California’s salmon stock is struggling—big time. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) spring abundance forecast, there were near-record low returns on the state’s main salmon spawning areas. The Sacramento River fall chinook count was estimated at 169,767 adults, which the CDFW says is one of the lowest estimates since the current assessment methods began in 2008. For the Klamath River, the forecast is 103,793 adults, which is second only to the 2017 forecast of 54,200.
Officials say years of drought have taken a toll on the Golden State’s anadromous fish population. “This is a decades-long trend, and the past few years of record drought only further stressed our salmon populations,” said Charlton H. Bonham, Director of the CDFW. “Unfortunately, low stock abundance is somewhat expected despite protective and restorative actions California has taken to increase hatchery production, improve release strategies, and increase the availability of critical spawning and rearing habitats.”
This winter, California is experiencing heavy precipitation, which could bode well for increased abundance in the future. But for now, the state’s famed salmon fishing has been shut down. On March 10, the CDFW announced a closure of all sport salmon fisheries in state waters that were slotted to open on April 1.
That closure applies to both river and ocean fisheries. It is currently slated to last until May 15, 2023, but will almost certainly remain closed far beyond then. The Pacific Fishery Management Council makes decisions on salmon management for Oregon, Washington, and California. The agency has developed three regulatory options for May 16, 2023, through May 15, 2024. All three options call for a total closure of sport and commercial salmon fishing throughout California.
The decision is not unanticipated. In the last couple of weeks, trade groups representing charter and commercial fishermen and women in California spoke out in favor of the total closure. “Unfortunately we have gotten to a point that we have been warning was coming: another collapse of our iconic salmon fisheries”, said George Bradshaw, President of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “We demand we work towards future sustainable solutions so we can once again have robust salmon runs and thriving fisheries.”
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This is the second time in recent history that California’s salmon fisheries have been shuttered statewide; The last time ban took place was from 2008 to 2009. That ban also stemmed from extended drought conditions.
“[The closure is] devastating,” Jared Davis of Salty Lady Sportfishing told CBS News. “This is more than just an income issue for me. It’s an inability to do what I love. So, on a financial level and on a personal level, it’s devastating.”