Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – The North Coast region is projected to be hardest hit by this year’s salmon collapse, with Eureka facing a 70 percent loss of income.
Crescent City expects a 50 percent loss, Ft. Bragg the same.
The income figures come from the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association. They were reported Wednesday afternoon in Sacramento at a state legislative hearing, in testimony by Roger Thomas, the association president.
“Folks in general that are salmon fishing have lost interest in doing it,” Thomas testified, because “things are going to hell basically and there’s no salmon.”
“The numbers from the North Coast are massive,” agreed Sen. Mike McGuire (D-2nd District, North Coast, North Bay), chair of the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, who hosted the hearing.
Another witness, Dave Bitts, president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said “the numbers are so bleak” for commercial Klamath fishing – 3 percent for ocean fishing and 8 percent for ocean and rivers combined – that many fishermen felt there should be no fishing at all this summer.
Bitts said he believed it had been prudent at the time the go-ahead decision was made to allow minimal catches. “But from what I’ve heard from the rates of catch so far, I’m not confident we did the right thing by allowing any fishing at all.”
Catch rates, he added, are “very poor.”
Some fishermen continue to fish for crabs and those returns are marginal, “but as long as you’re ahead at all, you might as well keep doing it, because right now it looks better than salmon,” Bitts testified.
Witnesses said owners are facing the loss of their boats, their homes and their marriages.
Tribal allocations are at an all-time low and Native American officials fear their peoples could lose their foremost way of life.
Ancillary industries – tourism, tackle shops, restaurants, hotels/motels – suffer the knock-on economic effects.
There is mounting worry in particular about the fate of new fishermen with high investments at risk.
“In the last few years,” Bitts testified, “we’ve seen more young fishermen come into the business than I had seen in the previous 20 years. These are people that have boat payments, mortgages, kids in school – a whole complex of expenses that geezers like me no longer face.
“I’m really worried that we’re going to lose those people who are the future of the fishery,” he lamented. “And I don’t know the answer; I don’t know what the answer is to that.”