Last week, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to shut down this year’s Chinook salmon fisheries in California and much of Oregon, due to “near record low” forecasts of returning fish. This decision, if approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, will apply to commercial and recreational fishermen for much of the 2023 fishing season. While many contributing factors led to this outcome, persistent drought, water mismanagement, and habitat are the leading causes of the historically low run projections and this closure.

Pacific Council Chair Marc Gorelnik said, “The poor conditions in the freshwater environment that contributed to these low forecasted returns are unfortunately not something that the Council can, or has authority to, control.”

It will be interesting to see how snowpacks and moisture throughout the west coast contribute to successful runs and smolt survival. Historically, salmon runs have improved after high-moisture years, but given the declining condition of salmon on the west coast, the Council could not, and should not have, gamble with the long-term sustainability of these once-iconic stocks.

The Council clearly had to take strong action given the run forecasts: “the 2023 projection for Sacramento River fall Chinook, the most predominant stock harvested in California’s fisheries, is estimated at 169,767 adults, one of the lowest forecasts since 2008 when the current assessment method began. For Klamath River fall Chinook the forecast is 103,793 adults which is the second lowest forecast since the current assessment method began in 1997.”

Hopefully, the reduced angling pressure coupled with apparently favorable river conditions give these fish a much needed break and opportunity to recover. However, this closure will certainly be painful for many salmon anglers and Commercial fishermen.

The runs on the Klamath just need to hold on for a couple more seasons, until salmon and steelhead can benefit from the worlds largest dam removal project–four dams on the lower Klamath River–begins this summer (2023). Chrysten Rivard, Oregon Director for Trout Unlimited, said, “The Klamath River has been Exhibit A for how dams, drought, imbalanced water management and climate change can strangle a river. Now, the Klamath is poised to become a prime example of how an entire river system, and the people and wildlife that depend on it, can be renewed.”

We’ll continue tracking salmon runs and progress on the Klamath–so, stay tuned!

Cover picture, California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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