There is a good chance there won’t be any wild-caught salmon in California this year.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council adopted three options for public review regarding the 2008 salmon season off the coast of California and Oregon at its conference in Sacramento on Friday.
Two of the options would completely shut down salmon fishing due to unprecedented low numbers of returning salmon. The council will adopt its final decision in early April after hearing public comment.
The concern focuses around California’s Central Valley rivers in which only an estimated 59,100 chinook salmon will spawn this fall – a number that falls far short of the minimum conservation goal of 122,000.
Delegates to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council from California, Oregon, Washington and the commercial fishing industry have already closed seven coastal fishing zones that traditionally open before the regular May 1 start of the season.
If you’re expecting 122,000 salmon and you’re only going to get 60,000, it doesn’t take a great imagination to see that a fishery wouldn’t be that great, said Jim Milbury, spokesperson for National Marine Fisheries Service. I think everybody recognizes that by looking at the numbers.
The problem is especially alarming because the Central Valley chinook salmon has never been a constraining stock, said David Goldenberg, CEO of the California Salmon Council.
There is a solemn mood throughout the fishing industry about the collapse, Goldenberg said.
We’re all still stunned and trying to scramble and figure out what will be done, he said.
The California Salmon Council is working with members of Congress to convince commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez to authorize Congress to distribute disaster funds to Pacific Coast commercial fishermen and related businesses.
Disaster appropriations will likely be fashioned after the 2006 aid package of $60.4 million given to the industry when the Klamath River stock collapsed due to low water conditions, Goldenberg said.
[Disaster funds] will probably be more because [recreational fishing] will be effected in 2008 whereas they weren’t in 2006, he said.
If the option allowing limited fishing in Washington is chosen, the Salmon Council has another way of mitigating the effects of the collapse. It has a grant to hire commercial fishermen to take fin samples in a catch-and-release genetics study aimed at determining the salmons’ rivers of origin for more efficient fishery management. This program might be reconsidered, however, due to the mortality rate associated with catch-and-release, Goldenberg said.
There is no consensus on what exactly is causing the lower returns, but changes in ocean condition are likely a key factor.
The ocean has been acting up lately, said Bill Peterson, an oceanographer with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Most of the problems from this year are related to a problem in 2005.
Upwelling, the wind-driven process of bringing cooler nutrient-rich water to the surface, usually begins in April, but in 2005 it didn’t start until August.
Chinook spend three to four years at sea. They go to sea expecting to find upwelling and lots of stuff to eat, Peterson said. Salmon need to eat every day. The last three years have been suboptimal for them.
Scientists can’t definitively say the changes in ocean patterns are the result of global warming, but they are consistent with global climate models of the warming process, Peterson said.
Things are different. The rules are going to change and we don’t know what they’ll change to, he said. It’s too soon to say but in five years we’ll probably know.
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at email@example.com.