(CN) – As salmon populations struggle against searing water temperatures fueled by climate change and El Nino, officials are recommending closing the 2016 coho and Chinook salmon ocean fishing seasons in Washington state indefinitely.
Calling the expectations for wild coho runs off Puget Sound “disastrous,” the Pacific Fishery Management Council announced three proposals that would dramatically affect commercial fishing along the entire West Coast.
The potential closure of salmon fishing off the coast of Washington state and other proposals will be decided by the council in April. Several years of drought combined with an extreme El Nino event also caused the complete closure of the Evergreen State’s ocean salmon fishing in 1994.
Ancient salmon runs along the West Coast are struggling with record-high water temperatures and a diminishing food supply, the council said
“This will be a challenging year for salmon fisheries. Several key stocks are less abundant than usual due to environmental conditions like the California drought and El Nino, which have affected ocean abundance for some stocks,” council vice chair Herb Pollard said in a statement.
The council is responsible for setting commercial and recreational fishing guidelines each year and is made up of 14 members appointed by the governors of California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington state. The regulator oversees fisheries of over 119 species covering 317,000 square miles.
The drastic proposal to close Washington state’s salmon fishing is the result of several years of declining salmon populations. Warm ocean water temperatures caused by a damaging high-pressure ridge nicknamed “The Blob” have persisted since 2013, destroying the plankton populations that salmon feed on.
While environmental conditions have decimated wild salmon populations, California and federal officials have also been blamed for accelerating mortality rates of the legendary fish by mismanaging water supplies. Water agencies failed to release enough cold water into the Sacramento River during the last two years of California’s historic drought and as a result, less than 5 percent of wild winter-run Chinook salmon survived.
Environmentalists and scientists warn that another year of salmon die-offs could cause the extinction of the fish, which have a three-year spawning cycle.
The council is considering various California fishing restrictions, including closing several open-fishing periods to protect the Sacramento River winter Chinook. California’s salmon fishing season was completely shut down in 2008 and 2009 and fishermen suffered more than $500 million in damages.
While West Coast commercial fishermen await the council’s April decision, California’s commercial Dungeness crab-fishing remains closed. Since November, commercial crab-fishing boats have remained docked due to a toxic algae bloom linked to El Nino.
The four-month closure caused California Gov. Jerry Brown to ask Congress for federal disaster relief in February. The algae bloom also delayed the start of Dungeness crab fishing in Oregon and Washington last year.
Public comments are being accepted by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and a public hearing on the three proposals takes place March 28.
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