West Coast salmon season imperiled by low stocks
With chinook at record lows in the Sacramento River, fishery will set limits in April.
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They also include ocean conditions in recent years that have caused interruptions in production of food species that salmon feed on while in the ocean.Skip to next paragraph
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"Mankind has been guilty of salmon abuse for decades," says Mark Powell of the Ocean Conservancy. "We've been hitting and hammering on salmon with all these different injuries for decade after decade, and now there are so many reasons for decline we don't even know what has been the last straw."
At its meeting last week in Sacramento, Calif., the PFMC said it will review 46 possible factors for the salmon's decline before a final choice of options is made in Seattle in April.
Fishermen say they don't begrudge the recommendations of dramatic cutbacks in salmon fishing. "The action the council is doing is appropriate and necessary," says Mr. Bitts. "The question is whether or not there is something subject to human control that we could change so that this would not be necessary."
Environmentalists, economists, and tourism analysts say the loss of salmon fishing – which would last a year before reassessment – should involve a societywide study of social and cultural values. Like Maine lobster and Massachusetts cod, the salmon is an icon that defines California.
"The question is whether or not California is slowly losing its fishing heritage," says Mr. Scheiblauer. "I just think there are trade-offs society needs to think about … in how do we protect fishermen in ways that fisheries are sustainable and keep them going for all the things that society wants."
Mr. Powell says an ordinary consumer of salmon probably will not notice a decrease in the availability or cost of salmon because of the number of salmon farms has increased in the past 20 years. Even so, wild salmon fishermen claim there is no comparison in texture and taste between their fish and farm-grown. All the growth has spurred producers of wild salmon in Oregon, California, Alaska, and Canada to market their variety as specialized or elite brands, and charge three to four times the price – and in some cases, 10 times the price.