Reports by the Associated Press say that the population dropped more than 88 per cent from its all-time high five years ago, according to an internal memo sent to members of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
Regulators are still trying to understand the reasons for the shrinking number of spawners; some scientists believe it could be related to changes in the ocean linked to global warming.
Some fishermen and environmentalists believe the sharp decline is related to increased water exports from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, which supplies drinking water to millions of people in dry Southern California, as well as irrigation for America's most fertile farming region.
"It's time to reduce pumping of delta waters before we destroy the fish and wildlife species we appreciate so much in California," said Mike Sherwood, an attorney for Earthjustice.
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