California will not have an ocean salmon season this year. Earlier this month, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), a multi-state regulatory body, unanimously recommended the full closure of the Golden State’s recreational and commercial ocean salmon season. 

The recommendation mirrors the same one the PFMC made last year, when California’s salmon season was shuttered for the second time in state history; the first salmon fishing closure extended from 2008 to 2009. 

This year’s closure was made due to dismal abundance forecasts following low 2023 returns. According to a PFMC February report, only 6,160 returned to the Sacramento River, a key waterway in the state, well below the annual average from 1996-2005, which was over 175,000 fish.

 In a press release, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officials cite several factors as causes for the low numbers of salmon, including “multi-year drought, severe wildfires, and associated impacts to spawning and rearing habitat, harmful algal blooms, and ocean forage shifts.”

Some of those conditions have shifted over the last year, namely that California has emerged from drought after two winters of heavy precipitation. Officials say that salmon will reap the benefits of improved water conditions—but not quite yet. 

“While we have been enjoying back-to-back rainy and wet winters this year and last, the salmon that will benefit from these conditions aren’t expected to return to California until around 2026 or 2027,” explained CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “The current salmon for this year’s season were impacted by the difficult environmental factors present three to five years ago.”

Following the PFMC recommendation, the National Marine Fisheries Service will enact the continued ocean fishing closure in mid-May. CDFW officials will consider whether or not to close its inland salmon season, as the PFMC recommended, during a May 15 meeting. 

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Officials from Golden State Salmon Association (GSSA), an industry advocacy group, say that CDFW’s explanation for the poor state of the salmon population does not tell the whole story—and are pointing their fingers at state and federal water policy. “Under Governor Gavin Newsom, the State of California has a disastrous environmental record—dangerously low river flows, unsustainable water diversions out of our rivers [for agriculture], and record high water temperatures because of dam operations,” argued Scott Artis, executive director of GSSA. “We can’t sugarcoat it or lay the blame solely on drought.”