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Ocean Chinook salmon fisheries in CA and OR to be severely reduced this year

chinook salmon - USFWS.jpg
Fall-run Chinook salmon are facing dwindling numbers, leading to the upcoming ocean fishing season to be closed.

The ocean salmon fishing season could be closed this year for all of California and most of Oregon, according to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

An upcoming decision by the fisheries regulator is an effort to help replenish dwindling numbers of fall-run Chinook salmon.

"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.

As a result, fishermen across the region are going to struggle, said Glen Spain, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

"The bills have to be paid. How? The boat has to be docked, and the dock fees have to be paid. How? There will be, for most of these people, no livelihood, no income for this year," he said.

In Oregon, officials are expecting a good coho salmon run and are planning a fishing season similar to last year. California coho are endangered and cannot be fished.

The fisheries council will make a final decision about the coast salmon season in the first week of April. The three proposed options vary based on fishing quotas and season date ranges, but all three include closing recreational and commercial fishing in the ocean throughout California.

This would be the first time the fishery has been closed in California since 2008.

Some recreational fishing could still be allowed in Oregon, south of Cape Falcon near Clatsop County, but the parameters for that season have not been finalized. Commercial salmon fishing in most of Oregon is also proposed to be significantly reduced or closed.

"One of the rules in our fishery management is that you must always have enough fish coming back to replace that generation," Spain said. "The projections were we wouldn't even have that many this year. That means zero fishery."

He said the closures make sense to preserve the fish population, and the industry, for years to come.

"That is the only option that makes biological sense. We want to preserve, we have to preserve, those fish to replace this generation. And otherwise, we are basically cutting our own throats for the future," he said.

The Pacific Fisheries Management Council only manages ocean fisheries, not rivers. It will hold public hearings on its three proposals on March 20 and 21. More information can be found on the council’s website.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that only the fall Chinook ocean fishing season is affected. Oregon's coho salmon season is expected to be similar to previous years.

Jane Vaughan began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media. Jane recently earned her Master's in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.