Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

Low stocks mean fishing cutbacks


River returns prompt limits in California and Oregon

GRANTS PASS Fisheries managers say ocean salmon fishing seasons for Northern California and Oregon face sharp cutbacks this year to protect low projected returns of Klamath River wild chinook, a perennial weak spot in efforts to rebuild West Coast salmon runs.

Federal fishery managers for the West Coast who are meeting in Sacramento, Calif., next week will also have to wrestle with forecasts of low returns of hatchery coho from the Columbia River and Oregon Coast, which are likely to prompt sharp cutbacks for recreational fishermen off Oregon and Washington.

Forecasts based on returns of sexually immature adults known as jacks call for a record 1.7 million chinook returning to California's Central Valley this year, double last year's returns.

But sport and commercial fishermen may not be able to take full advantage of them, to avoid catching too many of the fish headed back to the Klamath River. Fishing seasons last year resulted in Klamath returns falling 10,000 short of the goal of 35,000 natural spawners.

"Everybody has gotten spoiled the last few years,'' said Dave Bitts, a Eureka, Calif., commercial salmon fisherman who is also vice president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "We think that it's normal to be able to go fishing.''

Overall, seasons are likely to be good between San Francisco and Monterey, Calif., a little tighter than last year off Washington, and a lot tighter between Fort Bragg, Calif., and Newport, Ore., said Chuck Tracy, salmon staffer for the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets ocean salmon seasons.

The council will adopt options for commercial, recreational and tribal fisheries March 11, and set final seasons April 8 in Tacoma, Wash.

Good returns in 2003, even in the Klamath River, allowed the most bountiful ocean salmon fishing seasons in 15 years, and in 2004, commercial fishermen saw prices rise with an increased public demand for ocean-caught salmon after years of farmed salmon driving down the market.

However, ocean conditions began going sour last year, accounting for the drop in hatchery coho numbers, said Curt Melcher, ocean salmon fishery manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Fishermen will have their best chance for chinook off Oregon when sport and commercial seasons open March 15, because Klamath fish are generally out of the area. However, commercial closures are likely as summer progresses and Klamath fish move into the area, said Melcher.

Quotas for coho, which account for most of the fish caught by Oregon and Washington sport anglers, could be cut in half, said Melcher. The specifics depend on information being developed in the next few months.

Numbers for wild Oregon coho, which must be released, are slightly up, from 150,900 in 2004 to 152,000 in 2005, but hatchery coho numbers are projected to be down, from 777,900 in 2004 to 542,900 this year, according to the preseason report for the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Efforts have been under way since 1986 to rebuild Klamath River chinook returns, which have declined due to a combination of dams, overfishing, and habitat loss to logging, agriculture, and mining.

Forecasts call for 239,700 chinook to return to the Klamath this year, enough to meet the required 35,000 wild fish surviving to spawn in the river if fishing is cut back. The overall number is slightly higher than last year's return, but sharply lower for 4-year-old fish, considered the most important age class for natural spawning success.

California Department of Fish and Game biologist Neil Manji said the 2002 fish kill that left tens of thousands of adult fish rotting on the banks of the Klamath after succumbing to disease in low warm water is not a likely cause of the low projections. A more likely one is the increasing numbers of young fish succumbing to parasites as they migrate to the ocean. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates up to 40 percent die from an intestinal parasite, and 80 percent are weakened by a kidney parasite.

The Yurok Tribe, which fishes at the mount of the Klamath, is likely to see their 25,000-fish allocation from last year cut in half, said tribal fisheries director Dave Hillemeier.

"This is going to be a major hardship not just for tribes, but also all the communities that revolve around in-river fisheries and revolve around ocean fisheries, basically from the Columbia River down to the San Francisco area,'' he said.






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

Copyright klamathbasincrisis.org, 2005, All Rights Reserved