By Jennifer Grimes
Triplicate staff writer
Whether you do it for the food, for the money or for the fun, at this time of year there?s always one haunting question on fishermen?s minds:
How many fish can a fisherman catch from the Klamath River salmon run this year?
The California Department of Fish and Game is now figuring out the answer to that question and taking suggestions from those who know the river and its recent fish populations.
?The coming fall?s salmon run may be better than originally expected,? said Fish and Game?s information officer Paul Wertz.
Fish and Game held two meetings this week. One meeting was held in Crescent City on Monday and a Tuesday meeting was held in Weaverville.
Three options were presented at the meetings to get a feel for public opinion. Total season catch quotas for sports fishermen will be set at either 17,100, 23,800 or 23,200. For tribal fishermen the options are higher at 49,800, 50,100 or 50,800.
People who would like to give input on the options can write to the Department of Fish and Game at 601 Locust Street, Redding, Calif. 96001.
After last year?s highest-ever catch quota was set at 29,800 for sports fisherman, Wertz said this year will likely be slightly less, yet ?generous.?
According to experts at Fish and Game and Del Norte County Supervisor Chuck Blackburn, the past couple of years have brought higher numbers of salmon to the Klamath than have been here for years.
Blackburn, who spent most of his youth as a fishing guide on the Klamath, said daily catch limits will likely remain as high as last year, allowing fishermen to take three chinook per day ? two adults and one smaller two-year-old or ?jack?.
?It?s looking pretty good. At least they?re confident the run levels are up,? Blackburn said.
Just three years ago, Fish and Game allowed only 1,800 chinook to be caught by sport fishermen, that?s one-sixteenth of that allowed last year.
Wertz said the huge increase in population and the larger catch limits have to do with outlawing salmon fishing in the ocean.
Because the endangered coho salmon swim with chinook in the ocean, coho would often be caught in the same trolling nets as the chinook. To prevent coho numbers from dipping, commercial salmon fishing in the ocean was made illegal.
?That drove a lot more fish into the rivers,? said Wertz.
How Fish and Game scientists determine catch limits each year depends on several factors.
?It?s a long, complicated and highly boring process worked out by several agencies ... The goal is to let a certain number get by all the hooks and nets to get to the tributaries to reproduce and a certain number to the hatcheries,? Wertz said.
Specifically, 35,000 adult chinook should get up river to lay eggs to keep a healthy run going.
And sports fishermen aren?t the only obstacles for those 35,000.
The Yurok tribe which calls 47 miles of the Klamath home, is allowed to catch 50 percent of all the fish estimated to hit the river from the ocean ? over and above the 35,000 needed.
Tribal members are also allowed to use gillnets, driftnets and traps, whereas sport fishermen are not.
While Fish and Game wardens make sure non-tribal fishermen keep to the catch limits and follow the gear restrictions, Yurok tribal police watch over native fishermen.
Yurok tribal police chief Mike Ross said he has about six boats and 11 officers to patrol the river and the villages that line it within the rancheria.
?The Klamath River is actually part of the Yurok Rancheria, which has a lot to do with the rights that are given to the tribe,? Ross said.
Fish and Game wardens are often on the banks of the river outside the rancheria checking fishermen?s baskets and permits.