Historic California industry fights climate change and loses

On summer days at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, people usually line up to buy salmon straight from the source. But with California’s salmon fishing season closed for the first time since 2009, the only species on sale Thursday from Alaska was frozen.

“Once you eat wild salmon, you stop buying it from the supermarket because the taste is completely different,” says customer Valeria Fedotova of Pacifica, who visits the restaurant regularly during salmon season but comes in only occasionally now that there is nothing local available. .

The salmon season, which typically lasts from May to October, has been closed due to a series of issues starting with drought, which affected the fish this year when they were young three years ago. The closure also comes after several limited lobster fishing seasons, another mainstay that historically occurred from November to June, which will likely be shortened again in the coming months.

California’s $200 million commercial fishing industry could become the state’s first major victim of climate change, along with related businesses such as charter boat companies and fish processors. Drought is putting constant pressure on salmon populations, and the crab fishing fleet has been hit hard because warming ocean temperatures have caused whales to swim closer to shore, putting marine mammals at risk of becoming entangled in fishing gear. This has resulted in the crab season opening late in four consecutive years, depriving fishermen of the lucrative holiday market.

“With the fishery all over the board, it’s getting harder and harder to sustain it,” said Dan Snell, a second-generation salmon fishermen at Pillar Point whose income has dropped by 90 percent. “I would say we are in unprecedented times.”

Fisherman Dan Snell helps line up his friend Rick Hochel’s boat before a shrimp trip at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay. Snell said his business dropped by as much as 90% after the salmon season closed this summer.

Jessica Christian/The Chronicle

Local fishermen have been predicting the end of their profession for years, but some of their predictions are starting to look like reality. Despite the abundance of California’s many seafood stocks — such as Dungeness crab and other species that are less attractive to the market — regulations and changing environmental patterns have already led to the demise of local catches in stores and restaurants.

“I’m selling farm-raised salmon for the first time in my life,” said Shane Lucas, co-owner of Fishetarian Fish Market, a restaurant and market located on the Bodega Bay fishing pier. Business is doing well, he said, although a shortage of local salmon has resulted in a loss of $50,000 to $60,000 in revenue.

This year is the slowest since he started fishing in 1969, said Rick Powers, a charter boat captain in Bodega Bay and president of the Golden Gate Anglers Association, which represents companies like his.

“I really can’t remember a year where we faced so many obstacles and restrictions,” said Powers, who owns The Boat House restaurant in Bodega Bay., He also suffers.

Fisheries managers closed the season due to low expected numbers of adult salmon, or Chinook salmon, in the Pacific Ocean. (Fishermen say the model used in the forecasts is outdated.) In a press release, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife attributed the low numbers to “prolonged drought, severe wildfires and associated impacts on breeding and breeding habitats, harmful algal blooms and ocean foraging.” Transformations.”

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