California lawmakers request disaster declaration after state's second straight salmon season cancelation

California Governor Gavin Newsom discusses the salmon crisis with stakeholders
California Governor Gavin Newsom discusses the salmon crisis with stakeholders | Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom
4 Min

More than 20 federal lawmakers from California have called on the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to declare a fishery disaster following the closure of the state’s salmon season for the second consecutive year.

Earlier this month, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to close the 2024 commercial Chinook salmon fishery from the northern coast of the U.S. state of Oregon to the Mexico border. That closure is expected to go into effect in May.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has already issued an official request for the Department of Commerce to declare a fishery disaster for the Sacramento River fall Chinook and Klamath River fall Chinook ocean and inland salmon fisheries, estimating that the closures will lead to losses of more than USD 47 million (EUR 44 million).

“Decades of climate extremes have severely impacted our salmon populations, and we’re taking action to address this crisis for the long term. We’ll continue working with the Biden administration and Congress to ensure California’s fisheries and impacted communities are supported during this critical time,” Newsom said.

The closures have had a devastating affect on local fishers and supporting businesses. Kenneth Brown, the owner of Bodega Tackle in Petaluma, told the Los Angeles Times he has lost nearly USD 450,000 (EUR 423,000) and laid off all but one employee.

"I haven't taken a paycheck in seven or eight months," Brown said.

Federal lawmakers responded by calling on the U.S. government to declare the fishery disaster quickly, clearing the way for financial relief to be issued to impacted fishers and related businesses.

“The unprecedented back-to-back closures of the entire California salmon fishery is a devastating crisis,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement. “It remains unclear how long the salmon fishery will need to be closed, and we know there is much work ahead of us. The long-term solutions will include improving our drought resiliency, restoring salmon habitat, and, of course, addressing the climate crisis. We look forward to continuing our work with your administration on these goals.”

“However, Californians who depend on the fishery and are still trying to recover from last season’s closure have no time to wait for these long-term objectives to be achieved,” the statement continued. “A federal fishery disaster declaration will help our commercial and charter fisheries, tribes, and communities survive the difficult times ahead.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced USD 20.6 million (EUR 19.2 million) in financial relief to compensate for the closure of the Chinook salmon season in 2023. California lawmakers, including U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-California), criticized the size of the aid package, claiming that it does not match the needs of the state’s fishing industry. The state government’s initial request estimated losses of USD 45 million (EUR 42 million).

“While I am glad we were finally able to get some relief into the hands of folks who have been hit hardest by last year’s salmon fishery closure, it is grossly inadequate for addressing the severity of this disaster,” Huffman said. “We got this relief out the door faster than what’s standard in the federal government, but I know that’s not nearly quick enough for the needs of fishermen who depend on this money for their equipment, their operations, and their lives.”

Huffman said at the time he was seeking answers from the administration on why the award was less than half of the original request.

In response to the ongoing salmon crisis along the West Coast, Newsom launched the "Salmon Strategy for a Hotter, Drier Future" in January. The strategy includes action items and priorities for the state’s efforts to restore Californian salmon populations.

In March, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) awarded USD 50 million (EUR 46 million) in grants to support habitat restoration and rebuild salmon populations.

The Golden State Salmon Association slammed Newsom's policies for worsening the situation in California. 

“Under Governor Newsom, the State of California has a disastrous environmental record – dangerously low river flows, unsustainable water diversions out of our rivers, record high water temperatures because of dam operations and record numbers of salmon eggs and juveniles killed in our streams. Further, California has planted a record amount of insatiably thirsty almond acreage,” Golden State Salmon Association Executive Director Scott Artis said. “Our water, our natural resources, the resources every Californian and the entire salmon industry rely on, are being stolen on Governor Newsom’s watch.”

“We can’t sugarcoat it or lay the blame solely on drought,” Artis said. “Governor Newsom’s water policies are devastating the thousands of families that rely on salmon to pay their rent and mortgages, put food on the table, and keep their businesses afloat. It’s simple. When the state’s water policies kill all the baby salmon, 2 to 3 years later you don’t get many returning adults. This is Governor Newsom’s legacy.”

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