California salmon-fishing advocates call reduced disaster funding amount inadequate to save industry

California Fish and Wildlife measuring a Chinook salmon.

California commercial anglers and for-hire recreational groups are pushing for more aid from the U.S. Department of Commerce, claiming the USD 20.6 million (EUR 19.2 million) in disaster relief funding granted in response to the closure of the Chinook salmon season won’t be enough to preserve the industry.

In a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the Golden Gate Fisherman’s Association, and the Northern California Guides and Sportsmen’s Association called for “immediate full funding of salmon disaster funding assistance.” Fishing groups had originally requested USD 30.7 million (EUR 28.4 million) in relief.

“The State’s economic analysis already falls short of expected needs, and the federal disaster assistance package adds insult to injury,” leaders of the fishing groups wrote in their joint letter. “Additionally, nearly a year after the declaration of the complete season closure, not one dollar of relief funds have been made available to affected businesses or their employees.”

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual pre-season salmon briefing in March 2023 forecast “some of the worst fisheries numbers in the history of the state.” That prediction followed “years of drought, poor water management decisions by federal and state managers, occasional failure to meet hatchery egg mitigation goals, inaccurate season modeling, and the inability of fisheries managers to meet their own mandated escapement goals,” the letter said. Soon after the assessment, state and federal management commissions closed all salmon fishing in California.

NOAA Fisheries determined on 21 November the closure of California salmon fisheries constituted a fisheries disaster, opening the path for federal assistance.

But, California’s share of USD 20.6 million out of a USD 42 million package (EUR 38.9 million) for fisheries disasters is “a reduction of more than 33 percent of the already minimal amount of funding requested,” the California fishing groups said. “This reduction of funding is unacceptable and a slap in the face of a salmon industry that supported the decision to close the 2023 season for the protection and preservation of the species, with a specific promise that their industries would be made whole through federal disaster funding.”

The 2023 collapse threatens survival of long-distressed fishing businesses, the groups said.

“The economic value of this industry during the last disaster declaration in 2008-09 was USD 170 million [EUR 157 million]. Today, we sit with an industry with a calculated economic loss of USD 30 million [EUR 27 million] … not even 15 percent of the economic output it was 17 years ago,” the letter said. “Most industries grow over time. This one is declining at such a rapid pace that it might not even exist 17 years from now. If that is our intent, we are doing a pretty darn good job at extirpating not only the species but the industries and the men and women who work alongside it.”

Photo courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife 


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