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California cancels salmon fishing season

California cancels salmon fishing season
California cancels salmon fishing season 03:35

SANTA ROSA -- Even with so much recent rain, California's drought is still having a devastating impact on the salmon fishing industry. So few fish have been found that the state has now issued a ban on salmon fishing along the entire coast.  

Thanks to all the atmospheric river storms, rivers on land are roaring but the effects of years of drought are only now being seen on the salmon population. Last year, 196,000 adult fish were expected to return to the Sacramento River to spawn but only 60,000 showed up.  

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"We also know that the number of young salmon in 2022 was a really low number. That's the number they use to forecast the abundance of adult salmon in the ocean this year," said John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has canceled the entire salmon fishing season along the California coast.  It's only the second time in history that has happened. The last time was in 2008-2009 after another period of prolonged drought.

"Fishery managers have determined that there simply aren't enough salmon in the ocean right now to comfortably get a return of adult salmon to reproduce for 2023," McManus said.

While the salmon decline has been going on for years, the impact on the industry is immediate. Jared Davis operates the "Salty Lady," a charter boat for sport fishermen. His entire summer has been wiped out.

"It's devastating," he said.  "This is more than just an income issue for me. It's an inability to do what I love. So, on a financial level and on a personal level, it's devastating."

It's not just the fishermen who will be hurting. At the Outdoor Pro Shop in Cotati, about 40 percent of sales are for salmon fishing. Vice president Tim Elie said the impact will be wide-ranging.

"Drastic changes, cutbacks. We won't be able to thrive. I have 20-plus employees. I've got to pay and pay a living wage. So, it's cutbacks and ordering less and having less product available," he said. "This affects people that sell bait, fuel, ice, boat dealers, boat mechanics. It's far stretching, the impact that a closed salmon season has."

For years, the salmon fishing industry has been locked in a political struggle in the legislature and the courts over how much water is being allocated to Central Valley farmers. An estimated 80 percent of the state's water goes to agriculture, leaving cities and fisheries to fight over what's left.

"The agricultural industry tends to get the lion's share of the water while the fish and the fishing industry suffers and takes a back seat," Davis said.

The fishermen said the drastically reduced salmon should be a wake-up call.

They want more water to support the ecosystem as well as an increase in the output at state fish hatcheries to bolster the population. That could help the salmon rebound but, even under ideal conditions, it would take a while for that to happen. Salmon take three years to reach adulthood. State wildlife officials say the effects of this year's ban on fishing won't be seen until 2025.

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