California Imposes Full Closure on Salmon Fishing in Select Waterways
In a bid to save dwindling Chinook salmon populations, the California Fish and Game Commission has voted unanimously to impose a full closure on the state’s recreational salmon fishing season. This closure affects the Klamath River Basin and Central Valley rivers and is set to begin no later than July 1, 2023.
In a separate move, the Commission has also opted to halt recreational salmon fishing in the Smith and Eel Rivers, as well as the summer season in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers. Despite these widespread closures, the Commission has granted federally recognized tribes that historically use these rivers the right to continue fishing under existing inland sport fishing regulations.
These decisions follow recommendations by the Pacific Fishery Management Council to close both commercial and recreational ocean salmon fisheries off the California coast. Such recommendations were prompted by projections showing Chinook salmon numbers at an all-time low. As per the California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 1.95, state waters are required to adhere to federal regulations regarding ocean salmon sport fishing unless the Commission chooses to act otherwise.
Acknowledging the impact these closures will have on commercial, charter, and inland guide businesses, California Governor Gavin Newsom has requested a Federal Fishery Disaster Declaration from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. If approved, this declaration would start the process of providing financial relief to businesses and communities affected by the salmon fishing closure.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham commented on the closures, acknowledging the difficulties posed by the decision but highlighting the need for it. He stressed the importance of salmon to California, not only for their intrinsic value but also for their cultural, recreational, and commercial significance. He emphasized the state’s commitment to the long-term survival of its salmon populations and to supporting fishing communities.
Several factors have contributed to the record-low forecasts for California’s Chinook salmon stocks. Extended periods of drought, severe wildfires that have damaged spawning and rearing habitats, harmful algal blooms, and shifts in ocean forage have all played a role. Coupled with low returns in 2022, these factors led to the recommendation to close California’s in-river recreational salmon fisheries, which include major rivers such as the Sacramento, Feather, American, and Mokelumne.
In an additional emergency action, the Commission also decided to reduce the daily bag and possession limit for California halibut from three fish to two in waters north of Point Sur, Monterey County. This change, expected to take effect on June 1, 2023, is designed to protect the halibut population in light of increased fishing pressure due to limited opportunities and changes in other ocean fisheries, including salmon. The Pacific halibut fishery is unaffected by this action, maintaining a daily limit of one fish with no size restrictions.