British Columbia

Salmon fishing shut down off California, Oregon coasts

West Coast fisheries managers voted Thursday to cancel all commercial salmon fishing off the California and Oregon coasts this year.

U.S. fisheries managers for the West Coast voted Thursday to cancel all commercial salmon fishing off the California and Oregon coasts this year.

Scientists and government officials are expecting this year's West Coast salmon season to be one of the worst in history.

Farther north in Washington State the season is still scheduled to begin May 1, but fisheries managers do not predict a good season anywhere on the Pacific coast.

"For the entire West Coast, this is the worst in history," said Don McIsaac, executive director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The council decided to allow limited recreational fishing of coho salmon on holiday weekends off the Oregon coast, but no recreational fishing off California after several members of the panel argued that every salmon counts.

The Sacramento River chinook run is usually one of the most productive on the coast, but counts last fall found a record low number of chinook returning to California's Central Valley.

Scientists are studying the causes of the Sacramento River chinook collapse, with possible factors ranging from ocean conditions and habitat destruction to dam operations and agricultural pollution. But a proposal to allow limited fishing for scientific purposes was struck down by the panel.

Signs have been obvious: fisherman

San Francisco commercial fisherman Barbara Emley said the signs of this year's problems with the chinook run have been obvious for a few years.

"This has unmasked the issue behind the problem," said Emley, who has fished for salmon with her husband for more than 20 years. Too few juvenile fish survive to swim out to the Pacific Ocean, she said.

Two years ago, busloads of fisherman attended the Pacific Fishery council's meetings to protest the proposed cutbacks, McIsaac said. This year, little opposition has been voiced.

"I believe that the council is doing what it has to do," Emley said, adding that the real problem is out of the hands of the council, which can only regulate fishing, not other industries and government agencies affecting the salmon.

Emley said she saw this action coming while out on her boat last year, when she and her husband saw so few juvenile salmon.

"That's one of the reasons you may not see a lot of resistance in the building today," she said. "We know it's real."

U.S. consumers can expect to have a hard time finding chinook at stores later this year, but they will still be able to buy farm-raised salmon, as well as wild sockeye from Alaska.

The council's decision still must be confirmed by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency in charge of salmon management.