The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) at its meeting in Sacramento today adopted ocean salmon season recommendations that offer some recreational and commercial opportunities for most of the West Coast.
Due to low ocean abundance forecasts, the 200-mile-long Klamath Management Zone (KMZ) from Humbug Mountain, Oregon, to Horse Mountain, California, will be completely closed to the take of Chinook salmon this season.
The recommendations will be forwarded to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for approval by May 1, 2017.
This year’s run of Klamath River fall Chinook salmon is projected to be the smallest in history- 11,000 fish, about 10% of average for the last 3 decades. “Before colonization, scientists estimated that over 1.2 million salmon returned to the Klamath annually,” according to Craig Tucker, Natural Resources Policy Advocate for the Karuk Tribe.
Other areas, including sections of the coast from Horse Mountain to the U.S./Mexico border, offer restricted recreational and commercial fishing seasons.
While allowing for some fishing opportunities, the PFMC pointed out that the adopted salmon fisheries off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington do achieve the conservation goals set for the numerous West Coast salmon stocks.
“The Council has recommended commercial and recreational ocean salmon seasons in Washington, Oregon, and California this year that provide important protections for stocks of concern including Klamath River fall Chinook, Washington coastal coho, and Puget Sound Chinook,” said Council Executive Director Chuck Tracy.
Before the adoption of the measure, Brett Kormos, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) representative on the PFMC, told the Council, “This has been a challenging fishery planning process due to our continued concerns over winter run and the depressed status of the Klamath stock.”
“We have all spent a great deal of time and effort attempting to develop appropriate regulations given these considerations and the added likelihood that the Klamath stock will face similar levels of risk under all of the scenarios we examined, including total closure of the fishery. These regulations are a reflection of the deliberative process we have undergone, including concern for the future of our salmon stocks and our stakeholders and the Tribes up and down our coast,” Kormos explained.
Commercial and recreational fishing families in the Klamath Management Zone on the ocean and tribal and recreational fishermen on the Klamath and Trinity rivers will be hurt particularly hard by the closures this season.
“This announcement means we’re going to have to fish for other species in order to make a living; that’s a fact,” said Tim Klassen, captain of the charter fishing vessel Reel Steel, fishing out of Eureka. “The long term health of salmon is more important than just one season. We’ve been through this before and it hurts, but if we don’t do something soon to improve our salmon runs, we will be the last generation of salmon fishermen in California.”
Recreational salmon fishing further south below Horse Mountain opened on April 1, with surprisingly good fishing at times in the Half Moon Bay and Monterey Bay areas.
The fisheries south of Point Arena are also affected by the need to protect Sacramento River winter Chinook, a listed species under the federal and state Endangered Species that has been hammered by decades of water diversions throughout the river system and in particular by massive water exports out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
In the Fort Bragg area from Horse Mountain to Point Arena, the season will close during June, July, and half of August, then reopen through November 12.
In the San Francisco area from Point Arena to Pigeon Point, the season will close during the first half of May and reopen through October 31.
Salmon fishing will remain open through July 15 in the Monterey Bay area and through May 31 for areas south of Monterey Bay.
After hearing the announcement, Noah Oppenheim, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), said thousands of West Coast commercial salmon fishing families are going to be impacted by “another significantly curtailed salmon season” this year.
“For California fishermen the drought is far from over, and its lasting effects are sending a shudder through coastal communities today,” he emphasized. “The effects of climate change and a five year drought, exacerbated by unnecessary dams and unsustainable water diversions, have resulted in this disastrous situation. Preventable declines in salmon populations will cost commercial fishermen millions of dollars this year and have already severely reduced the public’s access to the natural resources that they rightfully own.”
“We know that these closures are caused by the same flawed projects and policies that closed the fishery nine years ago. Salmon need cold water, good habitat, and adequate flows now and into the future, and salmon fishing families and seafood consumers need sustainable, locally caught salmon. If deadbeat dams remain standing and exorbitant water exports continue apace, threatened and endangered salmon runs won’t have much of a future in California,” he concluded.
Oppenheim noted that the commercial non-tribal salmon fishery in the Klamath Management Zone, a 200 mile stretch of coast from Humbug Mountain in Oregon to Horse Mountain in California, will be closed this year.
There will be a limited fishery (up to 3,000 fish) with a limit of 60 fish per week per boa in the Fort Bragg area in September.
The area surrounding San Francisco will open for a limited time in August, September, and parts of October, according to Oppenheim. The commercial salmon fishery will be open in May and June solely in areas south of Pigeon Point.
Tribal fisheries are also greatly impacted by the Klamath River salmon collapse. The Yurok Tribe will have no commercial salmon fishing season this year. The subsistence allocation is 650 fish, the lowest allocation ever.
“This is the worst year in history for Klamath salmon,” said Amy Cordalis, the Tribe’s General Counsel, a Yurok Tribe member and fisherwoman. “There is no mystery as to why. The effects of an unprecedented drought were exacerbated by dams and diversions.”
“This year, Yurok, Karuk and Hupa people will have little to no salmon for the first time in history. Although the fish are important economically, they are more important as an irreplaceable part of our identity as people who care for the river,” she stated.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe will be greatly impacted by the looming salmon season restrictions, particularly during their biannual white deer skin dance and world renewal ceremonies that will begin in August, according to Mike Orcutt, the Tribe’s Fisheries Director.
“Approximately 130 fish will available for the 3400 members of the Tribe,” said Orcutt. “Not to have salmon for people participating in our ceremonies will be unfathomable.”
On April 10, the Karuk Tribal Council took the “unprecedented step “of placing restrictions on subsistence fishing by Tribal Members for the first time in history.
“It’s my saddest day as Chairman,” said Karuk Tribal Chairman Russell ‘Buster’ Attebery. This is the first time in our history that we have imposed limits on traditional dip net fishermen working to feed their extended families and tribal elders.”
The Tribe will allow the harvest of 200 Chinook salmon for substance and ceremonial purposes, according to Attebery.
Typically, Karuk fishing requires little in the way of regulation due to the fishing method. Karuk fishermen use a traditional dip net about 12 feet long to scoop out salmon from behind rocks in the rapids below Ishi Pishi Falls.
“You can only catch a very small percentage of the fish that are moving through the falls with dip-nets. Our fishing method limits our take so as to ensure plenty of fish make it up- stream to spawn,” explained Attebery.
For more information about the salmon seasons, go to: Pacific Fishery Management Council: http://www.pcouncil.org·
Description of 2017 salmon management process: http://www.pcouncil.org/salmon/current-season-management/