Managers to Close Salmon Fisheries
by Robert McClure
Federal fisheries managers in Seattle on Tuesday declared their intention to close summer salmon fisheries off Oregon and Northern California to protect a stock battered by controversial water diversions to help farmers.
"It's huge and unprecedented" to take such a sweeping action, said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, whose officials briefed the Pacific Fishery Management Council. "It's a big deal and it's tough for fishermen."
The closure to help the ailing Klamath River fall chinook run means that the much larger and healthier Sacramento River salmon stocks must also be left alone. It would affect waters off a 700-mile stretch of coastline from Northern Oregon to Big Sur, south of San Fransisco.
"If (the closure) were only the Klamath stocks, it wouldn't be a big deal, but they mix with other stocks on the West coast and they're indistinguishable," Gorman said. Virtually all the fish in question are landed and eaten in northern California and Oregon.
(Editor's Note: In briefing the Pacific Marine Fisheries Council Tuesday on plans by the National Marine Fisheries Service to close summer salmon fisheries, NMFS official Peter Dygert did not mention the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Seattle fisherman Joel Karahawa said he has been told by two NMFS officials that CEQ approval is needed before the decision is final, and also heard one NMFS official tell another NMFS official the same thing. But Dygert did not say that to the fisheries council, according to Karahawa. The original version of this story stands corrected.)
Only a handful of fishing vessels from Seattle target the salmon stocks in question. But the proposed closure could have impacts in Washington as displaced fishermen from the south seek salmon here, Gorman said.
The Klamath, in southern Oregon and northern California, became a flashpoint in the battle between farmers and fish advocates early this decade, with the Bush administration siding with farmers. Later, a massive die-off of Klamath salmon was traced by scientists to a parasite in the river that fares well when river flows are low and temperatures warm -- as when water was diverted to farm fields.
The Klamath River stock that spurred the closure has failed to reach a population goal for the third year running, NMFS scientists say. Fisheries managers targeted the Klamath stock to return to 36,000 fish. But current counts indicate the actual number will fall short of that by about 6,000 fish, Gorman said.
Karahawa, the Seattle fisherman, questioned why the White House should be involved in the decision.
"I'm concerned about the Klamath River stocks and I'm concerned about the political interference by the administration in the recovery of the Klamath River stocks," Karahawa said. "I'm angry about the diversion of the water. I'm angry about the fact that for conservation needs, they will shut down the fishery -- however, there will be no adequate measures taken in (the) river to support fish."
If the season is closed, the government would work to expedite federal disaster relief for fishermen, said Frank Lockhart, director of NMFS' northwest sustainable fisheries division.
The council is expected to make its final recommendation to NMFS when it meets again in April in Sacramento. But NMFS officials have the final say, and they are the ones who announced their intentions on Tuesday.
The fish in question are not protected under the Endangered Species Act.
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