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“I just didn’t think we’d have much fish this year,” she was telling me in a chilly backroom of her newly opened fish market on the Noyo River, Fort Bragg’s marine thoroughfare. As she spoke, she expertly sliced into triangular fillets ideal for sashimi a 90-pound albacore that a tuna boat had caught off Hawaii and delivered to her fish market. But what was on her mind was the threat to the industry she had grown up in.
The state’s designated commercial salmon season, which normally runs from May 1 to Sept. 30, had been reduced to a wan shadow. This year it opened only on July 27, leaving scarcely enough time for California’s ocean-going boats to turn a profit. Some have ranged beyond the state’s waters, to Oregon, Washington or Alaska; others in the fishery shifted to crabbing. And others, like Sears, have tried to expand into other businesses, such as the fish market she launched on May 5 to backstop her fishing career.
There’s no question that the California salmon fishery is in a bad way. Stocks had barely recovered from the drought of 2007-2009, which destroyed the state’s inland spawning grounds and forced a total ban on commercial salmon fishing in 2008 and 2009, before a second drought struck. But a greater threat may be political, and man-made.
Agribusinesses in the Central Valley are demanding that more water be pumped out of the Sacramento-San Francisco Bay Delta to feed their farms. They’re getting a friendly hearing from the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress, who recognize that the valley is perhaps the only strongly Republican part of California. That water, allowed to follow its course through the state’s rivers and out to sea, is the lifeblood of the salmon fishery.
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