Salmon Season to be Cut Short in
by Tara Duggan
In a good year, the population estimate should be around 1 million,
but this year it is less than a quarter of that.
The official word is out: California will have a very short chinook salmon season this year.
Because of historically low numbers of adult chinook salmon in the ocean — a lingering effect of the drought — West Coast fishery managers decided to severely restrict the upcoming California commercial salmon season. The decision was announced Tuesday at a meeting of the Pacific Fishery Management Council in Sacramento.
California's commercial salmon season will be open in different parts of the coast during different chunks of the normal season.
It will begin in May and June in the area from Pigeon Point in San Mateo County south to the Mexico border. Later in the summer, the area that includes San Francisco Bay, between Pigeon Point and Point Arena in Mendocino County, will be open for most of August and September, with a smaller section of the coast also open for part of October.
Farther north, the coastline between Point Arena and Horse Mountain (Humboldt County) will be open only in September, with a 3,000-fish quota, and areas farther north will be closed altogether.
The California recreational salmon fishery south of Eureka opened on schedule April 1, but certain areas will also close for part of the season until it ends in October.
Commercial fishers have been expecting the announcement of a limited season for months because of predictions of low salmon population numbers due to the drought. In 2014 and 2015, baby and juvenile salmon died off by the millions because of warm water temperatures in their spawning grounds, and the adults in the ocean now are from that generation. After last year's season was also cut short, many in the industry have already made alternate plans.
"It's affecting me so much I'm going to Oregon," said Duncan MacLean, a longtime Half Moon Bay salmon fisherman who said typically he can get better prices during the early season there, which opened April 15. "If nothing else, (it) at least gives me something to do," he added.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages fisheries in the federal waters off California, Oregon and Washington, bases its recommendations on population forecasts. In a good year, the population estimate should be around 1 million, but this year it is less than a quarter of that.
Areas north of Horse Mountain and parts of southern Oregon will be closed this year to protect endangered Klamath River chinook salmon, which are at a record low. Other limits to the season protect endangered winter-run chinook from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta system.
When populations are healthier, chinook salmon are among the most lucrative fisheries in the region, worth $22.7 million in California in 2013.
Dave Bitts, a Eureka fisherman and adviser to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, thinks many others, like MacLean, will have to look for work elsewhere. While Bitts is nearing retirement, he's concerned about younger fishers who still have boat payments and other large expenses.
"There hopefully will be people who will be able to catch enough and get through the summer and survive long enough to fish another day," he said. "I hate to see people leaving the fishery."
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