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California salmon fishing slated to shut down this year due to low stock

Chinook Salmon swim up a fish ladder at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Feather River Hatchery just below the Lake Oroville dam during the California drought emergency in 2021.
Patrick T. Fallon
/
AFP via Getty Images
Chinook Salmon swim up a fish ladder at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Feather River Hatchery just below the Lake Oroville dam during the California drought emergency in 2021.

Chinook salmon fishing off the California coast will be called off until next spring in anticipation that a near-record-low number of fish will return to the state's rivers to spawn.

The recommendation was made by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, a federal commission that oversees West Coast fisheries. It will need to be approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service by May 16.

The measure, unseen in 14 years, would temporarily ban both commercial and recreational salmon fishing in the state. Much of the fishing off the coast of neighboring Oregon would also be canceled until 2024.

Chinook salmon are the "largest and most highly prized" of all the salmon in the Pacific ocean, according to the council. But over the years, the species has become increasingly endangered as a result of drought, heat waves and agriculture.

The decision to cancel the salmon fishing season is expected to take a toll on the $1.4 billion fishing industry, which supports 23,000 jobs in the state.

"The economic impact of closing a good portion of the west coast ocean salmon fishery will negatively impact the people that participate in the fishery, and the small businesses in coastal communities that rely on the salmon fishery," Merrick Burden, the council's executive director, said in a statement.

2009 was the last time salmon fishing was halted in the region

Salmon depend on clean and cold water, particularly in rivers and streams where they migrate and spawn. But there is less of it as a result of California'sextreme drought. Farming and grazing, which tend to contaminate waterways with sediments and chemicals, have also taken a toll on fish.

Federal researchers predictthat fewer than 170,000 adult fall Chinook salmon will return to the Sacramento River this year — which is one of the lowest forecasts recorded since 2008. Similarly, fewer than 104,000 are expected to reach the Klamath River — which is the second lowest estimate since such research began in 1997.

The last time that the region shut down its salmon fishing season to help the population recover was in 2009. At the time, about 122,200 adult fall Chinook salmon were forecast to return to the Sacramento River.

The Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon were declared overfished in 2018. According to federal researchers, the Sacramento River fall Chinook salmon are also approaching an overfished condition.

"This is a decades-long trend, and the past few years of record drought only further stressed our salmon populations," Charlton H. Bonham, the director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a press release about the findings.

At large, about 23 out of the 31 genetically distinct kinds of salmon and trout in California are at risk of going extinct sometime in the next century, according to a 2017 report published by the University of California, Davis, and the conservation group California Trout.

The recent wetter weather in California has been "good news," fishery scientists described earlier this week. Federal and state agencies are also working on the largest river restoration and dam removal project in the country's history at the Klamath Basin in California to help recover the salmon population.

Amy Souers Kober, a spokesperson for American Rivers, which monitors dam removals and advocates for river restoration, estimatesthat more than 300 miles of salmon habitat in the California river and its tributaries would benefit.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.