Short salmon season prompts call to buy local

A shorter-than-usual commercial salmon fishing season is set to begin Tuesday, months later than usual, and Bay Area fishermen struggling to recover from several difficult years are urging residents to demand local, wild caught fish.

The commercial salmon season for this region will begin Tuesday and continue through Sept. 30. That is months shorter than usual due to low salmon population numbers caused by lingering effects of the drought in 2014 and 2015.

The short season comes on the heels of a shutdown of the Dungeness crab and rock crab fisheries during much of the 2015-2016 season caused by a toxic algal bloom, which left many local fishermen struggling to survive.

Don Marshall, president of the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen’s Association, said Monday at San Francisco’s Pier 45:

“A lot of guys like myself have been damaged financially, almost to an irreparable place. … There’s very few young guys getting into the industry and the volatility is the reason why.”

Restaurants and wholesalers have also been affected by the industry’s woes.

Kenny Belov, owner of Fish restaurant in Sausalito and TwoxSea seafood wholesalers, said:

“We don’t serve farmed salmon at my restaurant, and I don’t sell farmed salmon at my wholesale company. … We depend on this iconic creature to populate my menu and to populate menus throughout the Bay Area. Without it, we’re kind of lost.”

Belov said it was important for consumers to demand wild caught salmon and seek out local fish in season if they wanted to see the local fishery survive.

In January, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker declared the 2015-2016 California crab season a disaster, theoretically paving the way for Congress to provide relief funds.

U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, have introduced legislation calling for $140 million in relief for the fishing industry.

However, Huffman Monday said so far there is only $20 million set aside for all fishing disasters nationwide in the current appropriations bills:

“They don’t get that salmon matters, that salmon jobs matter, that our Dungeness crab fishery matters, that California matters, so we’ve got to press our case.”

Fishermen also spoke out against efforts to divert more water from the Delta, arguing that too much water was already being removed for agriculture.

Salmon migrate from West Coast rivers to the ocean and then return to the rivers to spawn. Removing too much water from the rivers makes that migration difficult and reduces salmon populations.

While conditions for the upcoming fishing season look good, Pietro Parravano, president of the Institute for Fisheries Resources, warned against too much optimism:

“Next year we could have a similar situation and unfortunately we have an administration that listens to voices other than those that would keep water in the river, so we’re not out of the woods yet.”