A federal regulatory group voted on Thursday to officially close the chinook salmon fishing season along much of the west coast after near-record numbers of fish, also known as chinook, returned to the California rivers last year.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council has approved a 2023 season closure for all commercial and most recreational chinook fisheries along the coast from Cape Falcon in northern Oregon to the border between California and Mexico. Limited recreational salmon fishing will be permitted off southern Oregon in the fall.
“The forecast for the return of the Chinook to California’s rivers this year is near record lows,” Council Chairman Marc Gorelnik said after the vote in a news release. “The poor freshwater environmental conditions that have contributed to these low projected yields are unfortunately not something the Council can or has the power to control.”
Californiaissued a ban on salmon fishing for the remainder of the season. According to CBS Bay Area, it was only the second time in state history that California canceled its salmon fishing season, with the last ban occurring between 2008 and 2009, also due to drought conditions.
Biologists say the Chinook salmon population has declined significantly after years of drought. Many in the fishing industry say Trump-era rules that allowed more water to be diverted from the Sacramento River Basin to agriculture have caused even more damage.
The closure applies to adult fall run chinook and is a blow to the Pacific Northwest salmon fishing industry.
Much of the salmon caught off Oregon comes from California’s Klamath and Sacramento rivers. After hatching in fresh water, they spend an average of three years maturing in the Pacific, where many are caught by commercial fishermen, before migrating to their spawning grounds, where conditions are more ideal for giving birth. After laying eggs, they die.
The board is an advisory group to the US Secretary of Commerce, who makes the final decision, but has always followed the decisions of the board. The secretary’s decision will be published in the Federal Register in a few days.
Experts fear native California salmon are spiraling towards extinction. Already, California’s spring chinook is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, while winter chinook is endangered along with California’s central coast coho salmon, which are off-limits to Californian commercial fishermen since the 1990s.
Recreational fishing should only be allowed in Oregon for coho salmon during the summer and for chinook after Sept. 1. Salmon season is expected to open as usual north of Cape Falcon, including in the Columbia River and off the coast of Washington.
Although the shutdown will affect tens of thousands of jobs, few object. Many fishermen say they want to act now to ensure healthy stocks in the future.
They hope California’s unusually wet winter, which has largely released the drought condition, will bring relief. An unprecedented series of powerful storms replenished most of California’s reservoirs, dumping record amounts of rain and snow and triggering a severe three-year drought. But too much water flowing in rivers could kill eggs and hatchlings.