The California Fish and Game Commission unanimously approved emergency measures on May 17, 2023, to safeguard California’s ocean fishery. The regulations include a complete closure of the recreational salmon fishing season in the Klamath River Basin and Central Valley rivers. In addition, the Commission voted to close recreational salmon fisheries in the Smith River and Eel River, as well as the summer season in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers. However, federally recognized tribes with historical or current use of the affected river segments will be allowed to continue fishing under existing inland sport fishing rules. The regulations are expected to be effective by July 1, 2023, pending approval by the Office of Administrative Law.
These actions by the Commission align with the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s recommendation to close both commercial and recreational ocean salmon fisheries along the California coast due to historically low Chinook salmon abundance. The federal regulations for ocean salmon fisheries, published on May 11, 2023, are already in effect as of May 16, 2023, and California’s state waters automatically conform to these regulations unless the Commission takes different action.
Governor Gavin Newsom recently requested a Federal Fishery Disaster Declaration to support California’s commercial, charter, and inland guide businesses affected by the salmon fishing closure. If approved, this declaration would initiate the process of providing financial relief to the impacted fishing communities.
According to Charlton H. Bonham, Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the decision to close the salmon fisheries is a challenging one but aims to ensure the recovery of the salmon population for future fishing opportunities. California highly values salmon for its cultural, recreational, and commercial significance, and the state is committed to protecting the long-term survival of salmon runs and supporting struggling fishing communities.
The decline in California’s Chinook salmon stock abundance is attributed to various factors such as prolonged drought, severe wildfires affecting spawning and rearing habitats, harmful algal blooms, and shifts in ocean forage. The low forecasts for ocean salmon abundance, coupled with poor returns in 2022, prompted the Commission to recommend the closure of in-river recreational salmon fisheries in several locations, including the Klamath Basin, Central Valley Rivers, Smith River, and Eel River. Governor Newsom’s request for a Federal Fishery Disaster Declaration is the initial step toward potentially receiving federal assistance for affected businesses and fishing communities.
In another emergency action, the Commission unanimously decided to decrease the daily bag and possession limit for California halibut from three fish to two fish in California waters north of Point Sur, Monterey County. This regulation will take effect on June 1, 2023. The reduced limit is intended to protect the halibut resource due to heightened recreational fishing activity resulting from limited fishing opportunities and changes in other ocean fisheries, including salmon. However, the Pacific halibut fishery remains unaffected, with a daily bag and possession limit of one fish and no size restriction.