Standard
The Yurok and Karuk tribes have announced their intent to sue U.S. government agencies over their handling of Klamath River flows, blaming low flow for a deadly parasite.

Yurok, Karuk to Sue U.S. Government Over Klamath Salmon Parasite


Salmon in the Klamath River could be on the verge of extinction, and the Yurok and Karuk tribes have announced plans to sue the federal government for its management of water flows, claiming that the practices made the fish susceptible to infection by a fatal parasite.

RELATED: Tribal Officials Urge Water Release Into Klamath River to Prevent Mass Fish Kill

In both 2015 and 2014, the Yurok said in a statement, 91 percent of juvenile Klamath salmon were infected after federal officials did not release enough water into the rivers to keep the parasite at bay and the salmons’ immune system strong enough to withstand it.

“Given the nearly 100 percent mortality rate associated with the disease, approximately 90 percent of the Chinook salmon and likely an equal quantity of coho died in the main-stem Klamath River during those years,” the Yurok said in its media release. “This year’s predicted adult salmon run is one of the lowest on record, which forced the Yurok Tribe to make a difficult decision to completely forgo all commercial fishing in 2016.”

Both the Yurok and Karuk tribes filed 60-day notice on Friday June 24 saying that they plan to sue the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act for the agencies’ handling of water releases in the Klamath and other rivers in 2014 and 2015.

The aim is to prompt discussions and attempt to find solutions without an actual lawsuit, the Eureka Times-Standard reported. The Hoopa filed notice of a separate action in May, the Eureka Times-Standard said.

“We cannot stand by and do nothing while our salmon hover over the brink of extinction,” said Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr., Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “We will not continue to watch water managers jeopardize the fate of our fish and our river.”

Under an agreement reached in April, four Klamath River dams are slated to be removed by 2020.

RELATED: Saving the Salmon: Feds, States, Tribes Ink Plan to Demolish Four Klamath River Dams

But the salmon have to make it to that point for that measure to make a difference, the tribes said.

“Our action today in no way diminishes our commitment to work with Klamath irrigators to develop a long term solution that works for fish and farm dependent communities,” said Karuk Chairman Russell ‘Buster’ Attebery in a statement. “But until we have a solution in place, we cannot sit idly by while 90 percent of our fish die from disease. This problem could be managed in part by releasing more water at critical times of year.”

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