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California’s Chinook Salmon Season Has Been Canceled Because of the State’s Prolonged Drought

There's the hope that taking a year off, combined with recent wet weather, will allow the fish to replenish.

Chinook salmon jumping out of the water Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

First it was the lobsters and the crabs. Now it’s the salmon.

California has canceled its Chinook salmon season, USA Today reported, meaning it’s less likely that you’ll see the West Coast fish on menus this year. The season, which would have occurred through May 15, was called off to protect fall Chinook in the Sacramento River, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

“Obviously everyone wants to fish, but most fishermen understood the status of where the salmon are and understand they need to make sure those salmon stocks remain healthy,” Robin Ehlke, the salmon staff officer for the Pacific Fishery Management Council, told the newspaper. “Taking a pause of a year—so hopefully the salmon has time to regain their strength—seems appropriate.”

The salmon are in a tough spot because of California’s historic drought, which has made population numbers fall to near-record lows in the Sacramento River. And in the Klamath River, fall Chinook had the second-lowest abundance forecast since the current assessment methods began in 1997. Over the past few years, the overall lack of water in the region has made it more difficult for the salmon to hatch, migrate, and produce future generations of fish.

The fishing season has been called off in the hopes of making the Chinook salmon more viable in the future, as models show the population dwindling. “Right now some of those salmon stocks are forecast to be at a low level and it would be pretty risky to have a fishery and not meet those conservation goals,” Ehlke said.

The California ban is likely to last for the next year, although a limited season is possible near southern Oregon. Following a public hearing, the Pacific Fishery Management Council will finalize a schedule in early April.

And while this year’s outlook is rather dire, industry insiders are hopeful for the future of California’s Chinook salmon.

“If there’s a silver lining in all of this, California has been wet here since December,” Jim Yarnall, a sport fisherman and a member of the council’s salmon advisory subpanel, told USA Today. “If we get out of the way and given half a chance … you can see [the salmon] bouncing right back in three years to an abundant fish stock.”

Hopefully that gives rain-battered Californians a little peace of mind.

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