Fishing for full seasons

Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Coalition calls for more time to catch salmon

Sport ocean salmon fishing was once an economic boon for port communities up and down the North Coast. After the collapse of many salmon populations in the Pacific, fishing advocates have to fight for what limited seasons they can get.

Although prospects are good for a relatively full season this year, a regional group of stakeholders are making sure the fishing season decision-makers know the economic significance of salmon fishing to port cities like Crescent City.

The Klamath Management Zone Fisheries Coalition (KMZFC) was formed in the 1970s to represent interests in the Klamath Management Zone (KMZ), a region of water centered on the mouth of the Klamath, including the port towns of Crescent City, Brookings and Eureka.

Those towns should be granted what counts as a full season nowadays,

based on this year's count of jacks (salmon less than 2 years old, which

are the basis for determining salmon abundance) that returned to the

Klamath and Sacramento rivers, according to the KMZFC.

There were 74,222 jacks that returned to spawn on the Klamath River,

where only natural salmon are counted. On the Sacramento River, where

hatchery fish are also counted, there were 85,719 jacks.

This week, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife released

projections of 1.6 million chinook salmon returning to the Klamath River

- a six-fold increase over last year's numbers. The Sacramento River

is projected to see 819,400 chinook return this year - four times last

year's amount.

Ben Doane, vice-chairman of the KMZFC, predicted that with those jack

numbers, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), which crafts

the season, will give sport fishermen a decent season this year.

Doane will be representing the KMZFC from Mar. 2andndash;7 at the PFMC's

meeting, where he will advocate a salmon season from at least Memorial

Day to Labor Day, with fishing allowed seven days a week.

"It looks like the 2012 season will be what we'd consider a full season, but 2013 is definitely in question," Doane said.

Ted Souza, who works on the fisheries committee of Friends of Del

Norte, had doubts about how many fish will really be out there to catch.

"(They) gave us a season last year, but there wasn't any fish," Souza said.

Souza remembers that in 1972, there were 528 sport salmon fishing

boats in the Crescent City harbor. Now there's less than 40. In the

1970s, during the Fourth of July weekend, trucks waiting to launch their

boats into the harbor would be backed up on Anchor Way all the way to

Highway 101, Souza said.

Crescent City Harbormaster Richard Young also remembers the good ol'

days when the strong sport ocean salmon fishing industry was

"absolutely" important to Crescent City.

As recently as 1998, the harbor raked in $74,217 in slip fees for the

outer boat basin, which is primarily used by sport fishermen. In 2006,

that number had dropped to $21,856.

As the seasons became more and more restrictive over the years, people moved on to work in other industries.

"It's been gone so long, people have adjusted to do other things," Young said.

A line graph showing recreational salmon landings in Crescent City

shows about 40,000 salmon landed in 1989 and then a steady drop that has

almost flat- lined in the last ten years.

Young is heavily involved in the KMZFC when he isn't recovering from

tsunamis damaging the harbor. The KMZFC was formed to keep the salmon

fishing industry from completely dying in the area, he said.

"The idea was to have a voice so we don't get over-shouted at the

meetings that set the season, and to argue to keep fisheries alive in

our area," Young said.

The KMZFC was formed in the wake of the creation of the Klamath

Management Zone, the area from Humbug Mountain in Oregon to Horse

Mountain in California, where many salmon that spawn in the Klamath are

predicted to be.

The KMZFC was created "in an attempt to allow fishing of the Klamath

River stocks when there was available fish and to drive the economics of

the region," Doane said, adding that many of the business groups that

used to be represented in the KMZFC have dropped out after decades of

stinted seasons.

"We represent not only fishermen but fishing-related businesses, and

what we're trying to do is maximize the amount of time that fishermen

can pursue the salmon," Doane said.

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association wrote an

article in 2001 titled "Why the Klamath Basin matters." The article

highlights the steady downward trend of Klamath River salmon. It states:

"Season cutbacks and reductions became the rule within KMZ ports as

fisheries managers were forced to keep pace with these declines. In the

past 20 years especially, the end result has been systematic economic

strangulation of KMZ coastal ports, culminating in almost complete

closures by the early 1990s."

Poor returns of salmon in recent years prompted fisheries managers to

completely close recreational and commercial ocean salmon fishing in

2008 and 2009 - the largest ocean salmon fishery closure on record.

After a couple partially open seasons, the KMZFC has been quiet in

recent years, but the group met recently and decided to forge ahead and

send a representative to upcoming meetings of the PFMC, which decides

the salmon season.

"This group is suffering from a pretty good year," said Richard Heap,

a member of the KMZFC who also sits on the Salmon Advisory Subpanel

(SAS) of the PFMC. Heap said the reputation of two-state KMZFC is

respected by fisheries managers. "This organization is on the radar andhellip;

and that's worth something."

Doane said having Heap as a KMZFC member is a major benefit.

"It provides us with a contact we might not otherwise have," Doane

said. The California representative on the SAS is from the Bay Area.

"His allegiance lies a little farther south of the KMZ," Doane said.

Sometimes the interests of fishermen in the far-flung areas of

Northern California and Southern Oregon are downplayed when the salmon

seasons are decided.

"We're like the bastard children of Oregon and California when it

comes to representation at the state level," Doane said. "We go

representing the state of Jefferson."

The audio and the presentation from the March 2andndash;7 PFMC meeting can be

streamed online at

www.pcouncil.org/2012/02/19433/march-council-meeting-internet-audio-stream/.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

Reach Adam Spencer at aspencer@triplicate.com .

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