MENDOCINO Co., 5/27/17 — California’s Governor Jerry Brown and Oregon Governor Kate Brown have sent a joint letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce requesting federal assistance with an ongoing salmon emergency. The letter follows a request from North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood and North Coast State Senator Mike McGuire to Governor Brown in early May asking that he seek funding to assist local residents who will be unable to fish for salmon this season due to an unprecedented decline in local salmon populations.
The letter from the two Governors Brown, sent to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, requests that Ross, “expedite declaration of a catastrophic regional fishery disaster” and provide federal funds to mitigate the dire state of the pacific salmon fishery. The letter notes that both the 2016 and 2017 ocean salmon fisheries have been in a state of decline, and that many miles of coastline will be completely closed to commercial fishing this year. Both California and Oregon have substantial commercial fishing industries as well as tribal rights to salmon, which have declined to less than one fish per ten tribal members in some areas. The governors state that a federal declaration of a regional fishery disaster, “will begin the process for requesting federal aid to assist these fishery-dependent communities during this difficult time.”
The request for federal emergency funds states that the impacts from a multi-year drought in California, parasites in the Klamath River basin, poor ocean conditions have all contributed to the historically low levels of salmon runs this year. The two governors note that these conditions are beyond what fisheries managers can control for or prevent against, and that salmon populations may continue to decline beyond 2017. This year’s salmon season has been significantly reduced, with many hundreds of miles of coastline facing a reduced season or no commercial or recreational season at all.
The governors point out that communities dependent on salmon fisheries will likely suffer economic impacts beyond the immediate harm to fishermen. “There will be negative effects on fish processors, fishing equipment retailers, marine repair and moorage businesses, as well as recreational fishing guides, charter boat operators, bait shops, motels, and other dependent businesses. We ask that you support assistance for all affected businesses in your review of this issue,” the letter states. They also highlight the impacts to tribal communities, who are facing significant restrictions on tribal salmon allotments this season — this weekend the Yurok tribe will be hosting their 15th annual running event focusing on the issues facing Klamath River salmon.
The letter also reminds federal authorities that “salmon are a vital component of Oregon and California’s natural resources and provide significant commercial, recreational, economic, and aesthetic benefits to both states.”
The request for funding from Govs. Brown provides extensive specifics regarding the recent sharp decline in the California and Oregon ocean salmon fisheries. In 2016, California salmon fishermen only caught 67% of the expected catch, and this year the season has been greatly reduced, with population levels expected to be about a third of those in 2012. In 2017, there will be no commercial fishery in the Klamath Management Zone and recreational salmon fishing has also been suspended in the Klamath and Trinity rivers. Commercial projections in California predict this year’s catch to be 72% less than the 2012 - 2016 average, a decline of historic proportions. A significant portion of the Oregon coastline has also been closed to commercial salmon fishing this year.
In California, the Pacific Fishery Management Council has completely closed the commercial and sport salmon fishing season for 2017 from the Oregon border to Horse Mountain. In the Fort Bragg area — described as Horse Mountain to Point Arena — commercial fishing is projected to decline by 93% from the 2012 - 2016 average, and catches from Point Arena to San Francisco are expected to be reduced by 69%. The recreational fishing season in the Fort Bragg area will be closed most of the season, from June 1 to August 14, and catches are predicted to be less than a quarter of the previous averages.
Earlier this month, north coast legislators sent a letter to Gov. Brown requesting that he ask for federal funding to help communities and residents along the north coast who are dependent on the salmon industry for economic survival and subsistence. You can read more about that letter in our previous coverage here.
In a press release, McGuire responded to Brown’s request for action, saying “California salmon fishermen are facing an unprecedented crisis and we are grateful for the Governor who is standing strong for the hard-working men and women of California’s salmon fleet. The California salmon fishery is our state’s oldest and it’s one of the most iconic fisheries in America. Thousands of working families on the North Coast are in crisis and desperately need our help – today’s action by the Governor brings us one step closer to providing that support.”
The full letter from Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov. Kate Brown can be found here.
Kate B. Maxwell, [email protected]