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Posted on Tue, Apr. 05, 2005

Salmon miss coming-out party


Start of sport fishing season has been a major disappointment



Herald Staff Writer

If this year was supposed to produce one of the best salmon runs in recent history as experts predicted, someone forgot to tell the salmon.

The recreational salmon season, which opened Saturday, has been a major disappointment.

"We held a party and the salmon didn't come," said Linda McIntyre, Moss Landing harbormaster.

Scientists with the Pacific Fishery Management Council estimated that close to 2 million chinook salmon from the Sacramento and Klamath rivers awaited recreational fishers, more than twice last year's prediction and the highest since the council began making annual forecasts in 1985.

If they're there, local charter boat skippers said, they've either gone deep or they aren't biting. And they aren't biting anywhere else, either.

Todd Arcoleo, manager of Chris' Fishing Trips in Monterey, said the fishermen up and down the coast, from Bodega Bay to Morro Bay, have reported the same dearth of salmon. In fact, Monterey Bay has been more generous than most.

In Bodega Bay, he said, the entire charter fleet brought in three salmon on opening day. In Half Moon Bay, 65 anglers on charters brought in six fish, he said, and Morro Bay charters reportedly had one catch.

Arcoleo said Chris' fleet brought in about 25 salmon that day. Bill Williamson, a charter skipper for Randy's Fishing, said that fleet brought in 45 opening day, but the numbers have dropped since.

Theories abound|

There are a number of theories explaining the slow start to the season: the water's too warm; the number of bait fish, like anchovies, too few; and the barometric pressure too low. Fish don't eat when the pressure's low, some say.

And it may just be that the hundreds of fishing boats on the bay over the weekend spooked the fish to deeper depths.

But things may be looking up. The weekend anglers from Fresno are gone and Williamson and Arcoleo said Monday afternoon the barometric pressure was moving up and the bait fish were moving back into Monterey Bay.

None of that will help commercial fishers, who are waiting for the hammer to fall when the Pacific Fishery Management Council decides this week whether it will abbreviate the commercial salmon season, which begins May 1. The council is meeting in Tacoma, Wash., today and is expected to announce by Thursday when the season will end.

At issue is the number of chinook that spawn on the Klamath River. The river experienced a massive die-off of fish in 2002 after the federal Bureau of Reclamation gave a full allocation of Klamath water to local farmers despite an ongoing drought.

If the population that is left is overfished, authorities fear, the fishery could be permanently devastated. Because Klamath salmon and Sacramento river salmon intermingle, the council is considering halving the commercial season, even though the Sacramento salmon population is burgeoning.

The Bureau of Reclamation blames the die-off that led to the crisis on a number of natural causes. The commercial fishing industry blames it on mismanagement by the bureau.

"They took all the water and gave it to the farmers. It heated the water and killed thousands and thousands of salmon," said Roger Whitney, owner of Bay Fresh Seafoods in Moss Landing. "That's all thanks to our federal government."

If the season is shortened, he predicted, it means a record number of Sacramento chinooks will be returning up the river to spawn, overtaxing the river's oxygen supply and causing another die-off. And there's no guarantee the bureau won't repeat its allocation to Klamath farmers.

"It's just a mess," Whitney said. "We're supposed to protect (the salmon) and then they kill them when they go back up the river."

Fishing enthusiasts aren't the only ones who were unhappy with the weekend's opener. Friends of the Sea Otter put out an emergency call for volunteer observers to report to Moss Landing Harbor on Sunday after members reported seeing boaters speeding in the harbor and aiming their vessels at rafts of otters.

No manpower|

William Brooke, of Friends of the Sea Otter, said Monday that he put out the call for volunteers after witnessing otters having to dive to avoid being hit by boats in the harbor.

McIntyre, the harbormaster, said she wasn't aware of any such incident, but did receive a report of an otter that had beached itself and died. She said no speeding citations were issued over the weekend, but conceded that she did not have enough staff to handle basic management of the harbor on opening day, let alone patrol for speeders.

"If I knew that was the case, I would be really upset with any fisherman doing that," she said. "They're not doing themselves any favors at all. It's almost like self-fulfilling prophecy."

montereyherald.com

 
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