Though the Klamath-Trinity spring chinook is a candidate for protection under the California Endangered Species Act, state Fish and Game commissioners last week approved a shorter sport fishing season with a reduced bag and possession limit.

Commissioners unanimously approved the new emergency regulations, which opens the Klamath-Trinity spring chinook sport fishery on July 1. Anglers will have a bag limit of one fish per day with two in possession.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Fisheries Branch Chief Kevin Shaffer presented the proposed emergency regulations at the commission’s meeting in Santa Monica on April 17. The department proposed reopening the Klamath-Trinity spring chinook sport fishery after meeting with industry representatives and Siskiyou and Del Norte County elected officials, including District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard last month.

The Fish and Game Commission’s approval of the new emergency regulations comes about two months after it had recommended the Klamath-Trinity spring chinook as a candidate for listing under the California Endangered Species Act. This recommendation, a result of a 2017 petition from the Karuk Tribe, afforded spring chinook the protections of a listed species and closed the sport fishery.

According to the department’s staff report, those who attended the meeting and other public testimony received through letters and email addressed the potential economic impact that would come from closing the spring chinook fishery while commissioners consider whether or not to classify the species as endangered.

Howard said the economic impact resulting from a full closure of the fishery would have been between $500,000 and $600,000.

“That’s the estimated impact from a reduction in lodging, a reduction in fuel, a reduction in tackle, a reduction in guide services,” Howard said, “all the spin off and ancillary pieces of everybody that comes up to fish between then and Aug. 15; until it transitions to the fall-run chinook salmon fishery.”

According to CDFW Director Charlton Bonham, under California Fish and Game Code 2084, the Fish and Game Commission can authorize the take of a fish under consideration for CESA listing by hook and line for sport “provided doing so is consistent with the chapter.”

Bonham noted opening the sport fishery on July 1 and providing a smaller bag and possession limit would still create protection for spring chinook. Commissioners should also consider whether there is a real economic impact as a result of closing the fishery, Bonham said.

“My memory of the petitioner, the Karuk Tribe, at your last meeting was them expressly testifying to you that in their judgment, recreational/commercial fishing isn’t a limiting factor relative to springers in this system,” Bonham said.

Craig Tucker, natural resources policy advocate for the Karuk Tribe, noted there are two types of spring chinook salmon, those that are raised in the Trinity River hatchery and a wild population that travels up the Klamath to the Salmon River near Soames Bar to spawn. The tribe counts the wild population by hand, Tucker said, and in the last two years determined there have been 166 individual fish.

Tucker noted stress on Klamath-Trinity spring chinook comes from water diversions and dams on the river, stating the Karuk Tribe supports the Klamath River Renewal Corporation’s efforts to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.

“We think there can be pressure on hatchery fish, but these wild fish are precious and we need to make sure we don’t allow fishing pressure on these wild fish,” Tucker said.

The Karuk Tribe sent a letter to the Department of Fish and Wildlife on April 3, requesting the fishery be closed from the Klamath River mouth to the confluence of the Trinity River from Jan. 1 to July 15. The letter cited Carlos Garza, of the National Marine Fisheries Service Southwest Science Center, who conducted a study showing that no spring chinook were detected entering the Klamath River estuary after July 15.

However in his report to the commission, Shaffer said he hasn’t seen Garza’s data. The department has five years’ worth of studies stating that the vast majority of “natural spawners” get to their natal streams by July 1. This data is available to the public as well as the petitioners, he said.

“It’s not that we’re not going to evaluate the 2015 information that was referenced in the letter to the department and the petition, we just haven’t,” Shaffer said “One of the points I made to everyone, including the co-petitioners is that it’s important to make a decision based on information everyone had.”

After hearing from sport fishing and tourism representatives, Shaffer noted the July 1 opener was important because many travel to the Klamath-Trinity to fish on Independence Day. Some will stay to take advantage of the fall-run chinook fishery, which starts Aug. 15.

Howard called the Fish and Game Commission’s decision to reopen the fishery a “great celebration for us.”

“It’s where we could compromise with the petitioners, the Karuk Tribe, and come up with a proposal for the Fish and Game Commission that was unprecedented,” he said. “I hope the Commission uses this as a model for future listings, especially for fisheries that they could continue to do a hook and line fishery on that fish if the science is available.”

For more information about the Fish and Game Commission’s decision, visit www.fgc.ca.gov.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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