Falling salmon populations could cause the fishing season in California waters to close

Credit: Public Domain Pixabay/CC0

California Chinook salmon populations have fallen to their lowest levels in years, according to new estimates released by state and federal scientists — a decline that could disrupt the commercial and recreational fishing season along the coast.

“Salmon are struggling,” said Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “And we have great concern for their future, knowing that we are fully committed to rebuilding and saving them.”

Bonham said the decline is part of a decades-long trend, and the last three years of record drought “have only further stressed our salmon populations.”

The department said scientists estimated the number of three-year-old fall Chinook likely to return to the Sacramento River this year to spawn would be fewer than 170,000, one of the lowest projections in 15 years. They also estimated that fewer than 104,000 are likely to return to the Klamath River, the second-lowest estimate since 1997.

In its statement Wednesday, the department said fall-released Chinook “fairly met conservation goals” in the Sacramento River last year and may now be approaching the point of being overfished.

“In response, federal and state agencies are expected to take a conservative approach when approving the 2023 salmon seasons to provide additional protective measures to these stocks, and very limited or no fishing in 2023 appears likely,” the department said.

The new population estimates appear to reflect the diversity of threats to Chinook salmon. While the construction of numerous dams on ancestral rivers decades ago dealt a severe blow to the species’ survival, global warming and drought have also taken their toll — even as state and federal hatcheries raise and release millions of salmon each year.

Salmon, which begin their life cycle in stream beds, migrate to the ocean as juveniles and then return to their birthplace to spawn before dying. In recent years, scientists have identified yet another threat to the survival of the species – a thiamine deficiency is harming Chinook populations, and researchers suspect that the salmon may be feeding too much on many anchovies in the Pacific Ocean.

In light of the new population estimates, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council will consider alternatives to the ocean fishing season during meetings next week.

Options would likely include limited fishing, a complete shutdown or something in between, Bonham said. A decision is expected at the meetings in early April.

California has banned coastal salmon fishing only once before. This closure took place in 2008.

Last year’s commercial season included a range of allowable dates from May to October in different zones along the coast, while the Klamath zone in far Northern California was closed.

Recreational anglers catch fall-run Chinook in the Sacramento and other rivers, and members of Native tribes traditionally fish for salmon.

Decisions on the recreational recreational fishery will be made in May by the California Fish and Game Commission.

Data from previous years shows that three years after dry conditions will typically bring low estimates of returning salmon, Bonham said. The low numbers this year reflect the extremely dry conditions of 2020, he said.

Salmon numbers are sporadic and linked to the flows in the rivers, with wetter conditions helping the fish flourish.

Bonham said this year’s exceptionally wet winter should benefit the salmon. In 2010, for example, abundant rainfall led to higher estimates for adults that returned in 2012 and 2013.

“That gives you some optimism that three years from now, you could see the same thing,” Bonham said. “This can turn around.”

Salmon advocates, however, said the dire outlook for this year shows that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration should do more to prioritize river flows for the fish.

Projecting too few fish to support a fishery “will hurt not only those who make their living connected to salmon, but also the many Californians whose tables would normally be filled with salmon,” said John McManus, president of Golden State Salmon. Assn. .

McManus and other union leaders criticized Newsom’s water policies, noting that while salmon numbers have declined, water has flowed into salmon runs that have expanded significantly in recent years.

“We still have good water resources in California. We just need to manage them properly, in a more fair and balanced way, so we don’t crush the native salmon that the state is blessed with. And this year, we can see that they’ve been crushed.” , McManus said.

He said club members support responsible management.

“Fishermen and women across the state want to see this stock rebuilt,” McManus said. “We know it can be. It just takes a little fairness, compromise and balance.”

Last month, environmental and fisheries advocates condemned a request by the Newsom administration to temporarily waive environmental water quality rules in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in an effort to store more water in reservoirs. They argued that the request, which was approved by the executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board, would be harmful to endangered Chinook, sockeye and delta salmon.

State officials have defended the approach, saying other existing protections are adequate.

Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said they are working on plans aimed at rebuilding fall-run Chinook populations in the Sacramento and Klamath rivers.

But environmental advocates say the state’s efforts are insufficient and this year’s low numbers reflect a continuing downward trend.

“It’s pretty heartbreaking,” said Doug Obegi, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “I think it should definitely be a big warning light that our local salmon are in deep trouble.”

2023 Los Angeles Times.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Reference: Plummeting salmon population could cause fishing season to close in California waters (2023, March 3) Retrieved March 5, 2023, from https://phys.org/news/2023-03-plummeting-salmon- population-trigger-closure.html

This document is subject to copyright. Except for any fair dealing for purposes of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for informational purposes only.

Leave a Comment