West Coast salmon season imperiled by low stocks
With chinook at record lows in the Sacramento River, fishery will set limits in April.
Dave Bitts, a Eureka-based salmon trawler for more than 30 years, says he could lose half his yearly income, and coastal towns from Oregon to the Mexico border will lose a mainstay of their economy and culture.Skip to next paragraph
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Savina Duran, manager of Sea Harvest restaurant in Moss Landing, Calif., says diners will have to forgo a hot-ticket menu choice – wild, fresh, local salmon – for cheaper, farm-grown varieties from elsewhere.
Steve Scheiblauer, harbor master for Monterey, Calif., says the town could lose the quaintness of a coastal California fishing village as fleets of fishing boats disappear from the harbor.
Their concerns come with the cutback – and possible shutdown – of ocean salmon fishing in California and Oregon. It could happen because US government assessments showed the spawning chinook at half the minimum number needed for current statewide industry demand.
A total shutdown of salmon fishing – one of three options to be decided by April 6 – would be the biggest fishing closure in West Coast history, experts say.
"The status of Sacramento [River] fall chinook has suddenly collapsed to an unprecedented low level," says Donald Hansen, chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) – a quasifederal body that assesses and recommends environmental policy to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "The effect on California and Oregon salmon fisheries is a disaster by any definition."
After warning that steps would be taken, the PFMC on Friday released three options. One includes minimal salmon fishing for scientific study; a second, small fishing ranges and short seasons shared by recreationalists and commercial fishermen; a third, a ban on salmon fishing altogether from Cape Falcon, Ore., to the American-Mexican border for a year.
"No matter which option is ultimately chosen, it is clear that salmon fishing on America's West Coast is about to be severely limited," says Peter Dygert, a fishery biologist with NOAA.
Environmentalists, fishing groups, and regulators agree that a slew of factors have contributed to the decline of salmon in the past century. Those include diversions of fresh water of the state's northern rivers to the populated south, pollution, habitat loss, changes in hatchery operations, and the proliferation of predators such as sea lions.