Salmon season approved to a mix of feelings
Last fall, the number of chinook salmon that returned to the Sacramento River was the lowest in history. Yet ocean fisherman have received the go-ahead to drop lines this spring and summer—in spite of bans the past two years and fish-tally estimates that critics say are impossible.
But many anglers are thrilled by the opportunity to go salmon fishing again—which was prohibited in ocean waters statewide for most of 2008 and 2009. Others are concerned that the renewed fishing will hamper recovery.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council, or P-Council, voted in April to extend the recreational ocean-salmon fishing season, which lasts until September 6. The council also voted to allow a limited commercial harvest.
“The [P-council] decision shows optimism for the numbers of salmon out there, but it also speculates on how large that number will be,” said John Beuttler, conservation director with the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
The P-Council estimates that a relatively healthy number of adult fish, 245,000, will return to spawn in the fall of 2010. But critics doubt the accuracy of this figure, which was formulated using the same modeling system that failed dramatically in the fall of 2009, when just 39,500 fish showed up after a predicted return of 121,000.
That failure has many worried that the prediction for 2010 could be another huge overestimate.
“Their model doesn’t work,” said Bill Divens, a river-fishing guide and owner of Salmon King Lodge of Red Bluff. “Last year … we got 39,500 [fish]. Now they’re saying a quarter million are coming back in the fall. That kind of jump in abundance from one year to the next just doesn’t occur.”
For Mike Bogue, a river-fishing guide in Redding and former president of the NorCal Fishing Guides and Sportsmen’s Association, the decision also lacks logic. He reminds that fishing is still bad and last year was the worst run ever. “I’m just not sure where those 245,000 fish they’ve predicted are going to come from,” Bogue said.
Another guide, Kirk Porportocarrero, who has fished the Sacramento River for 25 years, believes the ocean season could allow fishery managers to gain a better understanding of the resource’s health. “If they don’t fish, how else are we going to find out how many fish are out there?” he said.
Craig Stone, owner of Emeryville Sportfishing, makes a living by taking sport anglers in pursuit of rockfish, halibut, striped bass and sturgeon. He says he is “very apprehensive” about the effects that the season might have on the current chinook population, but adds that he will still go salmon fishing this year by customer demand.
Others intend to entirely boycott the season. Berkeley party-boat skipper James Smith Jr., who owns the vessel California Dawn, is voluntarily bypassing the chance to fish. “I’m not going fishing this year, because I think it’s the wrong thing to do. I think we should sit back for one more season to let the stocks recover and pressure agencies to reduce the pumping out of the Delta,” Smith said.
Since the ocean season opened early this month, fishing has been slow to fair, according to most sources. Some also have reported a lack of smaller fish in the landings, worrisome news that could mean that the spawning events of 2007 and 2008 resulted in unusually low numbers of offspring—and though the predictive population model suggests otherwise, that bodes poorly for salmon runs to come.