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Lean year for salmon on Klamath

John Driscoll
The Times-Standard
February 7, 2007

Fishing season could be crimped again if forecast stays bleak
For the third year in a row, too few salmon returned to the Klamath River to meet a threshold set to ensure the health of the fishery in the future.

That will likely trigger an overfishing review by the federal government, which will determine whether a rebuilding plan needs to be drawn up.
An estimated 30,400 wild salmon reached the river to spawn, confirmed Pacific Fisheries Management Council staff officer Chuck Tracy, 4,600 fewer than the number that biologists have set as a minimum to produce a strong next generation of fish.

That number of spawners is substantially higher than the 22,000 predicted earlier. The good news is that there are more jacks -- 2-year-old fish that will go back to sea and return this fall and in 2008 -- in the river this year than there have been since the early 1980s.
The jacks put a bright light on the future, said California Department of Fish and Game senior biologist Larry Hanson.

An estimate on how many fish are expected to return to the river this fall is being formulated by a technical team in Portland, Ore., this week. That will drive what kind of sport and commercial salmon seasons will be set for much of the West Coast this coming year. It will follow last year's disastrous commercial and crimped sport fishing seasons.

Tracy said that it appears that the season could again be meager, since commercial fishers generally catch more 4-year-old fish than 3-year-old fish. The number of jacks indicates there will be plenty of 3-year-old fish, probably good for the 2008 season.

Frankly, we don't know, Tracy said. The Salmon Technical Team will start talking about it. They'll be cranking through numbers as to what the forecasts are and how that plays into allocations of various fisheries.

Estimates last year put the loss to the commercial fishing industry at about $80 million. It prompted the U.S. secretary of commerce to declare a fisheries disaster after significant political pressure from West Coast states.

The action to shut the commercial fishery and limit tribal and sport fishing may have paid off with nearly 10,000 more fish reaching the river to spawn than were projected.

Everybody suffered last year, said Jimmy Smith, 1st District Humboldt County supervisor and sport fishing representative to the council. They were able, through that sacrifice, to get more fish back in the river.

An informational meeting is scheduled for Feb. 28 in Humboldt County. The first proposals for managing this year's fisheries will be developed in March. Public hearings on the options will be held in late March, and the council will choose a plan in April, which will go on to be finalized by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Eureka commercial fisherman Dave Bitts said some of the best years for spawning have been when the number of spawners to reach the river are relatively low. Conditions in the river -- which suffers chronic disease and water quality problems and in dry years low flows -- are key for the juvenile fishes' survival. So is the availability of food in the ocean.

Bitts said it does not appear that federal agencies will intervene to deal with the problems in the river, but expected that fishermen will once again bear the brunt for a problem for which they're not responsible.

Hammer the fishermen, Bitts said. That seems to be the federal policy.

John Driscoll can be reached at 441-0504 or jdriscoll@times-standard.com.



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