Wednesday, April 08, 2009

California salmon fishing season likely shut down for second straight year

The California salmon fishery will be shut down for the second year in a row due to near-record Chinook salmon population losses in the Sacramento River basin system, fishery regulators decided today. The Pacific Fishery Management Council tentatively voted to close all waters south of the California-Oregon border to salmon fishermen to protect the dwindling population of Sacramento River Chinook projected to spawn upriver this fall. The council will take a final vote on Wednesday but is expected to uphold today's decision.Historically low salmon returns prompted fishery officials to shut down all forms of salmon fishing off nearly the entire West coast for the first time last year, which prompted Congress to appropriate $170 million in federal disaster funds to compensate salmon fishermen and fishery-reliant coastal industries for their losses. More than 60 percent of those funds were directed to California, or $120 million.Scientists predict that only 122,000 salmon will return to the Sacramento to spawn this autumn, twice as many as last year's record-low 66,000 fish but still a fraction of the 800,000 that have returned in historically healthier years. California representative Maria Vojkovich acknowledged the pain the restrictions would cause but said they were necessary to preserve the long-term survival of the species in the Sacramento River system, the San Francisco-San Joaquin Delta, and the Bay. "This is less emotional than last year but it's not better at all. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I have something else to say next year. It's the best we could do," she said. Half Moon Bay fisherman and salmon advisory council member Duncan Maclean said the closure was necessary given the numbers but that he feared for the survival of the industry, and his livelihood."I fear for my future in fishing. I just hope I get to do it again in my lifetime," he said.Scientists testified that Sacramento Chinook salmon runs were likely to rebound slightly in 2010 and 2011, at least enough to allow for some fishing. The current fish crisis is blamed on a combination of factors, including natural ocean variations and a host of problems in the Sacramento River Basin, including dams, loss of natural ecosystems and damaging fish hatchery practices. Today's decision allows for very limited commercial and recreational salmon fishing between Eureka, Calif. and northern Oregon. The season remains normal in Washington State, where adult salmon are more plentiful .

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