March 2015
Volume 6, Issue 8

Good news for commercial salmon fishermen may spell bad news for endangered winter-run Chinook salmon

The winter-run Chinook salmon is listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and is edging closer to extinction for a number of reasons, including drought, ocean conditions, and predation. At a recent meeting of the California Fish and Game Commission, Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham stated that 95 percent of the winter-run brood was lost in 2014 due to drought and temperature conditions. Bonham worried that the winter-run populations could collapse by 2017.

At the same time, forecasts suggest that populations of the winter-run’s cousin, the fall-run Chinook salmon, have increased over the past year, leading to calls by salmon fishing groups to increase the length of the fishing season and the number of fish that can be harvested. The problem is that when they are catching all those fall-run salmon, anglers also catch (“take,” in ESA jargon) a lot of endangered winter-run salmon. In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service has estimated that historically ocean harvest has resulted in the lethal take of about 25 percent of adult winter-run salmon annually. This magnitude of take of adult winter-run salmon that otherwise would return to freshwater to spawn will undoubtedly increase the likelihood of extinction of the species.

State and federal fishery agencies must take this concern into account when determining the fishing limits for the fall-run season. At a time when water supplies for farming have been virtually cut off for the past three years, we cannot afford to let calls for increased salmon fishing exacerbate the situation.