Central Valley

No more salmon fishing in rivers?

SACRAMENTO -- Residents of the Central Valley this week may lose the opportunity, for the first time, to catch a mighty king salmon in their local rivers.

The state Fish and Game Commission is scheduled to vote Tuesday on drastic cutbacks in recreational fishing for fall-run king salmon, also known as chinook, in response to a steep decline in the species last year. It also is likely to close recreational fishing on the ocean.

A record-low spawning run of 58,200 fish is expected this year in the Sacramento River and its tributaries, down from 775,000 fish in 2002.

The closures could send hundreds of fishing guides and charter boat captains scrambling to find other work. It may mean many of California's 1.2 million licensed anglers won't bring home any fresh-caught salmon this year.

"If they close the rivers, I can't tell you how bad it will hurt," said Dave Jacobs, a Redding guide who offers salmon fishing trips on the Sacramento River. "I just hope I can survive. I would really hate to throw away my whole dream and my livelihood for my family."

On Thursday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to close all commercial and recreational salmon fishing in federal waters off California. The state commission is likely to follow with closures in near-shore waters and Central Valley rivers. Catch-and-release fishing still may be allowed in rivers.

"It's going to affect us dearly," said Terry Horst of Sacramento, a recreational angler who catches about 15 salmon a year in rivers. "I just bought a boat a couple years ago, and one of the main reasons ... (was) to go salmon fishing. I enjoy eating them as well as catching them."

Much of the attention has been on commercial, but recreational salmon fishing is a bigger economic engine.

The Department of Fish and Game estimated last week that the closures may cost California $255 million this year and 2,263 jobs.

Nearly two-thirds of that impact, or about $187 million, will be felt in the recreational fishery.

"We won't sell any salmon lures, so we're giving up that part of the store to make room for other stuff," said Alan Fong, manager of Fisherman's Warehouse in Sacramento. The store, billed as Northern California's largest tackle shop, gets at least 25 percent of its business from salmon fishers.

"People don't realize it, but it screws up the whole fishing industry when you cut the salmon off," Fong said. "It's a chain reaction."

That's because guides still have boat and mortgage payments, and still have to put food on the table. Many will offer customers other fish to catch, such as tuna and rock cod in the ocean, and striped bass and sturgeon in the rivers.

Many coastal fishing boats have begun offering whale-watching excursions.

"I got everything I own in this business, so I gotta do whatever I can to survive," said Pete Bruno, owner of Randy's Fishing Trips in Monterey. He has canceled at least a dozen salmon charters this month and soon will call regulars to cancel summer trips.

Gov. Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Thursday because of the salmon closures and wrote to President Bush in hopes of expediting federal assistance.

The governor directed the state Department of Finance to make $2.7 million available to refund 2008 commercial salmon fishing permits, and called on state agencies to tap into all forms of assistance for the industry, whether state or federal.