Halt in U.S. Pacific salmon fishing urged

Sockeye salmon gather in the shallows of the Adams River near Chase, British Columbia northeast of Vancouver October 11, 2006 in this file photo. The salmon travel some 405 km (252 miles) from the Pacific Ocean through inland waters to the river to spawn. REUTERS/Andy Clark

SEATTLE (Reuters) - West Coast fisheries managers recommended on Thursday to halt virtually all commercial and sport salmon fishing in coastal waters off California and most of Oregon to preserve collapsing Chinook salmon stocks.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended what would be the strictest limits ever imposed on salmon fishing on the West Coast following a sharp decline on California’s Sacramento River Chinook salmon run, typically one of the region’s most abundant runs.

“This is a disaster for West Coast salmon fisheries,” said Don Hansen, chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, in a statement.

The recommendations for salmon fishing along the 700-mile (1,100-km) coastline included a tiny catch quota of 9,000 hatchery coho salmon in central Oregon. It will be forwarded to the National Marine Fisheries Service for approval by May 1.

Between 2000 and 2005, fishermen, on average, caught more than 800,000 Chinook salmon a year in California and Oregon fisheries during the May-to-October fishing season, according to the council.

As recently as 2002, 775,000 adult Chinook salmon returned to the Sacramento River to spawn, but the organization projects only 54,000 Chinook will return this fall even with the halt in salmon fishing.

“The reason for the sudden decline of Sacramento River fish is a mystery at this time,” said Don McIsaac, the council’s executive director.

“The only thing that can be done in the short term is to cut back the commercial and recreational fishing seasons to protect the remaining fish.”

Fishermen will be allowed to catch coho salmon in northern Oregon and Washington state, but the council recommended that the quota be cut more than 80 percent from last year due to depleted stocks of that type of salmon.

Reporting by Elaine Porterfield; editing by Daisuke Wakabayashi and Mohammad Zargham