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NW Fishletter #228, March 28, 2007

North Coast Harvest Options Shrink For Chinook, Better For South

The Pacific Fishery Management Council is calling for a reduced chinook catch off the Washington Coast, but is backing improved harvest options for southern Oregon and California commercial fishermen, who faced severe cuts in 2006 that allowed more Klamath River fall chinook to spawn.

After NOAA Fisheries recommended reducing harvest on lower Columbia tules from 49 percent to 42 percent to offer more protection for the ESA listed wild fall chinook stock, the PFMC whittled down the range of harvest recommendations of its own salmon panel for the region north of Oregon's Cape Falcon. The numbers went down from a 25,000 to 45,000-fish range to 26,000 to 35,750, spread over three options, all lower than last year's total allowable non-Indian catch of 65,000 chinook.

The final decision will be made at the next PFMC meeting April 2-6.

With the latest stock abundance forecast yet to be plugged in, the 35,750-fish ceiling may need further reduction because the Council estimated that such a level of catch would put the exploitation rate on the tules' index stock (Coweeman River) above the feds' recommendation by a couple of percent, up to 44.3 percent.

Coho harvest options developed by the salmon panel (only marked fish harvested) for the north coast ranged from 80,000 to 160,000, but were reduced to an 80,000 to 140,000 fish range. At the high end, about 117,600 coho would be allotted for recreational fishers. Last year, the north of Falcon coho quota for sportfishers was about 73,000 fish.

The improved outlook for Klamath River chinook in 2007 should boost fishing opportunities significantly off the southern Oregon and northern California coasts. Managers have estimated the Klamath chinook age-4 component at the lowest level on record, around 26,000 fish, but the age-3 component, is estimated at the highest level on record--515,400 fish. Most spawners are age-4's.

The PFMC report said if last year's draconian regulations were repeated this year, coupled with no sportfishing in the river, more than 60,000 chinook would be allowed to spawn, about twice the number that did last year.

Last year's harvest cuts were expected to yield about 21,000 spawners, but more than 30,000 made it back. After much political wrangling, a $60-million disaster aid package was approved last week by the Senate Appropriations Committee to help California and Oregon fishermen and related businesses who were affected by the harvest reduction.

The Central Valley fall chinook forecast is for about 500,000 returning fish, 80 percent of last year's pre-season forecast and the lowest estimate since 1992. That's better than last year's actual return of 435,000, which came in nearly 50 percent less than expected.

The PFMC's March report noted several "concerns," including uncertainty over the ocean harvest impacts on lower Columbia coho, which were listed for ESA protection in 2005. Little data is available from coded-wire-tag data to determine the ocean distribution pattern on the stocks involved.

The change in commercial fishing patterns off Vancouver Island has also thrown off traditional harvest models, which based the size of Canadian catches on effort that was focused on chinook stocks throughout the summer. With commercials fishing earlier to avoid their own weak stocks, the PFMC's salmon technical committee says it intends to modify the Pacific Salmon Commission's model to update the composition of the Canadian catches.

But they said methods to update the chinook FRAM [Fishery Regulation Assessment Model] model have not yet begun. A WDFW harvest report on Puget Sound chinook stocks completed last year said the FRAM model underestimated the Canadian commercial and recreational chinook catch off BC and in Georgia Strait by 191,000 fish in 2005. It was actually on the order of 708,000, rather than the model's projection of 516,000 chinook.

However, the model's projection of north of Falcon commercial, tribal and sport chinook catches in U.S. waters over-estimated the actual 127,000-chinook catch in the 2005 fisheries by about 5 percent. -B. R.

The following links were mentioned in this story:

PFMC Preseason Report II, March 2007

NW Fishletter 227, March 8, 2007

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