Critical salmon situation calls for creativity
By Susan Chambers, The World Link/Coos Bay World, March 13, 2008 |
State and federal fishery managers, faced with dire predictions of low fall Chinook spawning returns to the Sacramento River — as well as many other West Coast rivers — worked late into the night Tuesday and Wednesday to craft options for salmon fleets.
Likewise, commercial and recreational salmon fishermen from all three states worked with scientists to help determine how so few fish — 800-fish quotas for commercial fleets, one-fish bag limits for sport fishermen, in some instances — can best be divided.
It’s required creativity.
In the end, one option that keeps popping up in conversations is “zero fish.”
The Pacific Fishery Management Council on Wednesday again revised preliminary options and sent those options back to the Salmon Technical Team, a group of state and federal scientists, to model the time and area closures, lengths of fish allowed to be caught and other options to determine potential seasons’ effects on overall abundance.
Through it all, the Sacramento’s low numbers of returning spawners last year, 88,000 fish, followed by an even lower projected low return of about 59,000 fish in 2008, is the driving factor.
The situation is so unfamiliar that scientists had no way to predict the fleets’ ocean fishing effects on Sacramento returns — a stark contrast to the situation in recent years on the Klamath River.
Low returns to the Klamath have frustrated fleets and managers in recent years and once was the driving season-setting factor for much of Oregon’s South Coast fleets. The Klamath Ocean Harvest Model was designed to forecast potential ocean catch effects on the abundance of Klamath River fall Chinook.
But no model has been used for the Sacramento River. None has ever been needed. The stock has been stable.
The Salmon Technical Team was forced to push the boundaries of fisheries science in Sacramento: It planned to adopt the Klamath Ocean Harvest Model to the Sacramento River.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen this,” Charleston salmon troller Paul Heikkila said.
Heikkila, a retired Oregon Sea Grant Extension Agent, also is one of the industry’s representatives on the Salmon Advisory Subpanel. Unlike the technical team, the SAS comprises folks who bring real-world, on-the-fishing-grounds knowledge to the table to help guide the council and scientists on how proposed rules would affect the fleets.
The team reverted to old-school techniques to adapt the Klamath model to the Sacramento and related Central Valley stocks: Team members used good ol’ pencil and paper.
They outlined the rationale for the current model and how the Central Valley stocks differ. In handwritten notes, they identified variables, listed various components and identified math limitations and unknowns. Three pages packed full of equations with symbols, parentheses and brackets looked like every elementary school child’s nightmare.
And even after the new Sacramento model a was put into the computer for the serious number-crunching, one thing remained clear: Zero fishing still is a viable option.
The full council planned to give the Salmon Technical Team additional guidance this morning, to continue working through the traditional March season-setting madness.
For Oregon, options for the commercial fleet included a July-August season south of Cape Falcon on the North Coast. Another option was a season that would encompass May-June, July 11-30, Aug. 4-28, September 10-13 and all of October.
South of Humbug Mountain to the California border, quotas of 1,000 to 1,800 fish could be allowed during different times of the multiple-month season. For the more restrictive July-August season, quotas of 500 to 900 Chinook could be allowed for different weeks.
On the recreational side, south of Cape Falcon, one option would be to fish May through June 15 and all of September, with a two-fish-per-day bag limit. The more stringent alternative would be May 1 through June 15 and all of September but with a one-fish bag limit of Chinook. Sport fishing south of Humbug Mountain would be restricted further.
But that all could change again as the council and its advisory panels and technical teams work through issues today and Friday.
The restrictive measures follow a Wednesday conference call between state and federal regulators that resulted in the cancellation of March and April fishing seasons that had been on the books since last year.
“I don’t think the early part of the season will have much of an effect (on charter fleets),” said Wayne Butler, owner of Prowler Charters in Bandon.
But he cautioned charter and sport fishermen in Oregon to be prepared for changes right up until the council makes its final decision when it meets in Seattle in April.
“It’s going to affect different ports differently,” Butler said, noting that some options will help reduce fishing effort that would inevitably shift to rockfish. “But the charter fleet can’t sell one-fish bag limits.”