Salmon fishing was banned along the West Coast for the first time in 160 years Thursday, a decision that is expected to have a devastating economic impact on fishermen, dozens of businesses, tourism and boating.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez immediately declared a commercial fishery disaster, opening the door for Congress to appropriate money for anyone who will be economically harmed.
The closure of commercial and recreational fishing for chinook salmon in the ocean off California and most of Oregon was announced by the National Marine Fishery Service.
It followed the recommendation last month of the Pacific Fishery Management Council after the catastrophic disappearance of California's fabled fall run of the pink fish popularly known as king salmon.
It is the first total closure since commercial fishing started in the Bay Area in 1848.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency last month and sent a letter to President Bush asking for his help in obtaining federal disaster assistance. Schwarzenegger plans to appropriate about $5.3 million for coastal salmon and steelhead fishery restoration projects.
The disaster declaration allows state officials to work with Congress on obtaining appropriations for businesses and fishermen and women, some of whom will lose as much as 80 percent of their annual income.
Although salmon spawning has been in decline all up and down the coast, the biggest problem is in the Sacramento River and its tributaries. So few salmon returned last fall that the fishery council was required under its management plan to halt fishing throughout the salmon habitat, which is all along the California and Oregon coasts.
The commercial salmon season off California and Oregon typically runs from May 1 to Oct. 31. The recreational season was to have begun April 5.
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