The Yahoo News , 05 April 2006

Regulators Consider Salmon Fishing Limits

SAN FRANCISCO - Federal regulators are set to decide whether to impose severe restrictions on salmon fishing off the coasts of Oregon and Northern California this season, a move that could lead to higher prices for consumers and economic hardship for hundreds of fisherman.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting this week in Sacramento, where members will hear testimony from biologists, fishermen and environmentalists before making its recommendation to the National Marine Fisheries Service. A decision is expected Thursday or Friday.

The options being considered range from partial fishery closures to a complete fishing ban on 700 miles of coastline from Point Sur south of Monterey to Cape Falcon in northern Oregon. The season usually runs from April through October.

The restrictions are aimed at protecting chinook salmon on Northern California's Klamath River, where water diversions for agriculture in recent years have led to low water levels, poor water quality and dwindling numbers of spawning fish.

"This year the fish numbers aren't looking too good," said Todd Ungerecht, a senior policy adviser at the fisheries service. "If we were to allow a regular harvesting season, it would put further strain on the salmon at a time when we have to be really careful there are adequate numbers to spawn and replenish."

But fishermen are worried about the impact of fishing restrictions on their livelihoods as well as coastal communities in Oregon and California. On Tuesday, hundreds of commercial and recreational fishermen rallied in Sacramento to urge the council to allow at least some salmon trolling this season.

"There are a lot of people in the recreational fishing industry that would be hurt if the season is shut down," said Chris Hall, president of the Coastside Fishing Club. "There will be hundreds that lose jobs."

Chinook salmon spend most of their lives in ocean, but they return to the rivers where they were born to spawn before dying.

There are plenty of salmon in the ocean, and populations in the Sacramento and Columbia rivers are healthy. But there's no way to catch those salmon without killing Klamath fish because it's almost impossible to distinguish between salmon from different watersheds.

The 668,000 chinook salmon caught last year made up less than 1 percent of U.S. consumption. About 60 percent of the world supply is farm-raised salmon from Canada, Chile and Norway, while most ocean catch comes from Alaska.

But chinook, or king salmon, which is generally sold to high-end restaurants or specialty seafood markets, is prized for its taste, texture and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

"It's the Cadillac of salmon," said David Goldenberg, chief executive of the California Salmon Council, which promotes consumption of king salmon. "It's considered the highest quality."

Commercial salmon landing were worth $23 million in California and $13 million in Oregon last year, while recreational fisheries were worth $18 million in California and $5 million in Oregon, according to the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

If the council decides to close the fishery, some of the 1,200 West Coast fishermen who trolled for salmon last year could be forced out of business or move into other fisheries already under pressure from overfishing.

"Some are just going to tie up their boats and try to find something else," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.