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Agency declares disaster over low salmon count

The Chinook salmon situation has reached “disaster” level.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared today in Portland that the West Coast’s drop in salmon numbers has led to a commercial fishery failure.NOAA Fisheries today also issued regulations to close or limit recreational and commercial fishing in the area.

This is a first step toward providing federal disaster assistance to commercial and charter salmon fishermen in California, Oregon and Washington.

Fishing season was cut back because of a severe salmon decline in the Sacramento River. Hundreds of thousands of these fish typically spawn there each year, but scientists estimated that less than 60,000 adult salmon will make it back to the river.

The Merced area has suffered the affects of the decline. Recent surveys found only 520 Chinook salmon in the Merced River, down from 1,470 the year before -- and well below the 10,000 counted during 2001 and 2002.

The situation has concerned managers at the Merced River Hatchery in Snelling, as well as educators in the area who lead school programs to raise and release the fish.

Reasons for the decline are still being studied. Scientists suggest changes in ocean conditions, river water quality, changing weather temperatures and predators. ---Dhyana Levey and Associated Press

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