Salmon Crisis on the West Coast

Salmon levels on the West Coast have reached record lows.

Federal fisheries managers in charge of the West Coast announced last week that the commercial salmon fishing season was being closed off the coasts of California and Oregon, and that catch off Washington State would be severely restricted. The decision from the Pacific Fishery Management Council, a federally appointed committee of experts and industry representatives which manages fisheries off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington, comes on the heels of a sudden and unprecedented decline in the numbers of Chinook salmon returning to California’s Sacramento River, historically one of the largest wild salmon fisheries in the region. As recently as 2002, three quarters of a million adult Chinook salmon came back to the river to spawn, but the projected return this year—just six years later—is only 54,000 fish.

Even though a combination of factors are implicated—increased agricultural irrigation, habitat alterations, dam operations, construction and pollution—fisheries officials don’t want to take any chances.

"For the entire West Coast, this is the worst in history," Don McIsaac, executive director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, told reporters right before his group made the difficult decision to shut down the California and Oregon salmon fisheries and put tens of thousands of commercial fishermen in jeopardy of losing their boats and their livelihoods. McIsaac and his colleagues on the council are keeping their fingers crossed that Congress will grant the three affected states disaster relief funds to help keep out-of-work fishermen afloat, so to speak. And that 2009 will be a better year for wild salmon along the West Coast.

Sources: Newport News Times; MSNBC