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Cancelation of California salmon season forces fishermen to find new way forward

San Francisco fisherman pivots after salmon season canceled
San Francisco fisherman pivots after salmon season canceled 03:31

SAN FRANCISCO -- Salmon fishers across the state are pivoting to stay afloat after the salmon fishing season was canceled earlier this year

At dock 47 in San Francisco, the pier looks different this time of year. More boats are tied up, an unusual sight for what would be peak salmon season. 

"It hurts all the way around," Matt Juanes told CBS News Bay Area. "In a typical season, it would definitely be emptied out."

ALSO READ: California cancels salmon fishing season

Juanes is preparing to head out to sea. He readies his lines and hopes for a big catch. For now, it's all he can do. 

"My goal is to catch every last one of them," he said aboard his boat Plumeria. 

But this year, the salmon fisher of 8 years is exploring uncharted territory for him. He's now looking to catch shrimp and halibut after salmon season was canceled for repopulation efforts.

"Nothing can replace salmon," Juanes explained. "You can go out and catch a bunch of halibut and you're going to flood the market and it's not going to replace salmon. There's no replacement for salmon."

He's one of hundreds of fishermen who have been impacted by the cancelation of salmon season and forced to find alternative ways to make ends meet. 

"Just trying to stay positive. Maintaining your budget, being mindful that you're not going to get that big check anymore," he said. 

For Juanes, not only is he trying his hand at halibut and shrimp, but he's also turning to eco-tourism as he waits on his charter license to take others on fishing excursions. But one remaining option is keeping him afloat: off-the-dock sales. 

"Buying fish off our boat and supporting us, that has just been a great savior for a lot of fishermen around here," said Juanes. "They keep us going since everyone's been doing great there. If it wasn't for that I'd be crying."

The impact goes beyond the fishermen and their families. California is projected to lose $460 million from the closure with more than 20,000 jobs impacted. 

Officials say the closure was necessary to sustain the population after years of drought made the state's water supply unsustainable for salmon eggs that require cooler water to survive. But experts say we could see future closures unless water is reserved for the fish. 

"We don't expect a whole lot of adult salmon to come back and spawn outside the hatchery system this year. The reason is three years ago most of the eggs died; they never hatched," John McManus, senior policy director of Golden State Salmon Association, explained.

ALSO READ: California requests federal disaster relief for salmon fishers

The Biden administration is stepping in with more than $21 million to help habitat restoration efforts, but McManus says the funds aren't likely to be directed towards necessary solutions.  

"More water in the reservoirs later in the year so when the salmon come back you've got some cold water in the water you can release to keep their eggs cold. I'd bet you $100 this money isn't going to be used to keep the eggs cold," said McManus. 

After a day and a half on the water, Juanes returned to dock 47 with shrimp and a few halibut — but barely enough to sell. 

"Just keep working every day. Go out and try to do something productive even if you're not winning. Like this trip, I didn't win," said Juanes.

The change is quiet to the public. Even as inflation hit supermarkets, seafood has largely skirted price inflation, only increasing 3.9% compared to an 11.3% spike in food and beverage prices. 

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