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Bad season for wild salmon

March 01, 2009|Eric Bailey; Shari Roan

Gastronomes beware. It's looking to be another sorry season for wild salmon.

With federal regulators predicting another dismal return of Chinook to California rivers, commercial fishermen are anticipating they will once again be ordered to stay off the water.

Last year the feds, for the first time, shut down the salmon season before it began. Although returns on some rivers are better this year, they're probably not enough to convince officials at the Pacific Fishery Management Council to let commercial anglers out of port.

"It looks lousy again," said Duncan MacLean, a captain from Half Moon Bay. "I'll be shocked if we get a season."

The big problem once again is the Sacramento River. It's the prime salmon spawning ground on the West Coast, but it has flagged the last two seasons. Last year saw 66,000 fish return. This year scientists expect the numbers to almost double -- but that's not likely to be enough to allow commercial fishermen to go at it again.

"This is grim news for the state of California," said Don Hansen, chairman of the regulatory council. "We won't be able to talk about this without using the word 'disaster.' "

Commercial salmon fishermen survived last year after the federal government ordered up $170 million in disaster relief for the industry. This year will require more of the same, said MacLean, or the industry will go bust.

"I used to be able to say they'd have to pry my gaff hook from my cold, dead fingers," he said. "But I don't know now. If I don't have disaster help, me and a lot of other fishermen are going to be up the creek without a paddle."

-- Eric Bailey

From: Greenspace: Environmental news from California and beyond

For more, go to latimes.com/greenspace

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BOOSTER SHOTS

Questions about Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix's bizarre appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman" on Feb. 11 could have been a publicity stunt or evidence Phoenix was drunk or high. But a different explanation is also making the rounds in the blogosphere. Perhaps Phoenix is mentally ill.

The actor-turned-singer looked and acted spaced-out on his appearance on "Letterman." The awkward interview, which drew jokes from Letterman and nervous laughter from the audience, has been the talk of the entertainment industry and even led to a spoof by actor Ben Stiller on the Oscars telecast.

If his behavior is taken at face value, the actor would appear to be mentally ill, says Chicago-based psychiatrist Paul Dobransky, author of "The Secret Psychology of How We Fall in Love."

Dobransky says Phoenix's "socially inappropriate" behavior reflects some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, a brain-based disease that causes people to lose touch with reality. Phoenix's appearance as well as his career change, poor hygiene and grooming, vocal tics (such as muttering) and lack of facial emotion are classic symptoms of mental illness, Dobransky says.

"I was pretty offended by that skit at the Oscars," Dobransky said in an interview. "It struck me as potentially beating down on the mentally ill."

Dobransky said much of Phoenix's behavior on "Letterman" hinted at mental illness, such as wearing sunglasses, which may suggest paranoia. "There is something wrong. And it's beyond drug abuse." The public should refrain from mocking Phoenix, the psychiatrist said, because real mental illness is cause for compassion.

"The jury is not exactly in on what is happening," Dobransky said.

-- Shari Roan

From: Booster Shots: Oddities, musings and some news from the world of health

For more, go to latimes.com/boostershots

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BABYLON & BEYOND

To be homeless in Baghdad

It's bad enough to be homeless. It's worse to be homeless in a war-torn city such as Baghdad. But to be homeless and without even a country to claim you as a citizen? That is the apparent plight of a family living outside a five-star hotel in the Iraqi capital. Allia Abbis Ali Kassem Tibiti and her parents claim to be from Tibet and moved into their spot because the Chinese Embassy is inside the hotel across the street. They're hoping their presence will force the Chinese to grant them citizenship documents and let them leave Iraq.

They have nowhere else to go, Tibiti said while stirring a pot of macaroni set up amid the filthy sacks of belongings and boxes surrounding their makeshift home. By any standards, the family's predicament is bizarre. Even by Iraq's standards, it seems particularly hopeless. They claim to be Chinese, despite having lived in Iraq for decades. But Chinese officials say they have not produced documentation to prove this.

Asked why they don't simply stay in Iraq now that security is better, Tibiti was incredulous. "Even Iraqis are leaving Iraq! Why should I stay?!" she cried. "This is not my country."

Despite attracting some local media attention, the family says nobody from the Chinese Embassy has spoken to them or offered assistance.

-- Times staff writers

From: Babylon & Beyond: Observations from Iraq, Iran, Israel and beyond

For more, go to latimes.com/babylon

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