A shorter-than-usual commercial salmon fishing season is set to begin Tuesday, months later than usual, and Bay Area fishermen struggling to recover from several difficult years are urging residents to demand local, wild caught fish.
The commercial salmon season for this region will begin Tuesday and continue through Sept. 30. That is months shorter than usual due to low salmon population numbers caused by lingering effects of the drought in 2014 and 2015.
The short season comes on the heels of a shutdown of the Dungeness crab and rock crab fisheries during much of the 2015-2016 season caused by a toxic algal bloom, which left many local fishermen struggling to survive.
"A lot of guys like myself have been damaged financially, almost to an irreparable place," said Don Marshall, president of the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen's Association, speaking Monday at San Francisco's Pier 45. "There's very few young guys getting into the industry and the volatility is the reason why."
Facing restrictions linked to the drought, fishermen like Chris Fox are preparing for rough waters.
"We have a delayed start for this region, but we were able to fish in the Monterey area for May and June, and it was terrible," Fox said. "We lost a lot of territory this year, lots of restrictions. If that's because of bad science, bad management plans on the part of the government, then I think there needs to be some kick down."
Restaurants and wholesalers have also been affected by the industry's woes.
"We don't serve farmed salmon at my restaurant, and I don't sell farmed salmon at my wholesale company," said Kenny Belov, owner of Fish restaurant in Sausalito and TwoxSea seafood wholesalers. "We depend on this iconic creature to populate my menu and to populate menus throughout the Bay Area. Without it, we're kind of lost"
Belov said it was important for consumers to demand wild caught salmon and seek out local fish in season if they wanted to see the local fishery survive.
In January, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker declared the 2015-2016 California crab season a disaster, theoretically paving the way for Congress to provide relief funds.
U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, have introduced legislation calling for $140 million in relief for the fishing industry. However Huffman on Monday said so far there is only $20 million set aside for all fishing disasters nationwide in the current appropriations bills.
"They don't get that salmon matters, that salmon jobs matter, that our Dungeness crab fishery matters, that California matters, so we've got to press our case," Huffman said.
While conditions for the upcoming fishing season look good, Pietro Parravano, president of the Institute for Fisheries Resources, warned against too much optimism.
"Next year we could have a similar situation, and unfortunately we have an administration that listens to voices other than those that would keep water in the river, so we're not out of the woods yet," Parravano said.