Special to The Stockton Record
SEATTLE — For the first time since the fishing closure of 2008-2009, federal regulators have moved to close all recreational and commercial salmon fishing off the California coast.
At its meeting on March 10, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) proposed the closure of California ocean recreational fisheries in all areas from the Oregon/California border to the U.S./Mexico border in all three alternatives due to the low abundance forecasts for both Klamath and Sacramento River fall Chinook.
The Council also proposed the closure of all California ocean commercial fisheries in all areas from the Oregon/California border to the U.S./Mexico border and in both the Oregon and California Klamath Management Zones for the 2023 season.
The decision was made due to low numbers of adult and two-year-old jack salmon that have survived the hostile water conditions they’ve encountered in Central Valley rivers in recent years. All of these rivers are controlled by upstream dam operations.
The 2023 projection for Sacramento River fall Chinook, estimated at 169,767 adults, is one of the lowest forecasts since 2008. The Klamath fall run forecast is 103,793 adults, the second lowest forecast since 1997.
The Council (PFMC) will meet in Foster City on April 1-7 to procedurally finalize the closure.
On the same day, the National Marine Fisheries Service took inseason action to cancel ocean salmon fishery openers that were scheduled between Cape Falcon, Ore., and the U.S./Mexico border through May 15. The sport fishery had been scheduled to open off California in most areas on April 1, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Oregon ocean recreational alternatives from Cape Falcon to the OR/CA border include mark-selective coho fishing seasons starting June 17 and running through all of August, with one alternative from Humbug Mountain to the OR/CA border as closed.
“The 2023 salmon season discussions have been dominated by the severely low forecasts for both the Klamath and Sacramento River fall Chinook stocks,” said PFMC Executive Director Merrick Burden in a press statement. “The Council will need to deliberate on the best path forward in setting 2023 seasons with considerations for economic implications to the coastal communities and the low abundances of key salmon stocks and the need to ensure future generations of healthy salmon returns.”
“Meeting our conservation and management objectives continues to be the highest priority for the Council,” added Council Chair Marc Gorelnik. “Balancing those objectives while providing meaningful commercial and recreational seasons remains a challenge in 2023.”
The Council said it will consult with scientists, hear public comment, revise preliminary decisions, and choose a final alternative at its meeting April 1-7. Then the Council will forward its final season recommendations to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for its approval and implementation no later than May 16. All Council meetings are open to the public.
After the ocean seasons and closures are approved by the Council and NOAA Fisheries, the California Fish and Game Commission at its May 17 teleconference is expected to vote for the closure of recreational salmon fishing on all Central Valley rivers, including the Sacramento, Feather, American and Mokelumne rivers, and the Klamath and Trinity rivers this year.
“This is tragic across the board for people in the salmon industry who are fearful about how they’re going to pay the bills this year,” said John McManus, President of the Golden State Salmon Association (GSSA), in an interview. “This could have been avoided If different water decisions had been made over the last several years.”
McManus said the GSSA is working to address the chronic lack of water dam operators provide to salmon.
“The association is in court trying to get enforcement of existing laws to provide adequate water for salmon because water for salmon is water for people, the people throughout the state who make a living tied to salmon or who supply food for the family’s dinner table. We’re talking about a sustainable, natural food and good jobs that are being taken so that water is delivered only to the politically connected,” he stated.
Charter boat operations will suffer greatly from the salmon season closure.
“My customers come long distances to fish for salmon and they’re willing to pay good money for the chance of taking a prized salmon home,” said Andy Guiliano, owner of Fish Emeryville. “The boats in our harbor will suffer irreparable damage as a result of not being able to provide that experience and opportunity to people this year.”
“Our local commercial and recreational fleets are devastated,” commercial salmon troller Sarah Bates stated. “Those of us that depend on salmon have lost our livelihoods completely this year, and potentially next year.”
McManus said dam operation decisions favoring agribusiness over salmon survival have resulted in “very poor” natural salmon reproduction in recent years because lethal hot water left after dam releases for agriculture has killed incubating salmon eggs. In addition, he said big releases of water in the spring needed to wash baby salmon safely out of the Central Valley to the ocean have been diverted or withheld.
“If we protect the stocks now, we should have good fishing in 2026,” said James Stone, Executive Director of the NorCal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association (NCGASA) “With all of water and flooding in the rivers we have a chance of getting high survival out of hatchery salmon stocks this year. Three groups – the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the NCGASA – have advocated over the last 48 hours to get Coleman Hatchery juvenile salmon out immediately to maximize their survival this year.”
The Council has scheduled one public hearing for each coastal state to hear comments on the alternatives. The hearings will occur online and are scheduled for Monday, March 20 (Washington and Oregon) and Tuesday March 21 (California). The public will also be able to comment on the alternatives during the April Council meeting.
Materials and instructions for joining online Council meetings and hearings will be posted to the Council website: https://www.pcouncil.org.