With the "backbone of
the West Coast salmon industry" broken, the federal government
declared a commercial fishery failure on Thursday, which opens
the door for Congress to appropriate money to alleviate
predicted financial hardships.
The direct hit from a virtual
closure of the 2008 salmon troll fishery off the California,
Oregon and Washington coasts is an anticipated loss of $22
million in commercial ex-vessel revenues. That would be a
decline of 90 percent from the recent five-year average.
The loss in personal income overall in commercial and
recreational fisheries is estimated to be $60 million,
according to economic analysis produced by the NOAA Fisheries
Service using data compiled by the Pacific Fisheries
Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez made the disaster
declaration based on what are expected to be historically low
salmon returns, particularly of fall chinook salmon to
California's Sacramento River system. The Sacramento stock has
traditionally provided the lion's share of the ocean chinook
At the same time NOAA Fisheries issued regulations to close
or severely limit recreational and commercial salmon fishing
in the swath of water from 3 to 200 miles off the states'
coastline. The regulations formalize recommendations made by
the PFMC in mid-April.
"The unprecedented collapse of the salmon population will
hit fishermen, their families, and fishing communities hard,
and that is why we have moved quickly to declare a fishery
disaster," Gutierrez said. "Our scientists are working to
better understand the effects that ocean changes have on
salmon populations. We are also working closely with fishing
communities to improve salmon habitat in river systems to
support sustainable fishing."
"This declaration moves us one step closer to securing the
help the people in our fishing communities desperately need,"
said Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongsoki, who requested the
declaration. "I am pleased with Secretary Gutierrez's quick
response to our call for federal assistance, and I will
continue to work with the Oregon congressional delegation to
ensure adequate financial relief is available for our
The declarations provide Congress significant leverage to
appropriate disaster relief funds for Oregon, Washington and
California, Kulongoski said.
Kulongoski and Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California
and Chris Gregoire of Washington last week sent a letter to
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking Congress to begin
working on securing emergency appropriations for ocean salmon
fishermen and related businesses that will be affected by the
expected closure of much of the West Coast commercial and
recreational ocean salmon fishing season.
The state of Oregon has estimated the financial loss to
Oregon commercial and recreational ocean salmon fishermen and
related businesses to be $44.9 million, including the loss of
763 jobs. That estimate goes beyond immediate effects on the
industry itself. For all three states, the total economic loss
is expected to be $290 million and 4,200 jobs.
Hundreds of thousands of fall chinook salmon typically
return to the Sacramento River every year to spawn. This year,
scientists estimate that fewer than 60,000 adult chinook will
make it back.
"This is far below what is needed to sustain the population
and we have decided to shut down the commercial ocean salmon
fishery for all of California and most of Oregon to aid their
recovery," said Jim Balsiger, NOAA Fisheries Service acting
assistant administrator. "It's a tough decision, but the
condition of the salmon fishery forces us to close most of it
to ensure healthy runs of this valuable fish in the future."
Although the reasons for the sudden decline of the fishery
are not completely understood, NOAA scientists suggest that
changes in ocean conditions, including unfavorable shifts in
ocean temperature and food sources for juvenile salmon, likely
caused poor survival of salmon that would have comprised this
Loss of freshwater habitat for salmon spawning, rearing,
and migration to the ocean is a chronic problem that has made
salmon populations more susceptible to the occasional poor
ocean conditions, according to NOAA. NOAA will undertake a
thorough examination of the causes.
Coho salmon stocks off Washington and northern Oregon,
while in slightly better shape, are still far below normal,
and there will be substantially curtailed commercial fishing
off those areas as well. A small recreational fishery off
Oregon's northern coast and targeted on hatchery-produced coho
salmon will be allowed.
The area north of northern Oregon's Cape Falcon is expected
to lose a about $1 million in ex-vessel revenues, the money
paid to trollers for their catch. That's a 38 percent decrease
from the five-year average. Even with a large jump in the
price of fish the fishery would still suffer significant
losses, according to the NOAA analysis.
South of Cape Falcon the loss is expected to be $21 million
in ex-vessel revenues -- a 100 percent decrease from the
The ex-vessel losses do not take into account other
economic losses suffered as a result of the commercial
closure. It is estimated that $3 million in income will be
generated in coastal communities' related industries such as
processing plants, suppliers and vessel owners and their crews
at the 2008 harvest levels. That compares to an average of $39
million per year.
Restricted sport fisheries will impact the charter fleet
and businesses that serve anglers. It is anticipated that
angler trips will fall from an average of 346,000 during the
2003-2007 period to 47,000 this year. The amount of personal
income generated by the sport fishery has averaged about $28
million. The amount forecast for 2008 is $4 million, according
to the NOAA analysis.
The regulations adopted are the most restrictive salmon
fisheries in the history for the West Coast, in response to
the unprecedented collapse of the Sacramento River fall
chinook and the exceptionally poor status of coho salmon from
Oregon and Washington.
The rules adopted include a complete closure of commercial
and sport chinook fisheries off California and most of Oregon
and allowed only a 9,000-fish quota for a fishery targeting
hatchery coho off central Oregon's coast. Salmon fisheries off
California and Oregon typically have been large -- involving
seasons that span from May 1 to Oct. 31 and averaged over
800,000 chinook caught per year from 2000 to 2005.
Fisheries north of Cape Falcon to the Canadian line will
also be severely restricted. Although chinook quotas in this
area are similar to 2007 and chinook stocks are generally more
abundant than the southern stocks, depressed natural coho
stocks are constraining access of commercial fisheries to
Sport fisheries, many of which depend primarily on coho,
are even more restricted. Coho quotas are less than 20 percent
of the 2007 season for non-Indian fisheries and about 50
percent of 2007 levels for treaty-Indian fisheries.
Under Section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the
Commerce secretary can declare a commercial fishery failure if
requested to do so by a governor, or at the secretary's
discretion. The secretary must determine that the commercial
fishery failure resulted from a fishery resource disaster due
to natural causes, man-made causes beyond the control of
fishery managers, or undetermined causes.
Oregon Sens. Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden pushed for $60.4
million in disaster relief for West Coast salmon fishermen
last year after commercial salmon fishing was all but
eliminated along 700 miles of Oregon and California coastline
in 2006. Smith and Wyden, along with senators from California
and Washington, are urging the inclusion of funding in a
supplemental appropriations bill expected to be debated in
Congress this month.
"A season without work is devastating for families who are
struggling to pay bills and put food on the table," Smith
said. "Given skyrocketing gas and food prices, getting aid to
these fishing communities quickly is critical. It's a matter
of survival. This declaration allows us to begin pushing for
"This declaration by NOAA, which comes on a day that should
mark the opening of salmon season on the Oregon Coast, is a
crucial first step in providing disaster assistance to a
fishing industry being devastated by yet another salmon
closure," said Wyden. "We need to move quickly to get
financial help to fishermen who I know would much rather be on
the ocean today catching salmon than seeing their boats tied
to a dock."
For an economic analysis of the West Coast salmon fishery
and other information go to