By TERENCE CHEA Associated Press Writer
Article Launched: 02/02/2008 08:52:19 AM PST
SAN FRANCISCO—Humboldt County fisherman Dave Bitts is bracing for another lean year after the sudden collapse of California's most important salmon run.
Like many West Coast fisherman, Bitts depends on wild "king" salmon for up to two-thirds of his income. Now, he doesn't know how he's going to pay his bills.
"We've never been in this situation before," said the 59-year-old Bitts. "It's my bread-and-butter, as it is for all my pals. And this year, it appears our bread-and-butter is not there."
Federal fishery regulators said this past week that the number of chinook salmon returning to the Sacramento River and its tributaries last fall was astonishingly low. That could trigger severe fishing restrictions and economic hardship for fishermen and related businesses from Central California to the Canadian border.
Restaurants and consumers will have to pay high prices or do without the prized wild salmon, and the crash could force the state to change the way it manages its increasingly precious water.
"This is an economic rumbling that will go right through every coastal community," said Rep. Mike Thompson of California's North Coast. "It's not just the commercial fishermen that are economically harmed; there are all kinds of businesses that depend on the fishery."
Experts are unclear about what caused the collapse, but many fishermen are blaming an increase in the amount of water being pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta
to drought-stricken farms and cities to the south.