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Salmon fishing to be banned off California coast for 2nd year in a row

Dam removal project helps salmon population
Largest dam removal project in U.S. history aims to help revive America’s salmon population 04:45

The federal council that regulates fishing along the West Coast recommended Wednesday that the California ocean salmon season be canceled for the second year in a row. The renewed ban is a devastating blow to the state's commercial and recreational fishing industry, still reeling from a similar decision last year.  

The Pacific Fishery Management Council based its decision on continued low water levels and high temperatures in rivers where salmon spawn. Scientists say these poor river and ocean conditions have resulted in historically low population numbers for the iconic species.  

The Sacramento River watershed provides the greatest proportion of salmon on the West Coast. It used to support between 1 and 2 million fish every year, but in 2023, only about 134,000 adult fall-run Chinook, also known as king salmon, returned to that river to spawn.

The economics of the decision are crippling for communities that rely on revenue from commercial or recreational fishing activities. Estimates of financial losses stemming from last year's cancellation in California run from $45 million to $65 million.

The federal government allocated just over $20 million in disaster aid, but many salmon fishers reportedly have yet to receive any of that money. 

Industry groups fear the second cancellation in a row will permanently drive more boats from the Pacific Coast fishing fleet. The council estimates that fleet was down to 464 vessels in 2022, from nearly 5,000 in the early 1980s.  

A haul of salmon on the dock at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco in 2019
Fish processor Ronald Black works through a haul of salmon from the Pacific Sea fishing boat on the dock of Pier 45 at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, Calif., June 21, 2019. Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Many sportfishing guides say more than 80% of their yearly business dried up after last year's closure, leading to widespread fears of a repeat for this year.  

The salmon fishing season typically runs from May thru October. 

The council's recommendation now goes to the National Marine Fisheries Service for approval by mid-May.

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