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San Francisco fishermen reeling over second consecutive year of commercial salmon fishing ban

Commercial fishermen face financial blow in wake of canceled salmon season
Commercial fishermen face financial blow in wake of canceled salmon season 03:11

San Francisco fishermen on Thursday sounded the alarm a day after the Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended that commercial salmon fishing along the California coast be banned for the second year in a row.

Despite more rain this past year, salmon populations are still feeling the impact of the drought from 2020 to 2022. The Pacific Fishery Management Council made the recommendation to cancel the season because of low water levels and high water temperatures. The combination kills many young fish.

Fishermen Matt Juanes say he knew there was a chance this could happen, but it doesn't make it less difficult. He says almost 70% of his income comes from salmon season, now he won't see any of that money.

"What's the next step?," Juanes asked. "Where do I go? What do I do? Do I have to get a land job? Am I going to have to walk away from something I love?"

He said he's not the only one who is being impacted.

"It's a huge impact, not only fisherman, but the buyers, the guy that sells ice, the guy that sells fuel, gas stations there. Tackle shops are taking a huge hit," Jaunes explained.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Thursday that the state is asking for a Federal Fishery Disaster Declaration. It would provide financial assistance to people in the fishing industry. 

"Years of extreme droughts, severe wildfires, and associated impacts to spawning and rearing habitat, harmful algal blooms, and ocean forage shifts have combined to result in low stock abundance forecasts over the past couple of years for Sacramento River Fall Chinook and Klamath River Fall Chinook," the governor's statement said.

The governor's statement said the state has spent $800 million in the past few years to protect and restore salmon populations, in addition to last year's federal relief. The administration also pointed to the governor's new recovery plan, California's Salmon Strategy for a Hotter, Drier Future.

Juanes says after last year, he has no savings left. He's going to be forced to cut back even more.

"Instead of just going to the closest grocery store, we go to the budget-friendly grocery stores," Juanes said.

Juanes has been a comercial fisherman for more than a decade. He bought this boat about three years ago, specifically so he could fish for salmon.

"This is our commercial salmon sticker that I never put on the boat from last year," Juanes said holding up the sticker. "It's one hundred and something dollars, just thrown out the door."  

He says he understands why the season has been canceled, and he wants to see the salmon population recover.

"If you talk to someone else they're going to blame everything else, I'm not," Juanes said. "Basically we had a drought three years ago. Salmon are on a cycle of three years, and three years ago we had a drought."

But San Francisco Baykeeper Science Director Jon Rosenfield says it's a lot more than that.

"Salmon need cold water to survive but the state water board refused to enforce it's requirements for cold river flows so a lot of salmon died in the egg stage because water temperatures were too high," Rosenfield said.

He says state leaders are keeping the river flows too low because they are exporting too much water to Southern California. It's leaving things out of balance.

"The salmon fishing season was closed last year, and yet the number of salmon that returned was historically low because the fish had already died before they would have got to the fishery," Rosenfield said, in defense of the people who fish. "Commercial fisherman are taking it on the chin because we refuse to treat our rivers like rivers"

While Juanes waits for the salmon population to recover, he's putting all his effort into crabbing.

"Since the season opened, I've been home probably 10 days since January," Jaunes said.

Despite difficult times, he says he's not ready to give up on something he loves.

"I'm a fishermen so I'm going to go until the ship sinks," he said. "I'm going all the way down with it."

In 2023, the U.S. Commerce Department approved $20.6 million to help salmon fishermen. But people in the fishing industry say they haven't seen the money yet.

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