For the third year in a row, the salmon industry in California is expecting a major blow, wildlife managers announced last week.
The reason? Drought and warmer ocean temperatures have reduced the number of Sacramento River salmon expected to swim back up stream this year — so few that the fish meet the criteria for “overfished” status.
The number of fish that made the trek from the ocean and up the river to their spawning grounds was the second lowest on record, at 44,000 fall-run Chinook Salmon. A healthy run must have a least 122,000 returning fish, says Harry Morse with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“We have to have those fish come back to meet our conservation goals and to have enough eggs for future generations,” he added.
That's why officials with the council that manages fisheries along the West Coast announced last week they are exploring options to shorten the commercial-fishing season. They want to do this to build populations of salmon. But this may have negative ramifications on the billion-dollar state industry.
"A lot of people have told me they're not even going to fish salmon this year,” said Noah Oppenheim with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “They're going to fish tuna or black cod or try their luck in another state. That's a shame."
For commercial fishers that rely on salmon, Oppenheim says a shortened season may mean incredible hardship.
“Boats will be sold because the opportunity doesn’t exist,” he explained. “Boats will languish on the market because there’s no new generation of salmon fishermen to enter the fishery.”
Morse says he’s optimistic this should be the last year salmon affected by drought conditions will spawn and that next year there should be an uptick. Still, he thinks the price of salmon could go up — like it did last year when salmon populations were low as well.
“There’s not going to be as many salmon to go around as there were last year going all the way back to 2009,” Morse said.
A final decision on the season will be made in April.
Meanwhile, salmon on the Klamath River also meet the overfished status, but for the first time in three years that run is open. Although, there are lower catching quotas in place.