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Regulators Put Severe Restrictions on West Coast Salmon Fishing
By Terence Chea, Associated Press
April 7, 2006

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Federal regulators voted to impose severe restrictions on salmon fishing off the coasts of Oregon and Northern California to protect dwindling populations in the Klamath River.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council decided Thursday to close most of the 700 miles of coastline to commercial salmon fishing for much of May, June and July, the most productive months of the season, which runs from April-October.

Federal fishery officials said the closures were the broadest ever imposed on the West Coast salmon fishery.

Sell It Yourself "This is going to be a horrible year," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association. "It's not a total closure, but it's the closest thing to it."

The council's decision, which members described as "brutal" and "gut-wrenching," still must be approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which generally follows the panel's recommendations.

It strikes a careful balance between ensuring there will be enough salmon for healthy runs in the future, while ensuring there will be as many opportunities as possible for fishermen to harvest other healthier stocks," said Bob Lohn, the NMFS's northwest regional administrator.

Salmon trollers were relieved the council voted to allow at least some fishing - many had feared a complete ban from Point Sur south of Monterey to Cape Falcon in northern Oregon - but they said it would be difficult to make ends meet.

"We're getting a lot of fishing time in areas with no fish and very little fishing time in areas that do have fish," said Mike Hudson, of Berkeley, who heads the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen's Association. "It's going to allow some of us to squeak by financially, and it's going to keep a little bit of salmon on the market for our customers."

The council voted to impose minor restrictions on recreational salmon fishing, but sport fishermen were generally pleased.

"We're very satisfied with the outcome," said Bob Strickland, president of the United Anglers of California.

The council, meeting in Sacramento, heard testimony from dozens of biologists, environmentalists and fishermen on whether it was possible to preserve a salmon fishing season without hurting Klamath Chinook.

While salmon populations from the Sacramento and Columbia rivers are healthy, Northern California's Klamath River has seen poor returns of spawning salmon. In recent years, Klamath water has been diverted for farming, leading to lower river levels, warmer water and an increase in parasites that attack young fish.

"We must make fixing the Klamath River our No. 1 priority, so we don't have to keep coming back here year after year," said PCFFA President Chuck Wise, a Bodega Bay fisherman.

Because salmon return to spawn in the rivers where they were born, fishery managers are concerned that catching the reduced numbers of Klamath salmon could deplete future generations.

There are plenty of salmon in the ocean, but it's nearly impossible to catch those salmon without taking Klamath fish because fishermen can't distinguish between salmon from different rivers.

Federal regulators are required to ensure that at least 35,000 salmon return to the Klamath each year to keep the population stable. But the council voted to lower that threshold to 21,000 salmon this year to preserve a minimal fishing season.

The 1,200 West Coast fishermen who trolled for salmon last year worry about the impact of fishing restrictions on their livelihoods as well as coastal communities up and down the West Coast that depend on the trade.

Commercial salmon landings were worth $23 million in California and $13 million in Oregon last year, while recreational fisheries were worth $18 million in California Oregon Coast, longtime salmon fishermen Ralph Dairy, Bill Woods and Gary Smith held out hope that there would be some federal disaster relief to help them get through the year. and $5 million in Oregon, according to the council.

Mark Newell, a fisherman and seafood processor based in Newport, Ore., said trollers would have to struggle to break even and may move into other fisheries such as albacore tuna to compensate for the loss.

"It's going to be really tough," Newell said. "A lot of guys are going to lose their boats and go bankrupt."

Fishermen in Washington State said they expected an influx of Oregon trollers who will increase pressure on their fishery.

"It makes the pieces of the pie much smaller for the fishermen that don't travel," said Jim Olson, a fisherman in Auburn, Wash., and vice president of the Washington Trollers Association.

Most Americans won't feel the impact because the 668,000 chinook salmon caught last year made up less than 1 percent of U.S. consumption. But Chinook is considered the highest quality salmon and is generally sold at high-end restaurants and specialty food markets.

Standing on the dock in Brookings on the Southern Oregon Coastline, "We don't know what we'll end up doing because it hasn't been like this," Smith said.

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