Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Chinook Salmon Ban: protecting vital spawning grounds

The Pacific Fishery Management Council recently banned the commercial catching of chinook salmon off the coast of California and much of Oregon. This is the second year in a row that the ban was instituted in response to record low numbers of chinook salmon counted in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system - a primary spawning area for the salmon.

In years past, the number of salmon was around 250,000, with a one-time recorded high of 800,000. In 2008, only 66,286 were counted returning to the river to spawn. While any commercial fishing would have a detrimental effect on the remaining population as they return to the open ocean, the root cause of the problem apparently lies in the conditions of the rivers themselves.

Subject to water pollution and water reduction (siphoning off water to quench the large thirst of agricultural regions in California), in addition to reduced food sources from a warmer Pacific and less robust breeding with wild versus hatchery raised salmon - all have impacted the population which is expected to increase slightly in the fall but still be far below the council's recommended minimum goal of 122,000.

Approximately 2,200 fisherman have been put out of work and received federal disaster aid because of the ban but, perhaps surprisingly, many support the ban as the only way to insure the long-term future of the salmon population. Their primary concern is California water policy that seems to be favoring agriculture at the expense of critical salmon spawning grounds.

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