Declines In California,
(Feb. 4, 2008) — California Central Valley fall Chinook
salmon stocks appear to be undergoing a significant decline,
according to Pacific Fishery Management Council Director Donald
McIsaac. Although the numbers are currently being verified by the
Council, Dr. McIsaac said that if the low abundance is confirmed,
all marine and freshwater fisheries impacting this important
salmon stock may be affected.
The low returns are particularly
distressing since this stock has consistently been the healthy
“work horse” for salmon fisheries off California and most of
Not long ago, the Council’s Salmon
Technical Team (STT) met to tabulate salmon returns and catches.
Two areas of bad news emerged. First, in 2007 the adult spawning
escapement for Sacramento River fall Chinook failed to meet the
escapement goal (122,000180,000 adults) for the first time in 15
years. Sacramento River fall Chinook are the largest component of
Central Valley Chinook. (The escapement goal, or conservation
objective, is the optimal number of adult fish returning to spawn
in order to maximize the production of the stock).
Second, the count of “jacks” in the
Central Valley fall Chinook return this past fall was a record
low. Only 2,000 jacks returned, compared to a longterm average of
about 40,000 and the previous record low of 10,000. Jacks are
immature fish that return to the rivers at age two (unlike adult
fish, which return at age three or four). Their numbers are used
to forecast future returns.
This suggests that 2008 abundance
will probably also be weak. Scientists now question whether
returns in 2008 could meet the conservation objective even without
any commercial or recreational salmon fishing where these fish are
found. If returns do not meet the conservation objective, an
emergency rule from National Marine Fisheries Service may be
required to allow any fisheries.
Reason for decline
The reason for the decline is
unclear. Both hatchery and naturally produced fish have been
negatively affected, and returns of coastal stocks in Oregon,
in the Columbia River, and in British Columbia were all low in
2007. The decline seems to be a coastwide phenomenon, probably
related to ocean conditions.
The implications of a precipitous
decline could be substantial for both commercial and recreational
fisheries coastwide. In 2006, a similar decline in Klamath stocks
led to major cutbacks in salmon fishing opportunities. Sacramento
River salmon have a greater range than Klamath River stocks, and
are caught in California, Oregon, Washington, and even British
Columbia. They are considered the “driver” of commercial fisheries
in Oregon and California.