The California Fish and Game Commission acted unanimously to enact a full closure of California’s recreational salmon fishing season in the Klamath River Basin and Central Valley rivers through its annual process for adjusting seasons and bag limits on Tuesday, May 17, 2023.
In a separate emergency action, the Commission voted to close recreational salmon fisheries in the Smith River and Eel River, and the summer season in the Klamath and Trinity rivers. Additionally, in the same emergency action, the Commission voted to allow federally recognized tribes that currently or historically used the river segments affected by the recreational fishing closures, to continue fishing under existing inland sport fishing regulations. The regulations are expected to take effect no later than July 1, 2023, following approval by the Office of Administrative Law.
The Commission’s actions on salmon follow the recommended closure of both commercial and recreational ocean salmon fisheries off the California coast by the Pacific Fishery Management Council due to projections showing Chinook salmon abundance at historic lows. Pursuant to California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 1.95, ocean salmon sport fishing regulations in state waters automatically conform to federal regulations unless the Commission deliberately takes a different action. Federal regulations for ocean salmon fisheries were published in 88 FR 30235 on May 11, 2023, and went into effect as of May 16, 2023.
Recognizing the importance of salmon to California’s commercial, charter and inland guide businesses, Gov. Gavin Newsom last month submitted a request to the U. S. Secretary of Commerce asking for a Federal Fishery Disaster Declaration. If approved, the declaration would begin the process of providing needed relief to businesses and fishing communities financially impacted by the salmon fishing closure.
“This decision, while difficult, is intended to allow salmon to recover in order to provide future fishing opportunities,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham. “Salmon are an iconic species in California. We treasure them for their intrinsic, cultural, recreational and commercial values. The state is committed to ensuring long-term survival of our salmon runs and supporting our struggling fishing communities.”
Prolonged drought, severe wildfires and associated impacts to spawning and rearing habitat, harmful algal blooms and ocean forage shifts have combined to result in some of the lowest stock abundance forecasts on record for California’s Chinook salmon. The low ocean abundance forecasts, coupled with low 2022 returns, led the Commission to recommend closure of California’s in-river recreational salmon fisheries, which include the Klamath and Trinity rivers within the Klamath Basin, the Sacramento, Feather, American and Mokelumne rivers in the Central Valley, the Smith River and the Eel River. Gov. Newsom’s request for a Federal Fishery Disaster Declaration is the first step in the process that may lead to federal financial assistance to affected businesses and fishing communities.
In another emergency action, the Commission voted unanimously to reduce the daily bag and possession limit for California halibut from three fish to two fish in California waters north of Point Sur, Monterey County. The regulations are expected to take effect June 1, 2023. The reduced California halibut limit is designed to protect the resource amid increased recreational fishing pressure due to limited fishing opportunities and changes in other ocean fisheries including salmon. The Pacific halibut fishery is unaffected by the Commission’s action; the daily bag and possession limit for Pacific halibut remains one fish with no size limit.
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