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
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
"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
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
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
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.
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
"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.