Recreational salmon season, with positive outlook, to start on time

03/27/2019

Salmon season is just around the bend, and it’s looking more promising than last year, when the season was truncated by drought and warm ocean conditions. The Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets the regulations for the fisheries along the West Coast, released the staggered start dates for recreational salmon fishing along California’s coastline in mid-March. In West Marin, recreational salmon fishing begins on April 13, as it will between Horse Mountain in Humboldt County and Pigeon Point north of Santa Cruz. The recreational season begins a week earlier, on April 6, south of Pigeon Point to the Mexico border, where there are more salmon at this time of year. The remainder of Northern California is still closed for at least the month of April, as is the rest of the Pacific coast. The opening dates for the commercial fishery, the recreational dates for the northern sections of the West Coast, and the closing dates for both seasons will be decided during the council’s week-long meeting beginning April 9, which this year will be held in Rohnert Park. In the meantime, residents can explore and comment online on the three different management proposals—which range from liberal to conservative—that the council will consider. Last year, the recreational season in West Marin was much shorter than had been typical, only from mid-June through October. The commercial fishery was open for a week in late July, plus most of August and all of September. But in a March press release announcing the on-time recreational season, California Department of Fish and Wildlife scientist Kandice Morgenstern said the department expected much greater fishing opportunity for sport anglers compared to last year. The majority of Chinook salmon—California’s most popular commercial stock—originate from the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers. Biologists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated that this year’s fall run from the Sacramento River out to sea saw nearly 380,000 adult salmon. By comparison, the highest forecast during the previous three years was 299,600, in 2016. The Pacific Fisheries Management Council still classifies the Chinook as an “overfished species” based on the numbers that returned to the rivers last year. Like all Pacific salmon, Chinook are anadromous, which means they hatch in freshwater streams and rivers, migrate to the ocean for feeding and growth, and return to their natal waters to spawn. But rather than over-fishing, Ms. Morgenstern said the factors her department identifies as the main culprits of lowered counts last year were warmer ocean temperatures and poor river flows caused by drought. She was hopeful these conditions were improving. This year brought “a lot of snowmelt, and we hope for better in-river conditions for salmon juveniles this coming year,” she said. Chinook stocks crashed a decade ago, resulting in complete closure of the fishery in 2008 and 2009. There was a limited re-opening in 2010, following a few wetter years, though drought conditions have continued to prevent a full comeback. Bolinas resident Josh Churchman, who has held both recreational and commercial permits for salmon for decades, said in his experience, the stocks have only continued to go down. In the late 1980s, he brought in as much as $10,000 from salmon catches per season, but over the past decade, has focused more on species like black cod to support himself. Last year, he said, was one of the worst in recent memory in terms of fish caught. He said he hoped the predictions for this season were right, but that he would withhold judgment until he got onto the water. The Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet from April 9 through 16 at Doubletree, in Rohnert Park. All of the pre-season reports can be found at pcouncil.org/salmon/ in the tab on the left-hand side of the page.