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