Longtime salmon institute told to leave SFSU property in Marin

Advocates of a 42-year-old Marin County salmon institute are hoping an online petition and community support will make enough of a splash to prevent the nonprofit from being evicted by its landlord, San Francisco State University.

The Tiburon Salmon Institute has operated at what’s now SFSU’s off-campus research and teaching facility, the Romberg Tiburon Center, since the San Francisco Tyee Foundation established the institute in 1973. It raises 10,000 fall-run Chinook salmon each year, nearly a quarter of which receive a ceremonious sendoff into the San Francisco Bay as part of the institute’s educational component.

But following years of safety and financial concerns, SFSU in January issued a cease-and-desist order to the salmon institute effective July 1, said Robert Nava, vice president for university advancement.

The institute operates at the site rent-free and there is no lease, which Nava said poses a number of problems. He added that reports of children on the property without lifejackets and using heavy equipment without notifying the university were also of concern to SFSU.

“Those issues have been brought forth for a couple years,” Nava said. “…Unfortunately we’ve not been able to come to any agreement that fully addresses the concerns.”

Brooke Halsey, executive director of the institute, contended that he has tried on numerous occasions to discuss a lease with SFSU and address concerns. On June 1, he received what he thought would be the institute’s first lease – but instead was an eviction notice.

“We’ve been trying to work out a lease,” Halsey said. “We’ve brought so much good will, we’ve given scholarships to students… Although we weren’t paying rent we were trying to pull our part.”

There are also various levels of uncertainty because the warehouse at the Romberg Center where the salmon institute operates is actually leased by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which also does not pay rent based on terms reached when the federal agency sold the property to SFSU.

NOAA conceded that the salmon institute has lacked any formal agreement to use the site, but the agency is not taking sides in its dispute with SFSU. For its part, NOAA is open to allowing the institute to remain there, said Steve Lindley, director of the fisheries ecology division of the southwest fishery science center at NOAA.

“We’re certainly open to discussions with both sides on this. I think we would like to see some sort of happy outcome if that can be achieved,” Lindley said.

The impending eviction has, however, drawn the ire of various public officials, including Congressman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who is hoping the matter can be resolved without taking the case to court or involving the California State University Board of Trustees.

“There’s all sorts of ways that this could escalate that I don’t think would be good for SFSU…but so far they just seem completely inflexible,” Huffman told the San Francisco Examiner.

Meanwhile, a petition posted to Change.org last week urging SFSU President Leslie Wong to block the eviction had achieved more than 1,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

Advocates of the institute also touched on the necessity of raising salmon in drought-stricken California, which has lost much of its winter-run Chinook breed in the unprecedented dry climate.

“We are hanging on to our salmon populations by a vital thread,” Huffman said. “Both the direct conservation work and also the education work of raising the next generation of salmon advocates and biologists and educators [at the institute] is just vital.”

Picture 1 of 11

The Tiburon Salmon Institute is in danger of losing their location where the organization has operated since 1973. Brooke Halsey, executive director of the Tiburon Salmon Institute, moves a swim ladder across the deck of a Salmon pen that at one time was floating in the bay and filled with Salmon. (S.F. Examiner/Mike Koozmin)

Laura Dudnick

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