Speaking Engagement:

What’s Really Killing The Salmon: What is the Role of the Law When Faced With Scientific Uncertainty and a Fractured Governmental System?

Event Information


Saturday, January 26, 2013


10:15 a.m.


UC Davis Conference Center
Davis, CA

Sponsored By:

University of California, Davis School of Law
9th Annual California Water Law Symposium - Beyond the Water Wars


Daniel J. O'Hanlon

Peter B. Moyle, UC Davis Department of Wildlife Fish and Conservation Biology

Doug Obegi, Natural Resources Defense Counsel


Salmon degradation has played a major role in California water management. The California Department of Fish and Game estimates that in the 1930's there were likely 15,000 fish annually in the river. In the mid-20th century, as diversions from the river increased, the salmon population began to decline. In response, agencies took steps to improve habitat and increase the salmon population. This inevitably led to litigation, such as the issue of the Coordinated Operations of the CVP and SWP, on what methods were best suited for salmon restoration taking into account multiple interests and the best available science.

Over the last two decades, scientists regulated, and interested parties have been trying to better understand the causes of the salmon population decline. Besides studies of flow and its relationship to the health of the salmon population, there have been just as many studies implicating a variety of other stressors. These include predation, habitat degradation, water quality, climate change and the overall health of the Delta. Studies show that collectively these stressors have led to the degradation of the salmon population and that their only chance of survival is to address these stressors collectively. Unfortunately, since these biological studies take years to complete and rarely offer the kind of definitive answers parties seek, scientists and resource managers are not ready to conclusively state that even comprehensive restoration efforts will bring the salmon back. 

What should the role of law, lawyers and judges be in addressing the salmon population’s decline and recovery?