By Laura Brown
Triplicate staff writer
The smell of rotten fish permeated the air on the Klamath River yesterday. Their bodies floated in masses along every beach, clogging eddies and appearing white and ghostly below fishing guide Ken Duport's speeding jet boat.
The carnage was apparent from the Klamath Bridge on Highway 101 upstream as far as Weitchpec and Martin Ferry's Bridge, 20 miles upriver. That's as far as Duport rode yesterday but he has heard of similar fish-kills at the mouths of the Trinity, Salmon and Scott rivers.
Duport is just one of the many people who are being hurt by the massive fish-kill this week on the Klamath River. RV park owners, retail merchants and others are watching clients disappear as the Klamath tragedy worsens.
Duport has lost 28 clients in the past week. He estimates that he has lost $2,400 in fishing revenue so far.
"You have to remember, I'm only one person. There's a lot of other guides that have already packed up," said Duport, taking a break from the tour to watch some fishermen reel in a fish on a spit of land near Blue Creek. Duport said that this time of year he is usually out fishing with clients seven days a week.
With his feet planted firmly on the shore, inches away from at least 100 fish carcasses, James Keeling brings in a large, dark salmon.
"If that was a healthy fish, it would be out to Japan. He's just got no energy," said Duport shaking his head at the state of the fish.
"This effects everyone here. We all survive 90 days of the year because of salmon," said Scott Faas, owner of the Riffles RV park located near the Blake Riffle. He said that 15 campers that usually stay until the middle of October have already packed up and gone home because of the recent death toll.
"This is costing me a fortune. This, to me, is a national emergency. I've been on the phone all morning," said Faas who threatened to bring in a load of dead fish to the governor's office if he refused to "do something."
Faas estimates there are as many as 19 RV parks affected by the fish-kill.
Duport says that the entire economy of Del Norte County is dependent on fish, from the ice distributors to large retail stores that sell fishing supplies.
So far a total dead-fish count has not been made, but Sue Masten of the Yurok Tribe says that it could be as many as 5,000 to 10,000. She planned to travel to Washington D.C. last night to meet with administrators to create an action plan.
"Never in our history have we seen such numbers. Now you have these massive fish-kills that are going to impact us for the next five years," said Masten. "Our families are going to have to pay for years to come for the decisions the Bush administration has made."
Del Norte County Supervisor Chuck Blackburn who sits on the Klamath River Task Force, which meets three times a year to discuss the Klamath Project and Klamath River issues, said he would like to look at alternative ways of bringing more water into the Klamath system other then the Iron Gate Dam in the Klamath basin of Southern Oregon. He sees the Trinity River which is also dammed and diverted for irrigation in the Central Valley as a promising compromise.
"Why can't we release more from the Trinity? That is common sense to me," said Blackburn, who was a fishing guide on the river for 28 years. He recollects river temperatures in the low 70s when he was younger, but never saw fish-kills of this magnitude. "When you get to those temperatures, each degree is pretty darn serious."
Blackburn is planning to meet with the Klamath River Task Force on Oct. 16 and 17 in Klamath Falls, Ore.