Limited salmon numbers, sea lion population making tough season - KPTV - FOX 12

Limited salmon numbers, sea lion population making tough season for coastal fishermen

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ASTORIA, OR (KPTV) -

A tough couple years for Oregon salmon runs have prompted Governor Kate Brown to ask the government for federal disaster relief.

Governor Brown, along with Governor Jerry Brown of California, recently submitted a request to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for a declaration of a “catastrophic regional fishery disaster,” and a commercial fishery failure.

The request comes after the National Marine Fisheries Service closed the southern half of the Oregon coast to commercial salmon fishing to protect dwindling stocks of Chinook salmon on the Klamath River.

“When you look at the Klamath situation, it affects fisheries all up and down the coast,” said Steve Fick, who owns Fishhawk Fisheries in Astoria.

Executive Director of the Port of Astoria Jim Knight said the south coast closure will likely mean more fishing boats competing for limited numbers of salmon on the north coast.

“The most likely scenario that we’ll see will be increased fishermen from the southern coastal waters moving up into the mouth of the Columbia and up the Columbia River,” said Knight. “It’s going to be an additional stressor on the available fish stocks, and more competition.”

According to the Governor’s office, state figures showed Oregon fishermen caught $4.3 million worth of chinook salmon in 2016, which is $3 million less than the average catch from 2011-2015.

The forecast catch for 2017 is $1.6 million less than the year before.

“The sense that I have from our local fisherman is they feel like they’re attack from every direction,” said Knight.

Along with the fisheries closure, local salmon fishermen are also fighting a growing population of sea lions, who have overrun the mouth of the Columbia River, and also have a voracious appetite for salmon.

“They’ll come swim up and they’ll just run straight down your net and you can see them ripping holes and grabbing your fish. It’s a constant battle,” said Kyle Smith, a fisherman from Astoria.

Knight has lobbied federal and state agencies to come up with a plan to manage the sea lion population, and is cautiously optimistic about disaster relief, which he believes will help mitigate some of the losses felt by coastal communities.

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