Salmon fishing closure prompts Schwarzenegger to declare emergency

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger late Thursday declared a state of emergency in California as a result of the unprecedented closure of coastal salmon fishing by the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The closure is predicted to cost the state $255 million and 2,263 jobs this year, according to estimates by the Department of Fish and Game. The council, a federal panel, voted to recommend the closure at a meeting Thursday in Seattle. It is likely to be approved later this month by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the California Fish and Game Commission on Tuesday is expected to impose similar closures in state waters, including Central Valley rivers.

A sharp decline in the Central Valley fall-run chinook population is behind the closures. Last year's run was the second-lowest in more than 35 years of record-keeping, and this year's run is expected to be worse. Biologists blame poor ocean conditions, possibly caused by climate change, but haven't ruled out environmental problems in the Sacramento River and its tributaries.

Schwarzenegger said in a statement he hopes to "quickly free up state and federal resources to help the fishing industry cope with the devastating economic impacts closing the season will have."

The proclamation directs the state Department of Finance to make $2.7 million available to refund commercial salmon fishing permits for the 2008 season, and orders state labor agencies to make all appropriate state grants available to help workers displaced by the closure. He also directed the Department of Fish and Game to recommend additional steps to help the fishing industry and to protect fishery resources, and to seek the maximum possible financial and administrative assistance from the federal government.

The governor also plans to sign SB 562, a bill by Sen. Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, that appropriates $5.3 million from Proposition 84 for coastal salmon and steelhead restoration projects by the Department of Fish and Game. The money is expected to draw an additional $20 million in federal matching funds for these projects.