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PFMC Again Recommends Closing Most Salmon Fishing Off California, Southern Oregon Coast
Columbia Basin Bulletin  April 10, 2009  
For the second year in a row, the Pacific Fishery Management Council has decided to close commercial and most recreational salmon fisheries off the coast of California and southern Oregon in response to the continued feeble status of the Sacramento River fall chinook run.

The recommendation adopted Wednesday at the Council's meeting in Millbrae, Calif., will be forwarded to the National Marine Fisheries Service for approval by May 1.

In contrast, fisheries north of Cape Falcon, Oregon (near Nehalem Bay) will have bigger quotas than last year, with much greater to catch coho salmon and similar chinook options.

A very limited 10-day recreational season will be permitted off the coast of California north of Cape Mendocino. Oregon chinook seasons are also very restrictive, with a similar 10-day recreational season around Brookings.

However, coho fishing will be allowed beginning in June and ending in August or September for the Oregon coast between Cape Falcon and the Oregon/California border. Commercial chinook fishing is prohibited in Oregon south of Cape Falcon, but a limited coho fishery will occur in September for the central Oregon coast between Cape Falcon and Humbug Mountain.

The closures south of Cape Falcon, Oregon, are due to a continued decline in the number of Sacramento River fall chinook returning to the river this year. The stock is the driver of commercial and recreational salmon fisheries off California and most Oregon. The minimum conservation goal for Sacramento fall chinook is an escapement a return to freshwater of from 122,000 to 180,000 spawning adult salmon. The PFMC feels that is the number of salmon needed to return to the river to maintain the health of the run.

As recently as 2002, 775,000 adults returned to spawn. But last year only 66,200 fall run chinook returned to the Sacramento. This year, about 122,100 fish are forecast to return. That is twice last year's return but still not enough to support commercial and recreational chinook fisheries.

The PFMC says a second year of ocean fishery closures off California and southern Oregon will be devastating to many small fishing communities. Fisheries off California and southern Oregon have been poor since 2005.

In California and Oregon south of Cape Falcon, where Sacramento fish stocks have the biggest impact, the commercial and recreational salmon fishery had an average economic value of $103 million per year between 1979 and 2004. From 2001 to 2005, average economic impact to communities was $61 million ($40 million in the commercial fishery and $21 million in the recreational fishery).

In March, the National Marine Fisheries Service released a draft report, developed by more 20 scientists, that discusses potential causes of the collapse of Sacramento River fall chinook run in 2007 and 2008. The report says poor ocean conditions, habitat degradation and water withdrawals, and changes in hatchery operations, are potential causes.

The report concluded that while unfavorable ocean conditions likely led to poor survival of juvenile salmon as they entered the ocean environment in 2005 and 2006, the stock was more susceptible to those conditions because decades of freshwater habitat degradation and hatchery production have reduced the stock's fitness and resiliency.

The report also noted that the hatchery net-pen acclimation program was suspended in 2006, which contributed to poor survival of fish returning in 2008. In addition, while ocean conditions off central California improved somewhat in 2007 the drought that year resulted in low numbers of juvenile salmon leaving the freshwater environment, and expectations for 2009 returns were not optimistic.

Seasons north of Cape Falcon are generally similar in structure to recent years, although coho quotas are substantially higher than in 2008, reflecting the anticipated increased abundance of both hatchery and natural coho stocks. Chinook quotas are similar to 2008.

The Council reached its decision after several weeks spent reviewing three season options. The review process included input by federal and state fishery scientists, fishing industry members, public testimony, and three public hearings in coastal communities. The Council received additional scientific information and took public testimony before taking final action.

The coastal states will now decide on compatible freshwater fishery regulations at their respective fishery commission hearings.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional fishery management councils established by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 for the purpose of managing fisheries from 3 to 200 miles offshore of the United States coastline. The Pacific Council recommends management measures for fisheries off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.

For more information: http://www.pcouncil.org

To see the Council-adopted 2009 ocean salmon management measures: http://www.pcouncil.org/salmon/salcurr.html#saloptions09

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