Regulators signal no California salmon season this year amid dismal return of adult fish
The rule-making body for West Coast ocean fisheries has endorsed closing the commercial and recreational salmon season this year, striking a heavy blow for the California commercial fleet and for sport anglers who support port economies from Eureka to Morro Bay.
But fishery regulators, tasked with maintaining sustainable stocks, had little choice given grim reports from state and federal scientists about the state of salmon abundance in the ocean and recent spawning returns.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council usually closes its weeklong March meeting by offering three alternative season schedules for fishing zones in Washington, Oregon and California that are then subject to public hearings and a final selection of season dates in April.
This year, the council’s choices for California will all be the same when it’s time to take a perfunctory vote April 7: no season for sport fishermen, and none for the commercial fleet.
Only in 2008 and 2009 were salmon numbers so low that fishing was canceled, though recreational fishers were given a few days on the water in 2009.
But with just 169,767 adult Sacramento River fall run chinook estimated to be offshore this year — a substantial decrease from the 396,458 predicted last year and forecasts above 800,000 a decade ago — fishery managers are worried any diminution of the stock will put the population at risk.
Sacramento River fall run chinook, or king salmon, are the most important contributor to fish stocks on the Central and North Coast of California.
Moreover, bleak spawning conditions during three years of severe drought, along with state and federal water policies that many blame for robbing fish in favor of farmers brought only an estimated 61,850 Sacramento River fall run adults upstream to spawn in 2022, the third-lowest level on record. Nearly half, 29,138, were calculated to be hatchery fish.
That’s nowhere near the target level of 122,000 to 180,000 determined to be necessary to rebuild a fish stock declared “overfished” just five years ago by the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Acknowledging the dismal state of the fishery and the fact that even a few days on the water would be insufficient to offset economic losses, the leadership of three major recreational and commercial salmon fishing organizations last week requested the Fisheries Management Council suspend the seasons this year.
In the meantime, the federal fisheries service took action Friday to cancel salmon seasons that were to begin before mid-May from Cape Falcon on the central Oregon Coast to Mexico.
Some were to start as early as next Wednesday. Sport fishing was to start in most California zones April 1.
Those who make a living fishing hope there will be financial aid available at some point through a federal fisheries disaster declaration.
"Our local commercial and recreational fleets are devastated,” Bay Area salmon troller Sarah Bates said in a new release. “Those of us that depend on salmon have lost our livelihoods completely this year, and potentially next year.
“Aside from the economic impacts to our ports, communities and families, we are heartbroken at the condition of our ecosystems and frustrated at the colossal mismanagement of our public water resources," Bates said.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council will hold a hearing on the salmon season proposal at 7 p.m. March 21 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Santa Rosa, in the Sonoma Ballroom, 175 Railroad St.
More information is available at pcouncil.org.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan (she/her) at 707-521-5249 or email@example.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.