Salmon populations continue to decline

Don Baumgart, Today correspondent
1/29/10

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – West Coast salmon fishing disappeared two years ago, under a government ban prompted by low fish populations, and it looks like this will be another no-fishing year.

Based on preliminary estimates, Sacramento River Chinook salmon counts for the fall of 2009 are down and could bring about another fishing ban.

The numbers of fish that returned to Coleman National Fish Hatchery, the California Central Valley’s largest salmon producer, also were down considerably from even last year’s dismal run.

The new fish counts could be headed to another all time low, according to Dick Pool, administrator of Water 4 Fish, a group representing the interests of fishermen, wildlife supporters and tribal groups.

The counts will be used by state and federal fishery agencies to develop fishing regulations for the 2010 salmon season.

“State water mismanagement continues to spiral the populations downward,” Pool said of the Sacramento River. “It is clear that the over pumping of water from the California Delta and the failure to protect fish in the state’s water policies are to blame. A 2010 salmon fishing season is in question again.”

In 2008, a record low of only 66,000 fall-run salmon returned to the Sacramento, American, Feather and Yuba rivers and their tributaries. The salmon fishing season was closed in ocean waters off California and most of Oregon in 2008, due to the dwindling supply of Central Valley fall salmon. In 2009, the season was again closed off California and southern Oregon, with the exception of a 10-day season off the North Coast in late August and early September.

Salmon fishing in all California Central Valley rivers was also closed both years. The closures have led to the loss of 23,000 jobs in coastal communities and the Central Valley, according to economic data from the American Sportfishing Association.

However, what is bad for the ocean and river fishermen, may be good for the tribes that depend on their native right to fish.

“Because Klamath river fish are not being harvested in the ocean, a lot more Klamath fish will be in the river,” said Craig Tucker, spokesman for the northern California Karuk Tribe.

“In the short term it’s good for the tribes, but it puts strains on the relationships between in-river Indian fisheries and commercial fishermen. In recent years the tribes and the commercial fishermen have been powerful allies.”

If an ocean salmon fishing ban is enacted again this year Tucker said it will weaken that partnership. “It’s hard for commercial fishermen to see plenty of salmon in the ocean that they can’t catch, but Indians are allowed to catch them in the rivers. In the same community, commercial fishermen are going broke but they’re seeing the tribal fishermen have a good year.”

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