Science & Environment

Potential closure of fall-run ocean Chinook season off Oregon coast affects tribes, fishermen

By Gemma DiCarlo (OPB)
March 23, 2023 8:52 p.m.
Adult fall Chinook salmon in the Priest Rapids Hatchery.

Adult fall Chinook salmon in the Priest Rapids Hatchery. The fall-run ocean Chinook fishing season could be closed for much of Oregon through Sept. 1.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Ocean Chinook salmon fishing is likely to be canceled for much of Oregon this summer.


The National Marine Fisheries Service already canceled the spring season, which was set to run from March 15 to May 15.

The Pacific Marine Fisheries Council is considering three plans for the season, none of which would allow Chinook fishing until September in much of the state.

It’s a huge blow to Oregon’s commercial fishing industry, but officials say it’s necessary for the fish population to rebound from ongoing drought.

“This year’s management alternatives are significantly reduced or closed to fishing opportunity to keep fishing impacts minimal given the critically low abundance forecasts for key California Chinook stocks of concern,” according to a press release from the council.


Barry McCovey, fisheries department director for the Yurok Tribe, said the drought has led to extremely low numbers of fall-run Chinook returning to the Klamath and Sacramento rivers to spawn.

“When there’s years like this of low abundance, tribes suffer just like everyone else suffers,” he said. “We’re looking at a really, really low return on the Klamath, and that means that there aren’t going to be many opportunities for the tribal people here in the Basin to harvest fall salmon this year.”

The removal of the Klamath Dams, which was announced late last year, will open up over 400 miles of spawning habitat to fall-run Chinook.

Though it will potentially take decades, McCovey said the habitat restoration will be critical to helping fish populations rebound.

“It’s going to be one of the largest fish restoration projects in the history of the world,” he said. “But we have to make sure that in the interim, we don’t lose these species.”

The council is expected to announce its final plans for the summer season by April 7.

Yurok Tribe Fisheries Department Director Barry McCovey spoke to “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller. Click play to listen to the full conversation:


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