18 March 2008

Salmon stocks are collapsing

After cod and tuna, one more fish stock is in trouble.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council has warned that, from northern Oregon to the Mexican border, the entire American west coast salmon season may have to be halted due to the collapse of crucial stocks in California’s major watershed.

Counts of young salmons, whose numbers have decreased sharply for two years, were the first major indication of the problem. The number of fish that survive more than a year in the ocean, or jacks, is a marker for the abundance of full-grown salmon the next year. Experts said that the 2007 count of the fall Chinook jacks from the Sacramento River was less than 6 percent of the long-term average.

The words from Robert Lohn, regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Portland (Oregon), are less then encouraging: “The Central Valley fall Chinook salmon are in the worst condition since records began to be kept -- this is the largest collapse of salmon stocks in 40 years.” The problem is so serious that even the commercial fishermen understand that for this year there is no point lobbying for a higher quota, or any quota at all.

A number of possible reasons were called to explain the situation. Changes in the ocean currents, pollution, dams, water diversions, overfishing, habitat loss and changes in hatchery operations are some of the potential causative factors.

Silvia Bonizzoni

(Drawing by Massimo Demma)

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