By SUDHIN THANAWALA
HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (AP) -- Members of Congress and fishermen grilled federal and state officials on Saturday about efforts to restore California's once-abundant salmon runs.
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, who helped organize Saturday's wild Pacific salmon summit, said she was alarmed by dwindling salmon populations and suggested more needed to be done to prevent their demise.
"We have evidence and science suggesting we're losing the salmon run, and we're not doing anything about it," Speier told Federico Barajas, a representative of the federal Bureau of Reclamation.
Barajas spoke about a conservation plan in the works for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta aimed in part at restoring sensitive and endangered species and their habitat.
The Sacramento River Basin has experienced particularly dramatic losses in its once-healthy runs of fall chinook salmon -- the cornerstone of commercial fisheries in Oregon and California.
Numbers there have plummeted from about 770,000 returning chinook in 2002 to a record-low 39,500 fall chinook last year.
Officials have responded with a ban on commercial fishing the past two seasons that has devastated the industry.
"It's not just the salmon (we're losing)," said Rod McInnis, a representative of the National Marine Fisheries Service. "It's the communities and the good people who built those communities and are tied together by salmon."
Many in the fishing industry blame the decline on the transfer of water from the Sacramento River to farms in the San Joaquin Valley.
But Jerry Johns with the California Department of Water Resources said other factors, including toxins in the water and predators, were also to blame.
Representatives of the fishing industry say whatever is causing the decline, their livelihoods are at stake.
Dick Pool, owner of Concord-based Pro-Troll Inc., which manufactures salmon fishing equipment, said his business is suffering.
"Last three years have been mighty tough. We haven't made a dollar," he said. "We need some emergency action here if we're ever going to fish again."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.