Record-low chinook salmon returns

February 18, 2009 6:42:34 PM PST
Federal regulators say a record-low number of chinook salmon returned to California's Central Valley last year, indicating that severe restrictions on salmon fishing are again likely this year.

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Federal regulators estimate slightly more than 66,000 Chinook or King salmon adults came back to the Sacramento River basin to spawn last year -- the lowest estimate on record.

That means this could be the second straight year without any commercial or recreational salmon fishing.

Last year they got financial assistance from the federal government to survive without a salmon season. The Fisherman's Associations held back half of the money, thinking it might be needed again this year.

"Hopefully the fleet will be able to access that money. We are really hoping because that's between us and losing our houses," said Larry Collins from the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association.

Collins says salmon represents 50-70 percent of his income, for some it's 100 percent. Fishing gear retailers are also eligible for federal assistance because they rely on recreational fisherman for their survival.

"In total in California, there are more than four million fisherman, and they buy over $2 billion worth of equipment every year, with economic impact of over $4 billion. A lot of that is salmon equipment and these people are dying now," said Richard Pool from Pro Tool.

Zeke Grader is Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. He says fisherman now have to focus their efforts on water reform. He blames the water management agencies creating the problem in the Delta.

"It's a matter of getting some Neanderthals at the state and federal levels to wake up and realize that we've got to look elsewhere for our water supply in this state somewhere other than the Delta," said Grader.

The Federal Bureau of Reclamation says: "We're meeting our obligations and taking into consideration these fisheries in our decision making for the Central Valley."

State water officials could not be reached for comment. A decision on whether boats will go out this salmon season is coming in April.

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