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California Chinook Salmon Fishing Halted Again

April 9, 2009

Federal fisheries managers announced on Wednesday that California’s commercial chinook salmon fishing season will be called off again after a record low number of fish returned to spawn last year, the AFP reported.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council’s decision will allow the sport and commercial seasons in Washington state to proceed, but will almost completely curtail commercial fishing in Oregon.

The council has now halted commercial angling for natural and hatchery chinook salmon, or “king” salmon, in California for two consecutive years. Before May 1, the National Marine Fisheries Service must approve the vote before it is enacted.

It stated that king salmon populations returning to the Central Valley to spawn have declined in recent years, estimating that 66,264 salmon adults returned to the Sacramento River in 2008″”well below the 90,000 in 2007.

By contrast, more than 750,000 adult salmon were counted in 2002.

After first hatching in freshwater streams and rivers, the Chinook salmon then migrate to the ocean where they feed and grow before returning to spawn in the fresh waters in which they were born. Large water pumps in the Sacramento Delta and ocean changes have been blamed for the decline in California.

Experts say chinook in the Sacramento River often provides the bulk of salmon caught off the coasts of California and Oregon. Another salmon spawning area north of the Sacramento in the Klamath River showed that returns were higher but still smaller than expected.

Many commercial fishermen were prepared for the season to be called off completely and hope the actions will improve their catches in the future.

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, an industry group, said it was better off sitting out the season than looking at good projections for next year.

But by next year, Salmon return forecasts in the Sacramento River are expected to double to 122,196″”an estimate that would mean only 196 fish could be legally caught since biologists say the rest would be needed to sustain the population.

Last year, Congress approved a $170 million relief package for struggling fishermen and related businesses to make it through the year. Grader said some $50 million was provided in anticipation of this year’s season being canceled.

Some salmon anglers switched to catching groundfish like black cod to help make ends meet, but most stopped fishing, according to Dave Bitts, who has fished salmon for 30 years.

Bitts warned that even if we all went to groundfish, there’s no combination of fisheries out there to replace the loss of salmon.

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