- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

SEATTLE (AP) - There won’t be much of a salmon season for fishermen off the California coast for the second year in a row.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted three options Thursday for this year’s ocean salmon season at a meeting in Seattle. The options virtually shut down sport and commercial fishing off the coast of California to allow salmon to rebound, while offering limited commercial and sport salmon fishing in Oregon.

But there’s good news for fishermen in Washington. The coho salmon runs, particularly Columbia River runs, appear to be some of the best in years, which could give commercial and sport fisherman a much-needed boost.

“Coming off last year’s news, this is the best news we could’ve hoped to hear,” said Butch Smith, owner of Coho Charters in Ilwaco, Wash., and chairman of the council’s salmon advisory subpanel. “Even the worst option is great news.”

The council will make a final decision at an April meeting in Millbrae, Calif., and forward it to the National Marine Fisheries Service for approval before May 1.

Fishing seasons in California and Oregon were practically shut down in 2008 after a sudden drop in the fall Sacramento chinook run. Forecasts call for about twice as many salmon overall as last year, but the numbers are still low.

“It’s marginally better, but not by much,” said Peter Dygert, a fishery biologist with NOAA Fisheries Service.

Biologists say about 122,000 Sacramento River chinook salmon are needed to ensure a sustainable population, but forecasts of 122,196 _ if none are caught by fishermen _ leave less than 200 fish to allocate.

“That leaves very few fishing opportunities,” Dygert said, so fishermen are “putting themselves out of business for another year again.”

After hearing nearly a week of testimony and reports, there wasn’t much contention when the council voted Thursday.

Fishermen said they expected another grim season after forecasts showed low numbers of chinook returning to California’s Central Valley. The fall Sacramento River chinook salmon is one of the West Coast’s largest wild salmon runs.

Ocean conditions that produced little food for salmon are believed to be a contributing factor in last year’s sudden salmon collapse. NOAA scientists studying the collapse are expected to issue a report in April, Dygert said.

San Francisco commercial fisherman Barbara Emley, in Seattle for the meeting, said she survived last season’s shutdown with federal assistance.

Congress approved $170 million in disaster relief to help struggling fishermen and related businesses make it through the year.

“It looks absolutely horrible,” the 65-year-old Emley said, wondering how she’d make it through this year. “I hope we find some way to get more disaster assistance.”

The picture is much brighter for fishing off the coast of Washington and north of Cape Falcon, about 30 miles south of the mouth of the Columbia River.

More than one million Columbia River coho are expected to return this year _ double last year’s numbers and the largest since 2001, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Coho salmon appear to have benefited from improved ocean conditions, said Phil Anderson, the agency’s interim director.

Sport-fishing quotas in Washington range between 168,000 and 189,000 hatchery coho, and between 10,000 and 38,000 chinook. Last year’s quota was about 20,000 each for coho and chinook.

Oregon sport fishermen also could have good fishing opportunities with coho salmon and limited opportunity with chinook. Oregon commercial fishermen may have a chance at coho salmon for the first time in years, said Chuck Tracy, the council’s head of the salmon section for the Portland-based council.

Under one option, California sport fishermen may have 10 open days in August and September in the area near Eureka and Crescent City.


On the Net:

Pacific Fishery Management Council: https://www.pcouncil.org

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