Central Valley

Decision on salmon fishing ban due today

Federal fisheries managers meeting in Seattle on Thursday are likely to recommend sharp cutbacks in chinook salmon fishing throughout the Pacific Coast this summer, with California taking the biggest hit.

The Sacramento River fall chinook run last year was the second-smallest in more than 35 years of record-keeping. This year's run is projected to be worse. The run is usually the largest on the West Coast, supporting a fishery that reaches to the Canadian border. But because Sacramento chinook are often found in greater numbers near their home river, the cutbacks will be worse for California fishermen.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council on Thursday will select from a slate of grim options for the commercial season that begins May 1. The worst option bans all fishing. Others allow a limited catch of salmon during drastically narrowed seasons.

Even under the best scenario, the catch would be reduced more than 90 percent, likely driving up salmon prices for consumers. Already, some markets have reportedly raised their wild-caught salmon prices in advance of the decision to more than $30 per pound.

The council's vote amounts to a recommendation to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which sets final rules for the season and almost always agrees with the council. But if the council calls for even a limited fishery, a special administrative ruling by the service will be required because the chinook's estimated population falls below a critical management target.

The California Fish and Game Commission is expected to follow with similar cutbacks or closures in state waters, which extend out three miles, and in Central Valley rivers.