SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A record low number of adult Chinook salmon is expected to return to West Coast rivers this fall, leading regulators on Tuesday to recommend drastic cuts and bans on Pacific Coast fishing.
Ancient West Coast salmon populations have been decimated by a deadly combination of warm river temperatures and a diminished plankton food supply due to California’s drought. As a result, the Pacific Fishery Management Council said it plans on closing commercial fishing in parts of Southern Oregon and Northern California in order to protect dwindling endangered Klamath River Chinook salmon.
“We have made the tough decisions and implemented fishery restrictions to protect salmon stocks while providing at least some opportunity for commercial, recreational and tribal ocean salmon fishing along much of the West Coast,” council chair Herb Pollard said in a statement.
The council decided to close a 200-mile stretch of ocean from Humbug Mountain, Oregon, to Horse Mountain, California, to salmon fishing because scientists are expecting just 11,000 Klamath River fall Chinook adult salmon to return and spawn in the watershed in 2017.
Other California regions’ seasons will start later and end earlier because of low salmon-stock projections, including the Fort Bragg area where fishing will only be permitted in September and with a minuscule combined 3,000-salmon quota for the entire commercial fleet.
West Coast commercial and recreational fishermen have become familiar with shortened fishing seasons and even outright bans. California’s salmon fishing season was completely shut down in 2008 and 2009, and fishermen suffered more than $500 million in damages. Last year’s season was also cut short due to millions of juvenile salmon dying from warm Sacramento River temperatures.
The adult salmon preparing to return to rivers and creeks were hatched three or four years ago during the height of California’s drought. Environmentalists and fishermen blame water agencies for failing to release enough cold water into the Sacramento River, and less than 5 percent of wild winter-run Chinook salmon survived.
Salmon fishing is a critical component of California’s estimated $1.5 billion commercial fishing industry and the state has dedicated more than $225 million over the last decade to habitat restoration, according to the Nature Conservancy.
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.
Last year, regulators temporarily shut down all salmon fishing in Puget Sound after tribal and Washington state fishery officials couldn’t agree on restrictions. The two sides disagreed about how to divvy up diminished Coho salmon catch limits.