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Salmon Population Nears All Time Low for California

SAN FRANCISCO The number of chinook salmon returning to California's Central Valley has reached a near-record low, pointing to an "unprecedented collapse" that could lead to severe restrictions on West Coast salmon fishing this year, writes Terence Chea.

According to federal fishery regulators the sharp drop in chinook, or "king," salmon returning from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in the Sacramento River and its tributaries last fall is part of broader decline in wild salmon runs in rivers across the West.

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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Ellen Hardy

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