Pacific salmon may be scarce, pricy in stores this summer
Salmon caught off the Pacific Coast may be harder to find in stores this summer and cost more with tight restrictions imposed on fishermen who anticipate pulling fewer of the prized catch into their boats, officials said Friday.
Four years of bruising drought in the West has strained inland rivers where salmon spawn, putting the fish in sharp decline.
Restrictions announced this week leave fisherman nearly half of the opportunity to catch salmon compared to last year, under the recommendations of an industry oversight body.
"If you like the good stuff, it's going to be harder to find this year," said Dave Bitts, a Eureka, California, fisherman and adviser to the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
The council oversees commercial and recreational salmon fishing off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. It is made up of industry representatives, scientists and government officials.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to adopt the council's recommendations on May 1.
Salmon depend for survival on cold and abundant water flowing down rivers, such as the Sacramento and Klamath, where the fish migrate and spawn in three-year cycles. California has endured the driest four-year period on record before this winter's El Nino delivered some relief with a near-average snowpack.
The salmon industry in California and Oregon alone is valued at $2 billion annually. It supports 23,000 jobs in California, according to the Golden Gate Salmon Association.
"While fishermen are not happy to have restricted seasons, they realize their responsibility to be good stewards," said John McManus, the association's executive director.
The fishing industry and farmers in California's fertile Central Valley are in a constant struggle over the same river water to sustain their livelihoods. The last two years have been disastrous for salmon in the Sacramento River.
Just 3 percent of California's juvenile winter-run salmon survived in 2015 compared to 5 percent survival the previous year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries agency has reported.
It is too soon to say how high the price of wild-caught salmon could be for consumers until fisherman return to the docks with their catch. Wildlife officials, however, estimate low numbers swimming in the Pacific.
"As a fisherman, you always expect a miracle, that there's all kinds of fish in the ocean," said Larry Collins, a San Francisco commercial fisherman and seafood buyer. "I just don't expect that this year."
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