Officials Consider Ban on Commercial Salmon Fishing

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After meeting last week in Seattle, federal regulators are considering an unprecedented ban on the fishing of Chinook salmon along 700 miles of the California and Oregon coasts. It's a reaction to plummeting populations of salmon that spawn in the Klamath River.


If you love wild salmon get ready to pay more for that treat. Federal regulators are worried about the plummeting number of Chinook salmon, also known as King salmon, in the waters of Oregon and Northern California. Things are so bad regulators may cancel the commercial salmon fishing season for Chinook. NPR's Martin Kaste reports from Seattle.

MARTIN KASTE, reporting:

The Klamath River, which winds through Oregon and Northern California, used to dump uncountable numbers of the silvery Chinook salmon into the Pacific Ocean. But in recent years those numbers have dropped off. The Indians who live along the river have watched that decline from front row seats. Dave Hillsmeyer, Fishery Manager for the Yurok tribe says things are so bad it's time for drastic action. He says the government needs to rein in the commercial fisherman out at sea who catch the returning Chinook.

Mr. DAVE HILLSMEYER (Fishery Manger): We can't fish down to the last fish. We have conservation objectives just to make sure that we have enough spawners to propagate the fish for future generations so there's no choice.

KASTE: Federal regulators are contemplating restricting, or maybe even shutting down, the commercial catch along hundreds of miles of Oregon and California coast. They may have to limit the catch for all kinds of salmon because at sea the Klamath Chinook is usually mixed up with other, more abundant, species. Zeke Grader, Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations, says restricting the catch is the wrong solution.

Mr. ZEKE GRADER (Director, Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations): Unless we fix this problem in the river it doesn't matter how many fish we get back. Whether it is 1,000 or 100,000, it doesn't mean anything.

KASTE: Grader blames the dams on the Klamath River, which stifle salmon spawning. He also blames irrigation, which draws down water levels and may have made the young Chinook more vulnerable to a killer parasite. As an emergency fix, Grader wants the government to trap the salmon and truck them around the most inhospitable parts of the river. Phil Dettrick, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife coordinator for the river, won't comment on that idea. But he says the commercial catch restrictions are likely. As to removing the dams, Dettrick says that would not be the cure all that some people think.

Mr. PHIL DETTRICK (U.S. Fish and Wildlife): We're asking this river to do a lot of things. We're asking this river to sustain irrigated agriculture, to sustain national wildlife refuges, to produce power, to produce salmon. These management issues are really complex and there's not a single cause and not a single solution.

KASTE: But Dettrick sees hope in the fact that local Indian tribes have started negotiating directly with upstream irrigators. It's the first time they've done so, he says, and he thinks it's a sign that the river's rival users are learning to compromise. But long-term changes will take years, and for now the Klamath Chinook are few and far between. Martin Kaste NPR News, Seattle.

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