May 5, 2023 | Blog

2023 California Salmon Fishery Closure: The Rest Of The Story

2023 California Salmon Fishery Closure:
The Rest of the Story

Photo source: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

California’s 2023 Chinook salmon fishing season has been called off, but you may not be getting the full story behind this disappointing development.

Scientists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) in March announced that only 62,000 adult Chinook salmon had returned from the Pacific Ocean to Sacramento River basin tributaries in 2022. CDFW further reported that the forecasted return of 3-year-old fall-run Chinook to spawn in the Sacramento River this year is the lowest since 2008.

The forecasted numbers expected to return to the Klamath River are the second lowest since 1997.

In response to the discouraging numbers, the Pacific Marine Fishery Council (PMFC) announced on March 5th that the salmon fishing season for 2023 was closed, putting hundreds of commercial fishers out of work and disappointing thousands of recreational fishers.

Even before the PMFC announcement, the usual critics and certain media outlets quickly started pointing fingers. Certain ocean commercial fishing interests and allies among some environmental organizations have been the loudest critics in the press, directing blame on the management of California’s river waters, particularly water allocations to farmers and urban water users.

There is another side of the story.

As reported yesterday by Bradley J. Cavallo of the Center for California Water Resources Policy and Management, reports and posts accompanying the salmon season closure have been rife with misinformation, repeating three persistent and self-serving myths regarding the factors that have contributed to the imperiled state of Central Valley salmon runs:

Myth #1 – Ocean harvest of Chinook salmon is not
contributing to the continuing decline of central
California’s salmon runs

Myth #2 – Hatchery salmon are the same as wild

Myth #3 — Water project operations are the primary
cause of the decline in salmon numbers

You can read the full assessment here:  Let’s dispel myths attending California’s latest Chinook salmon fishery closure.

Ag Support for Fishing Communities and Families

While some in California point fingers during challenging times, some agricultural water users instead recognize there are impacts to every use of water during dry years.

“We prefer to roll up our sleeves, take actions with respect to every freshwater life-stage for salmon and show our support for every part of the water system,” three Sacramento Valley farmers wrote in this blog posted by the Northern California Water Association (NCWA): Challenging Times: Supporting Relief for Families and Fishing Communities in California.

Bryce Lundberg, Fritz Durst and Nicole Van Vleck last month sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimundo supporting the April 6 request by Governor Newsom and Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis for a Federal Fishery Disaster Declaration for the California salmon industry with the anticipated closure of the 2023 salmon season.

“In the Sacramento Valley, we have felt the impacts of the dry years in various ways and we fully understand and empathize with the families and fishing communities financially impacted by a closure of the 2023 salmon season,” the trio wrote.

NCWA this week also posted “An Unfortunate Outcome: A Review of the 2022 Salmon Season, a blog from Dana Lee, Fish Bio, that was originally posted on April 17, 2023. Despite the grim facts presented, the blog ends on a positive note.

“Drought has played a leading role in the last few years, dwindling California salmon populations,” writes Dana Lee. “However, the recent and abnormal winter full of atmospheric rivers brings a wave of hope for salmon.”

Success Stories

Fortunately, we know that farmers, local communities, constructive conservation groups, tribes, other stakeholders, and government agencies can work together. It’s possible to develop water solutions that reconcile the needs of waterfowl and fisheries in a way that multiple species can thrive in harmony.

The Family Farm Alliance written testimony before a recent House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries hearing provides such examples from the Sacramento Valley, Washington’s Yakima Basin, and Central Oregon.

These actions reinforce our belief that solutions can be reached that address the true stressors on fish in a way that doesn’t take away water supplies from farmers and ranchers.

We will continue to keep you informed on this and other developments impacting Western irrigated agriculture.
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