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Lean times for salmon fishermen

Federal officials are expected to shut down salmon fishing along a 700-mile stretch of Pacific Coast.

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It's looking like a bleak, belt-tightening year for thousands of commercial fishermen along the Pacific Coast. From Point Sur in California to Cape Falcon in Oregon - 700 miles in all - the skippers and crew of some 2,000 boats are likely to have to forgo salmon, their main money fish.

That's because of plummeting fish runs in the Klamath River and what's expected to be an order by federal officials that commercial and sport salmon fishing be closed. Some boats will continue to bring in dungeness crab, herring, albacore tuna, and other seafood. But they count on succulent chinook salmon for 70 percent of their income.

"Year in, year out, salmon is the one that they depend upon," says Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations in San Francisco, which represents organizations from San Diego to Alaska. "It's their anchor fishery."

Salmon fishing off the coast of California and Oregon is a $150 million a year industry, on average. And while coastal towns like Newport, Ore., have seen fish canneries replaced by tourist attractions (Keiko the killer whale lived at the aquarium there for several years), sport-fishing charter boats, restaurants, and motels could be impacted as well.

If approved, this would be one of the most extensive fishery shutdowns on the Pacific Coast.

From its headwaters in southern Oregon, the Klamath River flows southwest to the sea in northern California. It once was one of the most productive rivers in North America. But in recent decades, its annual salmon runs have fallen to a small fraction of their historic numbers.

As with the Columbia River Basin to the north, many culprits are involved, most recognized only in hindsight. And like many natural-resource issues in the West, the Klamath River situation reflects the longstanding political and scientific challenges of balancing environmental, economic, and political interests.

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