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Klamath council crunches salmon numbers
By John Driscoll The Times-Standard 2/25/05

EUREKA -- Faced with grim predictions for the upcoming salmon season, the Klamath Fishery Management Council steered away from drafting recommendations on how to manage the fisheries, opting to generate new information before acting.

At its meeting at the Red Lion Inn Thursday, the council directed its technical team to look at a range of closures to various ocean fisheries and determine their effects on the numbers of fish available to catch in the Klamath River.

Only one thing is clear: There aren't many fish.

"Everyone's going to have a rough year," said Eric Larson, California Department of Fish and Game representative to the council.

It's unlikely that American Indian tribes will meet their stated needs for a subsistence-level fishery, and commercial and sport fishers will suffer as well. That's despite an enormous output of salmon from the Sacramento River, he said, showing the influence of weak Klamath stocks on fishing up and down the West Coast.

Under the ocean regulations set last year, the council has predicted there wouldn't be nearly enough salmon to meet a limit for natural spawners in the river. Even with no fishing, only 42,600 natural spawners can be expected -- a mere 7,600 fish more than the limit.

The council directed the technical team to start with last year's regulations, then begin paring down seasons and other factors until the model shows 35,000 natural spawners will reach their spawning grounds. It can then develop recommendations to regulators.

Models and reality sometimes differ substantially, however.

For example, commercial fishermen last year were predicted to catch just 26,000 Klamath chinook salmon -- but ended up landing 104,000.

"It's a predictor. It's been fairly accurate," Larson said. "There are anomalies. This year was an anomaly."

Just why so many Klamath fish were taken in the ocean was not apparent. There did not appear to be more fishing pressure, and no one zone accounted for a large portion of the excess catch.

Last year's run of fall chinook salmon was among the eight lowest since 1978. At 88,777, the run was dwarfed by the previous years' of 195,793 and 170,014.

Now, with so few predicted for 2005, fishermen may have to take a substantial hit to ensure enough salmon spawn for future years' stocks.

Special concern has been registered by river fishermen, who haven't typically reached their quota of fish and would like to see a longer season, in large part to help a growing tourism economy.

"We do want to keep our fishing season going as long as possible," said Willow Creek fisherman Ed Dugan.

No matter what, limits, seasons or fishing areas are likely to be crimped. The council will likely make recommendations at an upcoming meeting on March 6 in Sacramento.

Hoopa Valley Tribe biologist George Kautsky said a challenging season looms.

"Something's going to have to fall down on the side of conservation," he said.

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