It looks like there will be no ocean salmon season for Northern California in 2017.

The Pacific Fisheries Management Council released three alternatives for each of the different zones on the west coast on Monday but each of the alternatives for Horse Mountain north to the California-Oregon border suggest a full closure.

“Returns of spawning Klamath River fall Chinook are projected to be the lowest on record in 2017 due to drought, disease, poor ocean conditions, and other issues,” a press release from the PFMC says.

Officials have been concerned about the fall chinook salmon on the Kalmath River for several years. Closing ocean salmon fishing may help the chinook run this fall, but PFMC Deputy Director Mike Burner said even that may not be enough to meet the council’s management objectives.

“Even in the absence of fishing, if the forecast is right, the amount of spawners we are going to get this year are below our goals,” Burner told the Triplicate on Monday. “Klamath fall chinook have been kind of depressed the last few years and part of the way we assess the stock’s status is we take a three-year geometric mean of its last three years of escapement. If that falls below our objectives then we start looking at the reasons why.

“The stock can be declared overfished, we start talking about rebuilding plans and measures to get the stock back up to more sustainable level,” Burner said. “It looks pretty likely, given this year’s very low forecast and the last couple years of lower returns, that the stock is as we speak approaching an overfished condition and if things come back as expected this fall there is a pretty good chance that we will be talking about declaring this stock in an overfished state next year.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website: “When NOAA Fisheries determines that a stock is overfished, the relevant regional fishery management council must implement a plan to rebuild it to the level that can support maximum sustainable yield (MSY). A typical rebuilding plan allows fishing to continue, but at a reduced level so that the stock will increase to the target level that supports MSY.”

Recently, the PFMC employed such plans to rebuild the canary groundfish population on the Northern California and Southern Oregon coasts.

“For canary rockfish, fishery managers revised catch limits and used fishery closures to reduce catch while the stock rebuilt. Managers also reduced fishing access to other species often found in the same place as canary rockfish,” according to the NOAA Fisheries website.

While officials are starting to see some success with the canary rockfish population locally, Burner said salmon populations may be a little bit more complex.

“The term (overfished) is a little bit of a misnomer, particularly with salmon, because there are so many factors that contribute to their population numbers from ocean conditions to the drought that California has been experiencing,” Burner said. “There are a lot of factors other than fishing that contribute to its low abundance. The term, ‘overfished’ is a national-level policy trigger that is applied to most all of our general fishing objectives. So even though it is called an ‘overfished condition’ there are a lot of factors.”

The full list of ocean salmon season alternatives for the entire PFMC can be found online at http://www.pcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/E6a_Sup_STT_Table_2_Rec_Alts_2017_031317.pdf.

Shrinking season

When the preliminary season alternatives were released last week, the zone from Horse Mountain to the California-Oregon border had three restrictive alternatives, though each would have allowed for roughly two weeks total for salmon fishing on the ocean.

Why the change?

“We started (last) week with proposals that come from the salmon advisory subpanel, which is made up of industry folks for the most part,” Burner explained. “They put regulations in front of the council that they would like to see, no knowing exactly how that will stack up against our management objectives and our spawning escapement.”

Burner said those proposals then go to a technical team made up of scientists and stock forecasters.

“They make estimates of what sort of impacts by stock are going to occur based on the seasons that they are given,” Burner said. “Throughout the week it kind of goes back and forth and they look at the results. In those early runs most of the alternatives didn’t meet our minimum escapement goals for fall run Klamath chinook, so we had to trim back those seasons a little bit to get to where we ended.”

Meetings

The PFMC will host several meetings to collect public input regarding which alternatives are favored by fishermen. Meetings are scheduled for March 27 in Westport, Washington and Coos Bay, Oregon and on March 28 in Fort Bragg.

“The Council will consult with scientists, hear public comment, revise preliminary decisions and choose a final alternative at its meeting April 6-11 in Sacramento,” the PFMC press release says.

All Council meetings are open to the public.

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