image We first covered this in March, so I wasn’t totally surprised to find “collapse” headlines screaming at us from every newsfeed: The chinook salmon runs in the Sacramento River are the second lowest ever recorded, and the 90,000 adult fish are only one-tenth the all-time high (800,000 recorded five years ago).

From the LA Times:

SACRAMENTO — — Faced with an “unprecedented collapse” of California’s Central Valley salmon population, federal regulators warned Tuesday that the West Coast fishing industry is on course toward steep restrictions this year.

The number of chinook salmon returning to the Sacramento River plummeted to near historic lows last year, and fishery experts are predicting similarly light returns this year.

Donald McIsaac, director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, said the reason for the decline remains unclear.

There’s been a lot of speculation about the non-availability of food for juvenile salmon due to ocean conditions (which many scientists are linking to climate change issues), yet one group remains convinced the problem is at least partially due to Delta water diversions:

The Sacramento River’s “missing salmon” were juveniles migrating to sea in spring 2005, when state and federal water managers “set records for pumping delta water south,” said Mike Sherwood, an attorney with Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental legal group that has been jousting with water managers over water exports.

The Environmental News Service is carrying a slightly more detailed article than the LA Times, but you don’t really have to read the fine print to guess what comes next.

Fishing closures (both sport and commercial), the inevitable government payouts, and yes — the finger pointing.

There are a lot of people hoping this is a one-time event, but the low number of returning “jack” salmon (two year-old fish) suggests poor returns in 2008.

Is this an artifact of global climate change? Are the ghosts of all those delta water diversions and habitat compromises finally coming back to haunt us?

See you buying tofu, Tom Chandler.

UPDATES: Singlebarbed weighed in last night. Now the Eugene, Oregon Register Guard considers the economic consequences to Oregon’s coastal fishing communities — already pummeled by Klamath-related closures and this year’s disastrously low catches:

Earlier this year, the Oregon Salmon Commission released figures that depict one of the worst salmon seasons on record. The fleet landed 463,500 pounds, about 20,000 pounds less than in 2006 — a more restricted season. Between 1979 and 2007, chinook landings have averaged more than 2 million pounds. In only two of those years have landings dropped below 500,000 pounds.

The fleet earned $2.6 million in 2007, slightly less than what trollers brought in the year before, despite the highest price per pound fishermen have fetched since 1981: $5.64.

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