salmon closure map

OREGON COAST — Some Oregon and California U.S. senators are asking for a federal salmon fishery disaster declaration to support economic recovery in coastal communities in the two states after extensive commercial fishing closures due to declining salmon populations.

In April, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, a federal body that regulates commercial and sport fishing, made its 2017 salmon season recommendations. As a result, nearly half of the Oregon coast and a 130-mile section of the California coast — from Florence to Horse Mountain- is closed to commercial fishing.

In a letter written to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Friday, Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and California Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein wrote that salmon catches have consistently declined over the last decade and that the disaster designation will provide a safety net to keep fishermen in business.

The senators’ request follows one made by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and California Gov. Jerry Brown, who called for a disaster declaration in a May 24 letter to Ross.

That letter stated Oregon commercial salmon fisheries are projected to make 63-percent less this year compared to the 2012-2016 average earnings of $7.3 million.

Commercial operations aren’t the only ones that will be affected.

Recreational fishing will be closed from the Oregon and California border to just south of Eureka. Last year, the Oregon recreational Chinook salmon catch was expected to be 9,000, but fell short at 4,100.

Closures are also set to impact fish processors, fishing equipment retailers, marine repair businesses, charter boat operators, bait shops and motels.

Oregon has had four disaster declarations between 2006 and 2016. A disaster declaration in 2009 resulted in $100 million of disaster-relief aid given out by NOAA’s Fisheries Service.

Michael Milstein with NOAA fisheries said the administration has known that this was going to be a difficult year for a while.

“We’ve known that it was going to be a lean year for salmon, because we know the ocean conditions have been not as productive,” Milstein said.

He said the upwelling of deep colder water that provides the fish with nutrients has been minimal the last couple of years and that has a lot to do with salmon survival.

Milstein said the Klamath River area was closed because it’s an area where a lot of fish get caught when they’re returning from the ocean.

“It’s a management area where we know a lot of those fish sustain a lot of the fishing pressure,” he said.

To protect adult salmon returning to spawn, the California the Fish and Game Commission decided to close all in-river fishing on the Klamath-Trinity watershed from Aug. 15 through the end of the year.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wade Sinnen said in an email Monday that this is the lowest projected fall Chinook abundance on record. The projected number of fish is 54,200 compared to 142,200 last year. However, he said last year’s estimate wasn’t reflective of the actual outcome.

“The post-season estimate for last year was 68,438, which points out that the pre-season estimates are not always precise,” Sinnen said in the email.

Knute Nemeth is a retired fisherman in Charleston.

He said some local fishermen have traveled as far as Newport to fish for salmon, but it’s time-consuming and expensive. Couple that with the limit on the amount of fish that can be caught and Nemeth said it has cut back on the incentive to fish for salmon at all.

Now, most salmon fishing is out of Newport.

According to the letter written by the two governors, 74-percent of the Chinook salmon caught by the Oregon commercial fishery was in Newport.

Nemeth said fishermen in the area are focusing on other fish like cod and tuna instead. But there’s not always a guarantee you’ll catch anything, he adds.

“Fishing is a feast or famine type of a deal and there are people with pretty skinny stomachs right now,” Nemeth said.

NOAA’s Milstein echoed that sentiment.

“We’ve known that this is a tough year for everyone and certainly it’s tough for the fleet to make it through a year like this,” Milstein said.

Reach Saphara Harrell at (541) 269-1222 ext. 239 or by email at saphara.harrell@theworldlink.com

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