It appears that the relatively healthy stocks of Central Valley fall run chinook are in serious trouble. Today's Sac Bee has the story:
The Sacramento River's fall chinook salmon population is headed for a collapse, according to new federal data, threatening the upcoming commercial and recreational fishing season on one of the country's most important runs.
The fall chinook run in the Central Valley has long been touted as a conservation success story. As many other species declined, fall salmon spawning in the Sacramento River and its tributaries held reliably above 200,000 fish for 15 years.
But in fall 2007, the number of spawners suddenly fell to just 90,414 fish, the second-lowest total since 1973. That includes wild and hatchery-raised fish.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) found two areas of particularly bad news. First, the return of mature Sacramento river chinook failed to meet conservation targets for the first time in 15 years. Second, the returns of younger "jack" salmon (which return to spawn when they are two years old rather then the normal three) were at a record low 2,000 fish, compared to a long-term average of 40,000. This is an ominous indicator for next year's run.
The collapse of these previously solid stocks have PFMC fisheries experts very worried:
Last week scientists questioned 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.
The reasons for the decline are not entirely clear - both wild salmon and hatchery fish appear to be affected, and the cause is likely related to ocean conditions.
The economic implications for fishermen (and those who love to eat wild salmon) are dire. Sacramento chinook have historically been the "workhorse" salmon run, providing much of the commercial catch. If the population has crashed as severely as it appears, the fishing season next year will be substantially restricted.
The PFMS will meet in Sacramento on March 8-14 to discuss management options, followed by public comment and hearings up the coast. It certainly appears that it will be a painful decision making process.
More information is available at the Pacific Fisheries Management Council web site, including an informative press release.