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NW Fishletter #245, April 11, 2008

[2] PFMC Closes Most of West Coast To All Chinook Fishing

The Pacific Fishery Management Council announced April 10 that it plans to keep all chinook harvest closed this year south of Cape Falcon, Ore. in response to the "unprecedented collapse" of the Sacramento River fall chinook.

"This is a disaster for West Coast salmon fisheries, under any standard," said PFMC chair Don Hansen. "There will be a huge impact on people who fish for a living, those who eat wild-caught king salmon, those who enjoy recreational fishing, and the businesses and coastal communities dependent on these fisheries."

The council will recommend to NOAA Fisheries a small, 9,000-fish harvest of hatchery coho off the Oregon coast.

North of Cape Falcon, chinook fishing will be similar to last year, but coho fishing will be severely restricted. Non-Indians will get 20 percent of last year's allocation, treaty fisheries 50 percent.

Council officials said the sudden decline was a mystery, though many federal scientists point to poor ocean conditions in 2005 as a probable cause, though others say large water withdrawals in the Sacramento have greatly reduced fish survival. A task force will look into the causes of the rapid decline.

The PFMC's minimum goal for returning Sacramento chinook is 122,000-180,000 fish, but even with no fishing, managers expect only 54,000 to return this year. That's a far cry from the 775,000 that returned in 2002.

Chinook escapement to the Sacramento has dipped as low as 1992's 87,000-fish return. But that was after an ocean harvest of more than 200,000 fish (s. of Pt. Arena).

These stocks have the capacity to bounce back fast. Sacramento escapements quadrupled by 1995, and that was after an ocean commercial and recreational harvest of more than a million chinook that year.

West coast governors are already calling for disaster aid to bail out fishermen and coastal communities, where impacts from the commercial fishery are estimated by the PFMC at $61 million a year, and $21 million in the recreational fishery. -B. R.

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NW Fishletter 244

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