The Pacific Fishery Management Council decided to allow limited recreational fishing of coho salmon on holiday weekends off the Oregon coast, but no recreational fishing off California after several members of the panel argued that every salmon counts.
Scientists and government officials are expecting this year's West Coast salmon season to be poor because of the collapse of Sacramento River chinook, one of the West Coast's biggest wild salmon runs.
Although commercial salmon fishing off the Washington coast is scheduled to begin May 1, fisheries managers do not predict a good season off either the north or south Pacific coasts.
"For the entire West Coast, this is the worst in history," said Don McIsaac, executive director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
The council's decision still must be confirmed by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency in charge of salmon management.
Relief for Fishers
Even before the vote, however, officials were on to the next step: disaster relief for fishers, said Mariam McCall, an attorney with the marine fisheries service.
The governors of Washington, Oregon, and California have already signed letters seeking a disaster declaration. Congress will be asked to make a fast decision on money to alleviate the suffering of fishers and any other negative effects the cutback might have, said Brian Gorman, a NOAA Fisheries spokesperson.
Scientists are studying the causes of the Sacramento River chinook collapse, with possible factors ranging from ocean conditions and habitat destruction to dam operations and agricultural pollution. But a proposal to allow limited fishing for scientific purposes was struck down by the panel.
Last year average quotas for the southern coast were allowed, while fishing was restricted north of Cape Falcon to the Canadian border.
But in 2006 the salmon season extending from Cape Falcon, Oregon, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of the mouth of the Columbia River, also was severely restricted. Congress granted disaster relief totaling $62 million for fishers in Oregon and California, Gorman said.