North Coast salmon income tumbles

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

NORTH COAST – The salmon collapse threatens to blitz Eureka fishermen with a 70 percent income loss. Crescent City expects a 50 percent plunge, Ft. Bragg the same.

The estimates are from the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association, presented last week in Sacramento at a state legislative hearing where Association President Roger Thomas delivered the dire news.

“Folks in general that are salmon fishing have lost interest in doing it,” Thomas stated. “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.

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 was given to allow minimal catches despite the crisis. “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,” he cautioned.

Catch rates, he added, are “very poor.”

Some fishermen are continuing to fish for crab and those returns are marginal, too. “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 people 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 just starting out, 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.”


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