updated 3/7/2006 8:42:09 AM ET 2006-03-07T13:42:09

The fate of commercial and recreational fishing on the West Coast is on the line this week as fishery officials meet in Seattle to consider options for this year's season, including shutting down several lucrative salmon fishing grounds.

Salmon runs from California to Oregon are at risk of being closed, a result of severely reduced chinook salmon runs on the Klamath River in southern Oregon. Fishing off the Washington coast also could be restricted because coho in the Lower Columbia River recently were listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is responsible for making fish-policy decisions for California, Washington and Oregon, took up these and other fish-management discussions Monday when it kicked off a week of hearings and meetings.

Council Executive Director Don McIsaac said he expects the salmon-fishing issue to take up the most time of any topic on the week's agenda. But he said the fate of krill, a tiny, shrimplike creature, and the possible relaxation of drift-net fishing restrictions, which may put endangered leatherback turtles at risk, will likely draw considerable attention as well.

On the salmon question, McIsaac said the council will come up with three options for the season, one of which will include no fishing. Other options likely will include a severely shortened season, he said.

Commercial fishing operations in all three states likely would be hurt by a ban or shortened season.

A final decision on the salmon season will not be made until the council meets in April in Sacramento, Calif.

Krill harvesting debate
This week, the council will likely determine if krill harvesting should be banned outright off the West Coast.

Krill harvesting currently is banned in the area, but loopholes exist. Managers of the Monterey Bay and Farallon Islands marine sanctuaries, both in Northern California, have asked the council to explore closing those loopholes.

The concern is that the growth of aquaculture — farm-raised fish that are fed krill — could create a potential market for krill harvesting in the region. Krill, which travel in massive underwater clouds called blooms, are a main food source for everything from salmon and seabirds to giant humpback whales.

Along with an outright ban, the council is considering two alternatives, said Mark Helvey, an administrator with the National Marine Fisheries Service. He said one would be to continue to study the topic, implement a ban but allow limited, exploratory harvesting. Another option would be to keep the current policy unchanged.

Gill-nets and turtles
The council also will consider relaxing rules that restrict drift gill-net fishing from California to Oregon. Commercial fisherman use the nets to catch swordfish and thresher shark, Helvey said. But restrictions were put in place to protect leatherback and loggerhead turtles which can get caught up in the nets and die.

Leatherback turtles can live to 100 and are known to travel the oceans, Helvey said.

Helvey said new information suggests that fishing could be opened up without significant risk the turtles.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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