Chinook salmon runs close ocean fishing off California, much of Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. — Dangerously low levels of fall run Chinook salmon in two California rivers have forced wildlife officials to shut down fishing off much of the West Coast.

The closure currently runs through May 15 and affects a length of the coast stretching from Oregon’s Cape Falcon, near Cannon Beach, south to the Mexican border. And it could be extended, officials said, as the imperiled species struggles amid a long-running drought.

Further closures are likely, said Eric Schindler, head of the Oregon Department of Wildlife’s Ocean Salmon Program.

“It doesn’t look good for this year or next year, and possibly the year after that, because of the drought conditions in California,” Schindler said. “We have to make sure that we’re not undermining our ability to produce salmon for the next go around.”

The problem stems back several years when water in California’s Central Valley was diverted from rivers for irrigation, said Glen Spain, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

“This was all predictable,” he said, noting that his organization raised concerns about low water levels and poor water quality at the time. “The water that was left for them was way too hot and killed a lot of the eggs.”

The main problems are in the Sacramento and Klamath rivers, Spain said, where Chinook populations have dropped precipitously as the region’s drought has worsened. Salmon live in a 3-year life cycle; hatching in rivers then migrating to the ocean before returning to those same rivers to spawn.

RELATED: Flash flooding after McKinney Fire damage kills thousands of fish in Klamath River

Returning Chinook are expected to be near record lows, according to state officials.

The closure didn’t originate with government officials, though. Spain’s organization, and others, petitioned the government to close the fishery to protect the future of salmon in the state.

“We are stewards of the fisheries. If we’re going to provide for any fisheries in the future, we cannot be fishing on a stock that is so few in numbers that they’re not even going to be able to replace this generation,” he said.

Oregon quickly followed suit, closing ocean fishing for Chinook, both commercial and recreational, through May 15 along the entire coast — with the exception of Clatsop County, where Chinook are more likely to come from the Columbia River.

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