Michael Hiltzik: California's salmon industry faces extinction -- not because of drought, but politics and government policies

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Snapshots from an environmental and economic disaster:

Kenneth Brown, the owner of Bodega Tackle in Petaluma, California, reckons he has lost almost $450,000 in the last year.

"I haven't taken a paycheck in seven or eight months," he says. He has had to lay off all but one employee, leaving himself, his son and the one remaining worker to run the business.

James Stone, board president of the Nor-Cal Guides & Sportsmen's Association, says more than 120 guides who serve recreational fishing customers in and around the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay have been all but put out of business, costing the economy as much as $3.5 million a year.

Sarah Bates, the owner of a commercial fishing boat in San Francisco, has seen 90% of her income washed away. She has watched a commercial fleet capacity of nearly 500 boats reduced nearly to zero.

The circumstance affecting all three is the shutdown of the crucial fall-run salmon fishing in California, which the Pacific Fishery Management Council, a governmental body, recently extended for 2024, the second year in a row.


The main reason is the decline of the salmon population in the Sacramento River to such an unsustainable level that there's reason to fear that it may not recover for years, if ever — unless government policies are radically reconsidered.

Commercial fishers who relied on the fall-run salmon as their dominant source of income have struggled to find alternatives.

"Some people are bringing in black cod or rockfish or albacore," Bates told me. Some land Dungeness crab. But prices for those products don't match the value of Chinook salmon.

"That allows for some income, but doesn't really make up the difference for what you lose," Bates says. "There are members of the fleet who have taken land jobs, or are relying on household members to pay the bills."


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