Though Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association representatives say fishermen statewide are optimistic about the California commercial fishery, Crescent City trollers are still getting a handle on the season.
Commercial salmon fishermen in Crescent City began their season on Saturday with a quota of 20 chinook per day and a monthly quota of 2,500, according to Crescent City Harbor Commissioner and Del Norte Fisherman's Association president Rick Shepherd.
The 20-fish-per-day quota and monthly quota of 2,500 applies to trawlers fishing between the Oregon border and the Humboldt South Jetty, said Shepherd, whose boat is one of roughly six in Crescent City that fish for chinook. The fleet is able to ply its trade on the ocean five days a week Friday through Tuesday. While a few fish have been brought into Eureka, so far no one has brought any salmon into the local harbor, Shepherd said.
"We started last year at 20 fish per day and then we weren't catching the quota and they increased it," he said, referring to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "It's the same as what's going on this year."
Meanwhile, scientists from Humboldt State University are collecting data to determine if the fish have their origins in the Sacramento, Klamath or Rogue rivers, Shepherd said. Their data also helps determine if the salmon brought into the port are from a fish hatchery, he said.
According to Shepherd, that data is at least 30 years old and will help CDFW officials determine if they can institute a larger quota for the commercial fleet.
"The reason we haven't had a season in our area, in Crescent City and Eureka, is they are assuming there's a high number of Klamath River fish in this area and I don't think that's correct," said Shepherd, who has been fishing for 45 years. "Klamath River fish don't just hang around the river. We catch them clear as far as Alaska. They catch them everywhere on the ocean."
Between the Oregon border and the Humboldt South Jetty, commercial fishermen will be able to catch 2,500 chinook from June 1-June 30; 2,500 from July 1-July 30; and 2,000 from Aug. 2-Aug. 31. There is a minimum size limit of 27 total inches in length. An area of 12 square miles around the mouth of the Klamath River as well as the mouth of the Smith River is closed to fishing, according to CDFW regulations.
Fishermen statewide have been optimistic about the commercial season so far, according to Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. Fish have been showing up as far south as Santa Barbara. Oppenheim credited good ocean conditions for the salmon run's abundance.
"Fish need water and the rains of 2017 have certainly provided it," he said, adding that fishermen are currently going after chinook that were born in 2017.
The offspring of chinook that swam to their natal streams in 2016 took advantage of the wet season and low water temperatures and made it to the ocean, making their survival far greater than for juveniles in previous years, Oppenheim said. They were then carried downstream by extraordinary flooding events in the Central Valley and on the coast, he said.
The success of the commercial fishery on the ocean may also mean good things for the in-river fishery this fall, Oppenheim said. But 2020 may bring problems, he said.
"Although we did have a pretty wet winter, we were also dealing with an adult population of fish that produced the baby fish that we're going to be catching when they're all grown up next year," he said. "Those populations were severely depressed because of the drought. Despite the fact that we had good river conditions, you can't produce a good new cohort of fish if you don't have their parents in high abundance."
According to a PCFFA press release, the robust salmon season is doubly welcome since a settlement agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the CDFW over whale and sea turtle entanglements prompted an April 15 end to the Dungeness crab season.
The season ending three months early resulted in a loss of millions of dollars since fishermen were unable to provide crab for Easter, Mother's Day, graduation and other celebrations, according to the federation.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .