Triplicate Staff

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


"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."