Federal fishing officials canceled ocean salmon fishing season in California for the second consecutive year

California Salmon

Important Takeaways:

  • California fishermen spoke out against state water management policies Thursday after federal fishing officials canceled ocean salmon fishing season in the state for the second consecutive year, delivering a major blow to the fishing industry.
  • In a unanimous vote on Wednesday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council — which is responsible for managing fisheries in federal waters along the West Coast — recommended the closure of all California commercial and recreational ocean salmon fisheries through the end of the year.
  • Similar to last year’s recommendations, the council said this year’s closure will help conservation goals for salmon stocks.
  • The closure will affect tens of thousands of jobs in the state’s fishing industry
  • It also marked the fourth year that salmon fishing has been closed in the state’s history

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As drought dries California rivers, salmon take truck rides to sea

By Sharon Bernstein

GOLD RIVER, Calif. (Reuters) – During a typical spring, the silver young salmon swimming in long tanks at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery east of Sacramento would be released into the American River and then make their way out to the Pacific Ocean to grow to adulthood.

But with extreme drought now gripping California and much of West Coast, the rivers are too warm for the salmon to survive.

This week, the 3.5-inch (90-mm) smolt, as the young fish are known, embarked on a much different journey when they were loaded on to trucks and driven to the San Francisco Bay for release into cooler waters.

Low amounts of rain and snow led to less water and warmer temperatures in the state’s rivers and reservoirs, said Jason Julienne, who manages several state-run hatcheries in the Sacramento River system, including the Nimbus.

When those conditions occur, “we know we have to really go into high gear to make sure these fish survive,” said Harry Morse, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The state plans to truck 17 million of the smolt to the San Francisco Bay this year from various hatcheries, an emergency step not taken since the last major drought in 2014, Morse said.

On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency for 41 of the state’s 58 counties, including the major watersheds relied on by salmon and other wildlife.

Droughts in California are growing more frequent and more intense as climate change continues, threatening the state’s already tenuous supply of water for wildlife, farmers and urban areas, and creating conditions ripe for dangerous wildfires.

Other portions of the West Coast are also experiencing severe drought. In Oregon, federal officials said on Wednesday that a portion of water from the Klamath River system would not be available to farmers, and that additional protections for salmon and other fish were under consideration.

Even without drought and climate change, salmon and other fish were struggling to survive on the West Coast, as water projects such as dams and reservoirs inhibit their ability to migrate to the sea and back, a natural part of their life cycle that can take about three years.

Two species of Chinook salmon are considered endangered on the West Coast, and seven are considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In the American River in California where the Nimbus smolt are usually released, water from rain and snow was flowing at just 31% of its average rate on Tuesday, according to state data. The resulting warmer water has created a desperate situation not only for the fish at the hatchery, but for the hundreds of thousands of fry and eggs laid naturally in the rivers themselves.

“My biggest fear is that each and every egg that is laid this year is going to die because the temperatures in the rivers are going to be too high,” said Mike Conroy, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

His organization is asking the state and federal agencies that apportion water from a complex system of reservoirs to make sure that sufficient cool water is released to prevent the rivers from becoming toxic to young fish, Conroy said.

But others – including a California agricultural sector that produces a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts – also rely on that water. As more water is reserved for fish, less is available to irrigate farms and for the state’s 40 million residents.

“The pull of one wrong lever can throw the whole system out of whack,” said Conroy. “It has to be carefully balanced.”

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Lisa Shumaker)

Alaska’s salmon are shrinking, and climate change may be to blame

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – Alaska’s highly prized salmon – a favorite of seafood lovers the world over – are getting smaller, and climate change is a suspected culprit, a new study reported, documenting a trend that may pose a risk to a valuable fishery, indigenous people and wildlife.

The study, led by University of Alaska at Fairbanks (UAF) scientists, found that four of Alaska’s five wild salmon species have shrunk in average fish size over the past six decades, with stunted growth becoming more pronounced since 2010.

Hardest hit is Alaska’s official state fish, the Chinook salmon, also known as king salmon.

Chinooks on average are 8 percent smaller than they were before 1990, according to the study, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications. Also shrinking are Alaska’s sockeye, coho and chum salmon, the report said. The findings are based on data from 12.5 million samples collected over six decades.

The study confirms first-hand anecdotal accounts from Alaskans with generations of salmon tradition, said co-author Peter Westley of UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences

“People are walking into their smokehouses and not having to duck anymore,” he said. “The fish are just smaller. ”

Warmer seas attributed to climate change and increased competition among all species of salmon are the likeliest factors behind the fish shrinkage, he said.

