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Fishing down south

DN still holds out hope for season here

From staff and wire reports

Recreational salmon fishermen will again plunk their lines in the waters off much of the California coast this year after a two-year break because of a decline in the number of fish returning to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

But not in Del Norte County, although there’s still hope for some fishing here later in the year.

The short sport season that begins Saturday south of Humboldt Bay is currently scheduled to last only through the month of April, a short respite for a struggling industry.

“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity and hope there’s more,” said Marc Gorelnik, a recreational fisherman from El Cerrito, Calif. Gorelnik, like many sport salmon anglers, hopes the season is extended.

“It’s sort of like asking a hungry man if they want a morsel instead of a full meal,” said Gorelnik of the shortened season. “We’re thrilled to get out and wet a line but think we should have a full season.”

The season’s window could be extended by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which votes on the issue April 15. The council also will vote on whether to allow a short commercial season, also for the first time in two years.

Crescent City Harbormaster Richard Young said Tuesday he’s hoping the Pacific Fisheries Management Council will also decide at that meeting to allow sports salmon fishing off Del Norte County’s coast.

“Recreational salmon season is a very big deal for us,” Young said. “It’s tough to get people to come here without fishing.”

Traditionally, salmon season is best off the Northern California coast in June, after northwest winds in May roil the ocean, stirring up nutrients from the deep that help create healthy conditions for numerous species.

Under current restrictions for the early season, fishermen can keep two salmon per day caught off California’s coast, except north of Humboldt Bay, as long as they measure 20 inches or more in length. Endangered coho salmon hooked off the state’s coast are still off limits and must be released.

Following record low numbers in 2009, federal biologists are predicting a larger return of fall-run chinook salmon to the Sacramento River and its tributaries this year. Salmon from the Sacramento River are a prime source of the fish that are caught off of the California and southern Oregon coasts.

While the estimate of 245,000 fall-run chinook returning this year is promising, only a third of the fish predicted to return last year were recorded by federal biologists.

The large declines in recent years have forced the cancellation of any salmon fishing since 2007, prompting the federal government to issue $170 million in disaster relief over the past two years to help fishing communities in California, Oregon and Washington.

Some have blamed changing ocean conditions for the chinook’s decline, but most fishermen and federal regulators cite the vast series of pumps and dams used to move water around the delta as the main reason for the decline in the Sacramento River.

Even with cancellations the past two years, commercial and recreational salmon fishing contributed $17 million to the West Coast economy in 2009, according to the council.

For recreational charter captains like Dennis Baxter, who operates his boat, the New Captain Pete out of Pillar Point Harbor near Half Moon Bay, the short season is welcome revenue.

Baxter said, despite the short season, a lot of customers are waiting to book space on boats like his until there is proof of good fishing.

“With the prices we’re charging now and the economy, it’s putting a damper on it,” Baxter said. “I have a feeling that before sportsmen decide to spend their recreational dollar, a lot of guys are holding off to see what kind of season we’ll have before they commit.”

 


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