State urged to close American River to steelhead fishing

State officials are being urged to close fishing seasons on the American River in the Sacramento area to protect steelhead and salmon from fishing pressure as the river declines amid drought conditions.

The Sierra Salmon Alliance on Wednesday urged the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to close the fishery on the river. Tyrone Gorre, co-founder of the group, said he is concerned that as the river shrinks, steelhead migrating upstream to spawn will be unable to avoid the many anglers trying to hook them.

In addition, he fears fish eggs already in the river, spawned by fall-run Chinook salmon, will be trampled and killed by anglers walking in the river.

“There’s so much extreme pressure on the river that there’s no place for the fish to hide,” said Gorre, also a professional fishing guide on the river for 30 years. “We need to have swift and immediate action to accommodate those fish. It’s just a really critical situation.”

Salmon season has ended, but steelhead fishing is normally allowed year-round.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation this week is in the midst of curtailing water releases into the river from Folsom Dam, partly to preserve drinking water for suburban Sacramento communities. Flows in the river are expected to fall by Friday to 500 cubic feet per second, a level not seen since 1993.

A fishing closure has happened before on the American River, notably during the 1977 drought. It would have to be ordered by the California Fish and Game Commission following a recommendation from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Jordan Traverso, spokeswoman for the department, said it has no recommendation yet.

“We have a great number of people looking at this from a number of different angles, and it’s not just the American,” she said.