April 7, 2006

Regulators seek to cut back Pacific salmon fishing

By Teresa Carson

PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - Federal regulators recommended
on Friday severely scaling back salmon fishing this year along
most of the Oregon and Northern California coastline to
preserve shrinking Chinook salmon populations.

The recommendation from the Pacific Fishery Management
Council, a quasi federal-state agency, would restrict salmon
fishing along the 700-mile (1,127 kilometre) stretch of
coastline for most of May, June and July.

If approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, this
year's schedule would be the most restricted salmon fishing
season ever in the region, regulators said.

"This at least avoided a complete closure and gives some
relief to the fishing industry," said John Coon, deputy
director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council estimates that the
schedule, which includes a complete suspension in some areas,
will be a 75 percent reduction of the commercial fishing season
from last year. The 2005 season was also scaled back compared
to 2004.

The restrictions during the most productive fishing months
of the year are a response to dwindling runs of naturally
spawning Chinook salmon, sometimes known as king salmon, in the
Klamath River in recent years.

A number of factors, including over-fishing and loss of
suitable fresh water habitat, have caused a sharp decline in
the population of West Coast salmon and related steelheads in
recent decades.

The council met in Sacramento this week to see if salmon
from Klamath River, a major river in southern Oregon and
Northern California, could be protected without a complete
cancellation of the fishing season between April and October.

"A complete closure would have meant millions in lost
economic activity for recreational and commercial salmon
fisheries, as well as a lack of local wild salmon in stores and
restaurants," a report from the Council said.

The salmon fishing industry contributes about $133 million
per year to local economies, according to estimates.

"This reduced level of fishing will not be enough to
sustain many fishing families," said Nancy Fitzpatrick,
executive director of the Oregon Salmon Commission.

About 80 percent of salmon fishermen in California and
Oregon have been forced to leave the industry because they can
no longer make a living catching salmon due to the limits, said
Glen Spain, a director of the Pacific Coast Federation of
Fishermen's Associations.

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski plans to ask for federal
disaster relief and requested all state agencies to report ways
to help coastal communities cope with the restrictions.

"We will take strong action to do everything the government
can to mitigate this economic disaster," Kulongoski said in a
statement read by spokesman Lonn Hocklin.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner in New York)