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California cancels salmon fishing season as population dwindles due to drought

King Salmon Boom
Posted at 11:35 AM, Mar 13, 2023

Officials in California have issued a ban on salmon fishing anywhere along the state's coast for the remainder of the season, as the state's yearslong drought is still taking its toll on the once-abundant fish population.

In a recent announcement, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said salmon fisheries that were originally scheduled to open on April 1 would remain closed through May 15. The decision came as part of a broader effort, involving state agencies in Oregon as well as the National Marine Fisheries Service, to cancel ocean salmon fishing along much of the coast — from Cape Falcon, Oregon, to the U.S.-Mexico border.

For California, the ban aims to protect the Chinook species of salmon, which previously inhabited several of the state's largest rivers and in recent years have been seen in dwindling numbers.

Thanks to multiple atmospheric river storms in California, rivers on land are roaring but the effects of years of drought are now being seen on the salmon population, CBS San Francisco reported. Last year, just 60,000 of the adult fish returned to the Sacramento River to spawn, officials said. This was a small fraction of the 196,000 fish expected there, and approached a record annual low for the area, according to the fish and wildlife department. Officials are also hoping that the fishing ban will prevent the Chinook population from decreasing further in the Klamath River, which is also threatened.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council has proposed additional policies to regulate salmon fishing off the coast of California through the spring of 2024, wildlife officials said. The proposals, which would ban commercial and ocean salmon sport fishing until April of next year, were approved by the council for public review at the end of last week.

This is the second time in history that California has canceled fishing season, CBS San Francisco reported, with the last ban taking place between 2008 and 2009 in response to another prolonged drough period.

"Fishery managers have determined that there simply aren't enough salmon in the ocean right now to comfortably get a return of adult salmon to reproduce for 2023," said John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association, in comments to CBS San Francisco.

Jared Davis, who operates a charter boat for sport fishermen, told the station his entire summer has been wiped out.

"It's devastating," he told the station. "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."

Dwindling marine life populations prompted wildlife officials in Alaska to cancel the winter snow crab season in the Bering Sea near the end of last year. It was a first in the state's history.