Only in two previous years — 2008 and 2009 — has California’s salmon season been shut down completely. That closure came as the numbers of spawning fish returning to the Sacramento River, the state’s main salmon producer, crashed to record lows. 

Now California’s Chinook runs have collapsed again.

Just 62,000 adult fall-run Chinook returned last year to the Sacramento River to spawn, the third lowest return on record and only half of the fishery’s minimum target.

Runs on the Klamath River, in far-northern California, also have plunged, hitting 22,000 spawning adult fall-run Chinook last year, the fourth lowest return in 40 years. Native American tribes rely on the Klamath River’s salmon for traditional foods and ceremonies. 
What’s ailing the fish, scientists and state officials say, is a variety of factors, primarily in the rivers where salmon spawn. Large volumes of water are diverted for use by farms and cities. Combined with drought, this causes low flows and high water temperatures, which can kill salmon eggs and young fish. Vast tracts of floodplains and wetlands, where small fish can find food and refuge, have also been lost to development and flood control projects.

Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the quantity and quality of river water appear to drive salmon numbers. 

Eric Stockwell, a naturalist and ocean kayak fishing guide based in Humboldt County, said he wants a season closure even though it will put him out of work. He called it long overdue, given the recurring poor returns in the Sacramento and Klamath rivers.

“It’s a shame seasons have been allowed even though we haven’t reached the minimum escapement spawning goals,” Stockwell said.
Fishing, after all, has impacts on the salmon population, too.

For many Californians, wild Chinook salmon is a rare treat. For members of California’s indigenous tribes, it is a core element of their culture and diet.
In the Klamath River basin, the Karuk, Hoopa and Yurok tribes fish for Chinook salmon for subsistence. 

“The health of our people depends on having salmon,” said Bill Tripp, the Karuk Tribe’s director of natural resources and environmental policy. “Their survival in the basin is imperative. If they disappear, we could lose our ability to survive here.”
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