By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Local fishermen have been preparing fishing gear and painting their boats at Crescent City Harbor as season nears and as the Pacific Fishery Management Council this week considers the season's limits.
After debating three proposed options in Seattle, Wash., the council will likely post a draft of the rules and season structure on its Website Thursday or Friday.
The rules will aim to offer fishing seasons that meet biological allocation requirements, with a key factor in northern California's Klamath Management Zone. At least 35,000 of the Klamath River salmon stock must return to spawn in the river in the fall and fishermen can catch no more than 16 percent of the river's four-year-old salmon from the ocean. But the fish migrate along the coast, running into other populations.
"It's the one that usually limits fishing before anything else," Chuck Tracy, salmon staff officer for the Pacific Fishery Management Council, said of the stock.
That's what concerns local fishermen, after last year's salmon fishing closure along 700 miles of California and Oregon coast.
That season shut down two weeks after Christophe Nicolas invested $28,000 in his boat, the Kelly-L. He headed to Alaskan waters to fish for salmon and make a living.
This year, Nicolas aims to fish south of Point Arena for the season.
"I'm gonna see what they give us," he said of the council's decisions.
Depending on restrictions, he may head the Kelly-L to Alaska in June again, instead.
"Cause it is wide open," Nicolas said of those fishing limits. "If I can make more money up there, I'll go up there."
Others wonder if catching too many fish will limit future seasons along the coast, especially with the Klamath River fish.
"I'm very happy, I hope we get the whole season," local fisherman Rick Shepherd said of the proposed options. "But there's just some concern that it goes from one extreme to the next."
Shepherd travels to Oregon to fish, where a season could extend for the next six months.
"I'd hate to see a season this year and then no season next year," Shepherd said.
The optimistic options for the season may have attracted more salmon fishermen to the Crescent City Harbor, where Mike Sullivan has watched crews prepare more than a dozen boats.
"It'll be way better than last year," Sullivan said of the rules. "I'm looking forward to it."
Tracy estimates about 1,200 active ocean commercial fishing vessels in California, Oregon and Washington, a number that fluctuates with fish abundance and harvest limits.
In 2006, only about 475 boats operated out of California, down about 200 from 2005.
"It'll go back up," Tracy predicted of the state's fleet this year. "There'll be more interest."
Sullivan, who has fished for salmon for 30 years from his 38-foot Star Lady, plans to start around Santa Cruz, then head north or south, depending on fish reports.
"Wherever there's fish and wherever it's open," he said.
Local fisherman Bill Long has prepared his boat, Two's Co., at the harbor.
An average salmon fishing year brings $40,000 to $60,000 in income as he sells his catch at ports along the coast.
Long pointed to his regular investment of about $1,200 in boat preparation work and how costs for larger boats can top $8,000.
"That's what hurt last year some of these expenses and nothing coming in," he said.
Long plans to start May 1 at Point Arena and head south.
"If the fish are there, we stay there. If they're not, we move on," he said.
He'll probably spend much of June and July off Oregon's coast.
"Anything's better than last year," Long said of restrictions.
To check the latest on the Pacific Fishery Management Council as the agency this week considers limits on the salmon fishing season, visit ww.pcouncil.org.