For the second season in a row, commercial salmon fishing will be nonexistent in California and southern Oregon this year, as Pacific salmon stocks plummet. Following news that the number of salmon spawning has dropped drastically over the past two years, the decision was made last week to cancel the commercial salmon fishing season and reduce the recreational season to just ten days.
As the Chinook salmon made their way up Californian rivers from the ocean last autumn, a research count revealed they were at their lowest levels ever recorded. ‘There are just no fish,’ said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. ‘If they allowed any fishing, they would be putting at risk future fishing.’
Only 66,200 adult king salmon returned to the Sacramento River system last year – a river which once teemed with millions of chinook. Around 122,100 fish are estimated to return this year, far short of the 180,000 required by authorities in order to maintain the health of the stock.
Researchers attribute the sharp decline of salmon to destruction of river habitat and increasingly troublesome ocean and river conditions. California’s Delta is under immense stress due to the combination of drought and water demand from agriculture and cities and most of the fish that return each year are from hatcheries.
Further north in Vancouver Canada, a report released by the Fraser Basin Council this February, also revealed some alarming findings for Pacific Salmon. ‘Sockeye, coho and chinook salmon returns are in varying states of decline, with significant cause for concern in recent years. … Total annual returns of sockeye in 2007 and 2008 were the lowest observed in the past 30 years.’
The healthy salmon runs in Alaska currently make it the world’s only commonly accepted sustainable wild Pacific salmon catch. However, a debate has erupted recently over the salmon scooped up by the huge Pollock trawlers in Alaskan waters. This 2-billion dollar a year industry inadvertently takes around 44,000 chinook salmon each year as by-catch. Alaskan subsistence hunters have decided to take action in an effort to address the problem.
The supply of farmed salmon imports is also expected to be down significantly. Production of farmed salmon from Chile, the biggest importer to the U.S., is estimated to fall drastically, primarily due to a deadly virus that has plagued Chilean fish pens for more than a year, highlighting consumers’ increasing concerns about the negative environmental and health impacts such farms. Some of the most common issues with open-net, pen-farmed salmon include the spread of diseases and parasites like sea lice to wild stock, farmed fish escaping, chemicals and antibiotics getting released and pollution from fish excrement.