On Monday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted a bleak set of options for this year’s ocean salmon fishing seasons.
To protect a record-low run of Klamath River salmon, managers are proposing total closures and severe cutbacks for fisheries off the coasts of central and southern Oregon and northern California.
The council won’t set the seasons until next month, at a meeting in Sacramento, California. But Butch Smith, who chairs an advisory panel that helps the council set salmon seasons, said it’s the worst outlook for fisheries that depend on the Klamath since 2008, when the entire West Coast declared a fishing disaster.
While there are minimal fishing seasons proposed for Washington and the north coast of Oregon, Smith said, this year may end up being considered a coast-wide fishing failure. That designation allows the states to tap federal economic disaster relief funds.
“It certainly could qualify for a disaster declaration,” Smith said. “At best you’re talking fisheries a quarter of what they normally are. So, there will be a lot of coastal communities hurting this year from the loss of salmon.”
Fish advocates blame a lack of water releases from dams for the low returns of Klamath River salmon. Last month, a judge ordered the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to increase water flows in the hopes of flushing out a salmon-killing parasite.
The salmon runs returning to other Oregon streams and the Columbia River look healthier than the Klamath, according to state reports. And Washington is expecting average to good returns for Puget Sound salmon and other coastal rivers.
But West Coast salmon runs overall have been hit hard in recent years by El Nino conditions in the Pacific that reduce their food sources and drought conditions in their native rivers.
The fishing options off the coast of Washington and the north coast of Oregon are restricted because of low coho numbers, but are similar to last year’s seasons.
According to WDFW, ocean abundance of Columbia River coho is forecast to be about 386,000 fish, which on par with last year’s forecast. But only 223,000 coho actually returned last year to the Columbia River, where some coho stocks are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Kile Adicks, salmon fisheries policy lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the proposed seasons will allow some fishing while protecting coho.
“With these options in hand, we’ll work with anglers to establish fisheries for 2017 that meet our conservation objectives for wild salmon,” he said in a statement. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead, but we anticipate ocean salmon quotas similar to, or perhaps slightly better than, last year’s.”
The council will take public comment on the proposed season options at three meetings March 27-28 in Westport, Washington, Coos Bay, Oregon, and Fort Bragg, California.