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article imageCommercial salmon fishing off California facing tougher limits

By Nathan Salant     Mar 16, 2016 in Environment
San Francisco - Northern California salmon fisherman face severe restrictions on catch this spring after lower-than-expected numbers of the fish have been counted offshore.
State fishery officials struggling to maintain California's billion-dollar fishing industry in the face of a warming ocean and severe drought could cut the allowable annual chinook catch by as much as one-half this year, officials said.
New restrictions expected to be announced this week come on top of a disappointing crab season this year after the California crustaceons were declared off-limits because of toxic algae, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.
“It’s almost like a one-two-three punch,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.
“Fishermen had a poor 2015 season, they’ve been shut down for crab, and now they’re looking at a poor 2016 season,” he said.
Proposed restrictions could force California fishermen to the north, most probably to Alaska.
The change would mean a lot less California salmon available in markets and restaurants, and probably higher prices.
“Alaska salmon is good, but we like to think ours is better,” McManus said.
Salmon season begins May 1.
The new limits are going into place in reaction to official projections that the population of fall-run chinook is down around half of what it was last year.
The fall chinook is California's major commercial and recreational catch, the newspaper said.
But wildlife officials say only 300,000 adult salmon from the Sacramento River system are swimming in the Pacfic Ocean and fewer than 150,000 Klamath River salmon are there, too, numbers much lower than last year.
“To get enough fish back in the river, we have to curtail some of the ocean activity,” said Mike Burner of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which will vote on the final restrictions.
Things aren't much better north of California, either, with environmentalists calling for the complete closure of the commercial salmon season in Washington and Oregon.
Recreational fishing, due to begin next month, is not expected to be limited.
Regulators say the smaller salmon populations are due to warmer ocean waters that have disrupted normal development of the fish and its prey, the newspaper said.
Also, reduced quantities of water from a smaller snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains and increasing human demand continue to put pressure on the salmon's ability to reproduce.
California's salmon season never opened in 2008 and 2009, the newspaper said.
“They call this Fisherman’s Wharf but, pretty soon, there’s going to be no more fishermen here,” said Mike Phillips, 49, a third-generation angler who visited Pier 45 in San Francisco on Tuedsay.
“We’re losing our businesses,” he said.
Water testing this week showed still-elevated toxin levels, suggesting that crabbing may not resume this year, according to Larry Collins of the Crab Boat Owners Association.
“We usually start stacking the gear out by the end of March ... (but) really, I’ve never seen it this dead," Collins said.
“Down at the wharf it’s like a graveyard,” he said, “I don’t know what we're going to do.”
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