Salmon are maturing in the ocean at earlier ages and returning to fresh water younger and smaller than in the past, the study found.

In waterways like the Yukon River, famous for its Chinooks, the “really big whoppers” that spend seven or eight years in the ocean are no longer seen, Westley said. Instead, many returning Chinooks are only four years old, he said.

Alaska produces nearly all of the nation’s wild salmon. Last year, commercial fishermen harvested over 206 million salmon and sold them for $657.6 million, according to state officials. Salmon are also a dietary staple for some indigenous people of Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory.

The red-fleshed fish are also eaten by Alaska’s bears and other wildlife. Smaller fish mean fewer nutrients for those animals – and fewer salmon eggs, which can have long-term consequences for wildlife that feed on them, said UAF’s Krista Oke, the study’s lead author.

“It is impacting things that eat eggs, but it also impacts the salmon population itself,” Oke said.

The findings show the need to manage salmon not just for the size of their runs but for the size of individual fish, Westley said. “If you lose the diversity of fish and only have small fish, then you’re in troubled waters,” he said.

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, Alaska; Editing by Steve Gorman and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

U.S. environmentalists sue to overturn approval of GMO salmon

An AquAdvantage Salmon is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by AquaBounty Technologies

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. health regulators are facing a lawsuit from a coalition of environmental organizations seeking to overturn the government’s landmark approval of a type of genetically engineered salmon to be farmed for human consumption.

The Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth and other groups allege in the lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) failed to consider all of the environmental risks of the fish when the agency approved it in November.

The FDA also cleared the product, made by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, without having the proper authority to regulate genetically engineered animals produced for food, according to the complaint.

The agency declined to comment on the lawsuit on Thursday. Its approval of AquaBounty salmon followed a 20-year review and was the first such approval for an animal whose DNA has been scientifically modified.

AquaBounty is confident the FDA’s approval will stand, Chief Executive Ron Stotish said in a statement. The agency was “extraordinarily thorough and transparent in the review and approval of our application,” he said.

The company has said its salmon can grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon, saving time and resources.

However, the FDA approval process included “an extremely limited environmental assessment” that did not fully evaluate the potential for AquaBounty salmon to escape from the facilities where they are grown, among other risks, according to the lawsuit.

The legal challenge comes as the U.S. food industry is facing increased pressure from consumers to provide more information about the use of genetically engineered ingredients.

General Mills Inc and other major food companies are rolling out new disclosures on products to comply with a Vermont law that will require labels on foods made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Major retailers, including Kroger Co and Target Corp, have already said they do not plan to stock AquaBounty salmon on store shelves. It is not yet available for sale.

Activists worry the FDA’s approval of the salmon will serve as a precedent for other genetically engineered food animals.

Their lawsuit seeks to prohibit the FDA from taking further action on the fish or any other genetically engineered animal for human consumption until Congress grants an agency clear authority over such products.

The case is Institute for Fisheries Resources et al v Sylvia Mathews Burwell et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 16-cv-01574.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Richard Pullin and Andrew Hay)

Food and Drug Administration Approves Genetically Altered Salmon

For many years, studies and controversy, the debate has raged on regarding genetically engineered salmon and has concluded with an approval from the Food and Drug administration. This would be the nation’s first genetically altered animal, although people already eat genetically manufactured  (GM) corn, soybeans and potatoes.

AquAdvantage, produced by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty, is an Atlantic salmon that contains chromosomes from an Atlantic salmon, a growth hormone from Chinook salmon, and a gene from the eel-like ocean pout. The result is a fish that is large enough for consumption in about a year and a half, rather than the typical three years.

According to NBC news, the decision, which has taken five years, is certain to anger consumer groups who want companies to be forced to label GM foods and environmental groups who are afraid the modified fish will breed with wild fish.

“The scientific review is clear. There is no credible evidence that these fish are a risk to either human health or the environment,” Dr. William Muir, a genetics and aquaculture professor at Purdue University said in a statement

The FDA also said it would not require companies to label genetically modified food but would recommend guidelines if companies wanted to voluntarily label their products.

Several retailers have said they won’t sell the GMO fish, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and others.

In a report by the Smithsonian, the FDA is currently reviewing genetically engineered mosquitoes that were designed to combat illnesses such as dengue and chikungunya. Millions of the mosquitoes are already in the Cayman Islands, Panama, Malaysia and Brazil.  A fierce debate is ongoing for a proposed field trial in Key Haven, Florida.