By Andy Martin
While the early forecasts are not good, Crescent City ocean salmon anglers will get their first look at possible summer saltwater seasons Thursday during a meeting at the harbor district office.
The Klamath Management Zone Fisheries Coalition, made up of ports and harbors from Eureka to Gold Beach, Ore., will hold a meeting at 10 a.m. at the Crescent City Harbor District office. During the meeting, sport fishing representatives from Crescent City, Eureka, Trinidad, Brookings and Gold Beach, Ore., will discuss their strategy for 2008 ocean salmon season options.
The coalition appears before the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which meets March 8-14 in Sacramento to set salmon season options for this summer. The council then meets again in April to adopt the seasons after a public comment period.
Crescent City is part of the Klamath Management Zone, a stretch of ocean from Horse Mountain, near Eureka, to Humbug Mountain, just south of Port Orford, Ore. The federal government sets ocean salmon seasons in the zone with specific guidelines for protecting Klamath River fall Chinook.
The season-setting process is more complicated this year because of last year's horrible salmon return to the Sacramento River.
For the first time in 15 years, biologists estimate fewer than 100,000 fall Chinook returned to the Sacramento River last year. Even worse, the jack count was only 2,000, compared to an average of 40,000. The previous low jack count was 10,000. Jacks are early returning salmon that indicate how many adult salmon are generally in the ocean and will return the following year.
More than 60 percent of the salmon caught in the ocean off of California and Oregon are Sacramento River fish, and with fewer Sacramento fish in the ocean, more Klamath River fish will likely be caught. That creates problems for fishery manager who are mandated to protect Klamath fish and set seasons that will ensure at least 35,000 adult fall Chinook return to the Klamath to spawn.
Fishing advocates will wrestle with how to give the entire Klamath Management Zone the longest season possible this summer while still conserving Sacramento and Klamath salmon populations. Generally, ocean fishing is best early in the season out of Eureka, good in Crescent City in July, and better in Brookings in August. One option being discussed before Thursday's meeting is pushing for a season that will last two weeks in July and another week in August, with an additional week in September.
Once the Pacific Fishery Management Council considers season options, it will be lobbied by Bay Area anglers and charters, which will want a longer season out of the Golden Gate, where the highest Sacramento impacts occurs, while the commercial troll groups will make a case for longer seasons as well. The council will divide up the total allocation for the Sacramento and Klamath rivers between recreational and commercial anglers in all parts of California and Oregon, then also make an allocation for anglers in the Klamath itself and Indian gill netters.
There is a possibility of no ocean salmon fishing this summer.
Outdoors writer Andy Martin, a former editor of Fishing & Hunting News, runs a halibut charter boat in the Gulf of Alaska during the summer and guides on America's Wild Rivers Coast during the winter. His Web site is www.wildriversfishing.com.