San Francisco – The Pacific Fisheries Management Council released three alternative ocean salmon fishing seasons that portend heavy restrictions to come. Salmon fishing areas off the California coast will offer less time, with weeks of shutdown in the middle of the season likely for most fishermen. The in-season closures are being proposed to avoid damaging lower than average stocks of Klamath River fall run and Sacramento River winter run salmon. Both runs have been harmed by the effects of drought, exacerbated by water diversions to competing uses. Commercial salmon fishermen are facing the biggest losses of time and area open to fish, with most of the normally lucrative early Fort Bragg zone fishing in May, June and July likely to be off limits this year.
The PFMC will reconvene to finalize one of the three options in early April after hearing public comment. The sport salmon season will start on April 2 as per a Council decision in 2015.
“This year will be very hard on commercial salmon fishermen in California,” said GGSA executive director John McManus. “However, sport fishermen south of Humboldt County ought to get a decent chance to catch salmon this year.”
The adult salmon off the California coast now are likely the same fish GGSA managed to convince state and federal hatchery managers to truck and release at safe sites in the Delta and Bay in 2014. GGSA argued for trucking for a year before breaking through with state and federal hatchery managers. GGSA took this action because drought conditions were annihilating hatchery baby salmon released at Central Valley hatchery sites. Trucking greatly increased survival of the salmon. Eventually the hatchery managers agreed and even established drought condition criteria that trigger future trucking of hatchery fish. These criteria were triggered in 2015 and 100 percent of Central Valley hatchery salmon were trucked as a result.
“It’s fair to say we wouldn’t have an ocean salmon fishing season this year but for the work of GGSA which resulted in increased survival of baby hatchery salmon which are the adults we’ll fish for this year,” said GGSA Chairman, Captain Roger Thomas.
Sport fishing in what’s known as the Klamath Management Zone (KMZ) stretching from Horse Mountain, just north of Shelter Cove in southern Humboldt County, to the California/Oregon border, is also likely to be greatly restricted. This too is driven by concern over low numbers of Klamath River salmon. Klamath stocks declined as water from the Klamath’s main tributary, the Trinity River, was diverted from salmon through the coast range to Central Valley water users. Sport fishermen in the KMZ are likely to see two week closures every month through their season.
Concerns over relatively low numbers of Sacramento fall run salmon will be allayed by restrictions to protect other stocks. This should easily leave enough Sacramento fall run salmon for spawning and hatchery needs in 2016.
Sport fishermen fishing from Pt. Arena in southern Mendocino County to Pigeon Point in southern San Mateo County are facing relatively mild restrictions compared to others. One of the proposals released by the Council calls for a one week closure. All three call for a 24 inch minimum size limit through at least the early part of the season which is designed to avoid harm to winter run salmon.
“Our fingers are crossed that our commercial salmon fishermen will find good stocks in waters where they’ll be allowed to fish this year,” said GGSA board member Tim Sloane. “Salmon that are landed by our fishermen will still be the best on the market and worth the wait.” Sloane is also the executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA).
The Golden Gate Salmon Association is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fisherman, businesses, restaurants, a native tribe, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. GGSA’s mission is to protect and restore California’s largest salmon producing habitat comprised of the Central Valley river’s that feed the Bay-Delta ecosystem and the communities that rely on salmon as a long-term, sustainable, commercial, recreational and cultural resource.
In a normal year, California’s salmon industry produces about $1.4 billion in economic activity and about half that much in economic activity and jobs again in Oregon. The industry employs tens of thousands of people from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. This is a huge economic bloc made up of commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and the salmon fishing industry at large.