Commercial boats await July chance at big Sacramento River salmon run

By FRANK HARTZELL Of the Advocate -
Fort Bragg Advocate News

Although 2005 regulations that have denied local commercial fishermen a chance at a historic Sacramento River salmon run so far are a favorite complaint in Noyo Harbor, the wild king salmon industry faces other worrisome challenges, industry insiders said.

Several fish buyers and industry leaders interviewed last week reported problems including an unexpected softening consumer demand for top quality wild California Chinook salmon and a possible glut of salmon in July.

The market has seemed very soft ... My opinion is that prices may have gotten too high and cooled the market off, said Bill Dawson who buys salmon through Seafood Suppliers Inc., a family business on Pier 33 in San Francisco.

Prices have actually dropped this year, contrary to predictions, with Dawson saying that store buyers were frustrated by rising prices in the last few years and sought other products early in the season.





Prices paid to fishermen have been between $3 and $4 per pound this year, with wholesale prices to restaurants around $6 per pound, buyers report.

Dawson said more must be done to enlighten consumers about the premium taste of troller-caught wild California Chinook (king) salmon. He said an investigative series by the New York Times that revealed some fraudulent mixing of farmed salmon with wild salmon didnt help either.

Dawson said events like Fort Braggs July 2 Worlds Largest Salmon Barbecue are needed to demonstrate to consumers the taste of top quality salmon.

Fort Bragg has been the salmon capital of the world for trolled salmon and that barbecue has promoted the taste of wild fish for a long time, Dawson said.

The barbecue was unable to buy all of its salmon from local fishermen this year because of the season closures, but uses only wild caught fish. Local anglers also donate fish to be cooked at the barbecue.

He said top chefs are picking the wild-caught California king salmon, another fact that needs to be emphasized by the industry.

Farmed fish sells for much less than wild fish but often has to be dyed from gray to pink and is generally considered to compare poorly to wild salmon in flavor.

If you only eat farmed salmon, it isnt that bad There is no comparison in the taste. If you try both, you will never go back to the farmed fish, said Dawson.

We are being overrun by the farmed salmon industry right now and we need to come back into the limelight, Dawson said.

Season closures this year to protect salmon returning to the imperiled Klamath River fishery have sent the Eureka and Fort Bragg fleets to Southern California, passing by abundant salmon headed toward the Sacramento River.

The problem is that the stocks from the Sacramento and Klamath River mix in the ocean, said Tom McLaughlin, president and CEO of the Seafood Producers Association, which has 500 fisherman owner members.

This has been unfortunate for many of our members, he said. Some local commercial fishermen say they have skipped the season so far because of the low returns.

That situation could change on July 4, when the waters open up all the way up to Point Arena but still not north of that. The big Sacramento River run is expected to bring good times to both commercial and sport fishermen this summer.

We hear that there is a ton of fish out in the deep blue, so if you like our local fish, get ready because a glut is expected which should yield high quality fish at low prices for the beginning of July, said Mike Weinberg with Osprey Seafood in San Francisco.

The buyers report that Fort Bragg and other Northern California fishermen have been coming back with boats full of fish caught in Southern California this year. But the long trip is costly in expensive fuel and they must compete with an abundant Alaskan catch, including the Taku River fishery, reopened this year after being closed for decades.

McLaughlin praised Alaskas fishery management practices, which has revived the health of several rivers in recent years. In Oregon and California, dams, farming and development have taken water needed by salmon. The crisis this year has been caused by a low departing rate of salmon from the Klamath three years ago. Salmon return to spawn after three years in the ocean.

The issues are of course different but Alaska has done a very good job of improving management and increasing supply, he said.

Weinberg said losing the family fisherman and small boat could really hurt salmon numbers.

We [buyers] can hunt and search for other areas and other products whereas the California fisherman has been put in a difficult position.

If their living depends on their catch, this has not been a great year for them, Weinberg said. We need the small boat, hook and liner, to be able to make a living or we will decimate our stocks when bigger boats are allowed to fish.