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The federal fisheries agency charged with setting salmon season quotas for the West Coast signaled this week that 2008 commercial ocean salmon season may be a worse than the devastating 2006 season.

In a follow-up to an assessment last month, the Pacific Fishery Management Council released a report this week indicating that Sacramento River fall Chinook salmon that make up the majority of fish for California’s salmon stocks are expected to fall to an all-time low this year.

While the report doesn’t yet forecast exact number of the Sacramento’s fall Chinook, an announcement from the PFMC says it infers total abundance to be near the low end of the spawning goal range in 2008 — even if all ocean and freshwater fisheries are closed.

“This is very bad news for West Coast salmon fisheries,” stated PFMC Chairperson Don Hansen. “The word ‘disaster’ comes immediately to mind, and I mean a disaster much worse than the Klamath (River) fishery disaster of 2006.”

The Preseason Report I Stock Abundance Analysis is the second in an annual series of four reports prepared by the PFMC’s Salmon Technical Team to document and help guide salmon fishery management off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.

This report provides 2008 salmon abundance projections and an analysis of the impacts of last year’s regulations on the projected 2008 season, which will be focus of PFMC discussions during upcoming meetings to discuss the season regulations March 11, 12 and 13 in Sacramento.

The PFMC is expected to adopt the 2008 management options that will be available for the public review on March 14.

The federally declared fisheries failure in 2006 resulted from a nearly complete shutdown of the commercial season along California’s coast due to poor returns of Klamath River salmon, which caused an estimated $60 million in direct and indirect economic losses to fishermen and fisheries dependant businesses on the West Coast.

With the commercial and possibly sport salmon seasons at risk this year, is there any good news for fishermen on the North Coast?

“Not lately,” said Eureka fisherman Aaron Newman Friday, who owns the fishing vessel Maria Isabel.

Newman said just going by the PFMC’s bylaws, it looks like there won’t be any take for the commercial Chinook salmon in California waters this season.

If any fishing is allowed at all, Newman said it won’t likely target the fall Chinook that make up the bulk of fish stocks the state’s commercial and sport salmon seasons are based on.

Sacramento River salmon, which aren’t federally protected fish as are the Sacramento’s winter run Chinook, are primarily caught off California and Oregon, but are also found off Washington and as far north as British Columbia, according to PFMC.

They are typically one of the healthiest and most-abundant stocks on the West Coast and are the primary contributor for the commercial and recreational fisheries off California and most of Oregon.

But Newman said the one bright spot on the horizon is that the salmon season is cyclical.

“There might be a big 2009 run out there,” Newman said. “These things can bounce back really fast.”

Public hearings to receive input on the options are scheduled for March 31 in Westport, Washington and Coos Bay, Oregon and for April 1 in Eureka.

Final council action on the commercial and recreational seasons will take place at its Seattle meeting April 7–12.




              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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