GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Fisheries managers have canceled the early season of ocean fishing for chinook salmon off the coast of Oregon and Northern California because of a collapse of stocks in California rivers.
The managers are also considering whether to close most of the Pacific salmon fishery. The best West Coast salmon fishermen can hope for is a "bare bones" sport and commercial fishing season this year, but the outlook remains bleak, officials say.
Federal fisheries managers meeting this week in Sacramento, Calif., canceled early spring salmon fishing in the Pacific off Northern California and Oregon to protect salmon that remain alive in the ocean.
On Friday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is expected to choose three management options for the rest of the season, and will set final regulations when they meet in Seattle in April.
One possibility is shutting down the salmon fishery from the northern tip of Oregon south to the Mexican border — something fishermen are hoping to avoid. Washington may see some fishing, but even if fishing is allowed, many fishermen expect that catches will be poor.
"We had a pretty good idea they were going to cut it back," said Mark Newell, a fisherman from Newport, Ore., and a member of the Oregon Salmon Commission.
"We are trying to craft a very bare bones season which would give California some sport fishery, a very limited amount of commercial troll, and Oregon a somewhat limited sport fishery and very limited troll in Oregon also," he said.
In angling, trolling is the practice of fishing by trailing a baited line behind a slow-moving boat.
California commercial trollers traditionally can't start fishing until May 1, but sport charters have been allowed to fish out of Fort Bragg, Calif., since the middle of February. They were shut down, along with Oregon commercial trollers set to begin fishing Saturday in a season authorized last year to run through April.
Some marine scientists say the salmon declines can be attributed in part to unusual weather patterns that have disrupted the marine food chain along the Pacific Coast in recent years.
But many fishermen believe the main culprit behind the Sacramento River's collapse is increased pumping of freshwater from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farmers and water districts in the Central Valley and Southern California.