MENDOCINO Co., 3/6/23 — One of biggest meetings of the year for ocean fishermen in the northwest states is underway at the Doubletree Hotel in Seattle today. The Pacific Fishery Management Council’s deliberations started Sunday and will continue through March 10. Salmon issues are on the agenda every day.
Several leading fishing organizations have called for salmon seasons to be closed in California, based on low numbers in predicted California salmon returns.
The forecast is far less bleak in Oregon and Washington, the PFMC heard on Sunday
On Sunday, discussions of the halibut and salmon fisheries were underway. The commission will make recommendations for fishing seasons and take input on fish that are commonly taken for recreation or commercial use. One can access the meeting at the following link. Anyone joining the public meeting must download Ring Central, a program similar to Zoom.
The biggest issue is expected to be the salmon fishery. Fishing groups have banded together to recommend closure — the opposite of what one might expect and contrary to their position in past crises in the world’s favorite oceangoing river fish. Salmon numbers have been declining over the past century. The key reason is habitat destruction by development, logging and pollution. Additionally, rivers now have large numbers of invasive pike species such as the pikeminnow. Agriculture, other water uses, and drought have lowered river water levels. In the ocean, the prohibition on hunting marine mammals has resulted in a population explosion of sea lions and seals that eat larger numbers of salmon each year. Great white sharks, which also feast on salmon ,have also seen a big increase in population due entirely to the increase in sea lions and other pinnipeds.
Every year, salmon forecasters get together and, using the best science available, try to predict how many salmon will return to their home streams to breed that summer, fall and winter. The predictions set the timing of commercial and recreational fishing seasons. This year the forecast for fall Chinook (king salmon) on the Klamath River is just 103,793 adults (three years old). The projection for Sacramento River fall Chinook is estimated at 169,767 adults. But far more often than not, the predictions have been wrong, sometimes ridiculously so.
Every year, the PFMC models are said to have been improved. But the actual numbers and predictions have been on a troubling downward arc for two decades. At Sunday’s session, the commission admitted to serious flaws in the modeling. Predictions aside, fishermen are saying the season should be closed and federal disaster funds applied for immediately.
Salmon returns from the ocean are based on what happened on land three years prior. (Some salmon come back in two years, some in one or four years, but the vast majority of those returning this year will be from 2020, when there were drought conditions. The hope is that this year’s deluge of rain will mean a much better return in 2025 and 2026.
https://www.pcouncil.org/notice-of-availability-preseason-report-i-stock-abundance-analysis-and-environmental-assessment-part-1-for-2023-ocean-salmon-fishery-regulations/ It’s unknown at this point if the poor season might impact the World’s Largest Salmon Barbecue, one of the biggest events of the year in Fort Bragg which depends on salmon being available to buy.
There are seven varieties of salmon in Alaska. Two of these also found in California, Coho and Chinook, are the most desirable among fishermen. Fishing for silver or Coho salmon is illegal as they are a protected species. Coho salmon can be quite common off Fort Bragg and are the salmon that once populated all the local, smaller rivers and creeks. Chinook salmon prefer the larger rivers such as the Klamath and Sacramento Rivers.. Hikers who see salmon migrating in local forest streams are generally seeing Coho. Logging has been the prime factor in the decline of the Coho, while farming, development and other issues are what has hurt the chinook. Coho salmon have been bouncing back. Sockeye salmon are sometimes caught in California but its not considered part of their habitat so anglers are allowed to keep any of this rare fish they catch.
Not all fishing groups joined in the request to close the season. Some may be able to fish this year if they travel north. Here is the press release sent out by fishing groups at the end of last week:
The leadership of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association, and the Northern California Guides and Sportsmen’s Association are calling for an immediate closure of the 2023 salmon season and requesting [that] Governor Newsom, the State Legislature, and state agencies seek Federal and State disaster assistance funding for affected ocean and inland commercial operators.
On March 1, 2023, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife held their annual pre-season briefing and reported some of the worst fisheries numbers in the history of the state.
These numbers follow years of drought, poor water management decisions by Federal and State managers, occasional failure to meet hatchery egg mitigation goals, inaccurate season modeling, and the inability of fisheries managers to meet their own mandated escapement goals.
“Unfortunately we have gotten to a point that we have been warning was coming: another collapse of our iconic salmon fisheries,” said George Bradshaw, President of PCFFA.
“The harvest models, escapement goals and model inaccuracies show there is no warranted opportunity to harvest Chinook Salmon in the state of California in 2023. Our organization is asking Federal and State managers to take the required steps to ensure the survival of the resource and close the fishery. We demand we work towards future sustainable solutions so we can once again have robust salmon runs and thriving fisheries. Our coastal communities and generational fishermen deeply rely on the proper management. Therefore this requires our Federal and State leaders to lead the effort to secure disaster assistance until we all get through these foreseeable hard times.”
“Inland recreational salmon anglers and salmon fishing guides are the last user group to access the resource every year when salmon return to their natal, spawning grounds and hatcheries,” said James Stone, Executive Director of NCGASA.
“We have seen historic low runs in the Sacramento Valley since 2015, with 75% of the last 8 years falling short of the required conservation objective of 122,000 spawning adult fall run salmon,” Stone continued. “Current salmon management policy and poor water management, without proper hatchery mitigation, has got us to this point of full collapse. Our small rural communities throughout the Delta and upper Sacramento river systems that rely on salmon for food, recreation, sport, and industry have been drastically affected. We need to enact immediate conservation measures and close the fishery in all sectors ocean and inland, coupled with a complete overhaul of our salmon management models and policies that have led to this scenario.”
“After several consecutive years of poor river conditions fishery managers have forecasted near record low salmon returns to the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers,” said Rick Powers, President of GGFA. “With low returns we feel it would be irresponsible to participate in a 2023 season. While we make our living fishing for salmon, we are willing to make a short-term sacrifice to ensure a return of robust salmon populations that our families depend on. Therefore, we suggest that this year’s salmon season be suspended to protect the salmon runs that are vital to California Coastal Communities, and we call for Governor Newsom and state leaders to fight for disaster assistance funding for our communities immediately.”
PCFAA, GGFA, and NCGASA comprise the three largest licensed operators and businesses that rely on the Fall Run Chinook fishery. These three organizations have partnered together on numerous previous meetings with each other and Federal and State fisheries managers seeking changes and improvements to California’s fisheries management, with mixed outcomes. While the communities they represent will be irrevocably harmed by a 2023 closure, they believe there is no other conscionable alternative at this time.
The agenda for the meeting that started Sunday and runs through Friday can be found at:MEETING NOTICE
The Pacific Fishery Management Council (also known as PFMC) recommends fishery management measures to National Marine Fisheries Service. The Pacific Council manages fisheries for salmon, groundfish, coastal pelagic species (like sardines, anchovies, and mackerel), and highly migratory species (like tunas and sharks) in the Exclusive Economic Zone, 3-200 miles off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. The Council also works with the International Pacific Halibut Commission to manage halibut fisheries. With offshore wind energy development underway off Humboldt County and Central California, the commission has taken an active role in monitoring fishing issues raised during that process. This is the 270th session of the PFMC.