OFF THE HOOK: Preliminary 2012 salmon catch numbers show big improvement over 2011
The Pacific Fishery Management Council recently issued preliminary counts of how many Chinook salmon have been caught by recreational and commercial anglers in the 2012 ocean season.
The counts are a big improvement over 2011 numbers, but the catch to date is considered only an average one by recent historical standards.
Nearly 300,000 salmon were taken off the California coast by both the recreational and commercial salmon fishing fleets as of Aug. 31.
Commercial fishermen landed 172,914 king salmon, about two and a half times as many as they caught in 2011. However, that was only about one-fourth of their average harvest over the past 40 years, according to a news release from the Golden Gate Salmon Association.
Recreational fishermen caught 111,196 fish, more than two times the 49,020 taken last year.
Representatives of fishery conservation groups reacted cautiously but optimistically to the release of preliminary salmon catch data.
"We're happy to have had a decent season, but unless we can maintain restrictions on delta water pumping, we could soon be back to low salmon returns," said GGSA president Victor Gonella. "It is too early to judge whether preseason forecasts estimating 880,000 adult Sacramento River salmon in the ocean may have been a bit optimistic."
The counting of salmon returning to Central Valley salmon hatcheries has only just begun and will continue through the end of December. Anglers have experienced good to excellent salmon fishing to date on the Sacramento and Feather rivers.
"Rebounding salmon runs all along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California all benefited from increased fresh water flows won in court rulings," according to the GGSA. "Klamath River salmon, estimated to number close to 1.6 million, were helped by a 2006 court ruling ordering more water released from upriver reservoirs to help salmon. Likewise, Columbia and Snake River salmon benefited from a 2005 court order mandating greater salmon water releases."
In California, a 2008 court ruling won by salmon advocates resulted in additional water flows for salmon that supported this year's returns, the GGSA stated. Other factors including an apparent upswing in food available to young salmon in the ocean likely also contributed to this year's resurgence.
"More salmon translate directly into more good, family wage jobs throughout the west coast," said GGSA chairman and party boat captain Roger Thomas.
"Recreational salmon fishermen enjoyed the good ocean fishing we had in the early and mid season," said GGSA and Coastside Fishing Club board member Marc Gorelnik. "Our fishing supports thousands of jobs and provides our families with one of California's finest foods. It's essential that we do everything we can to make sure freshwater resources in Northern California are managed in a balanced way that always leaves enough to support a strong salmon fishery."
Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and GGSA board member, said, "The commercial salmon fishing fleet is still suffering from the tremendous hit we took prior to the 2008 court order requiring more water be set aside for salmon in our rivers and the bay delta. This year our commercial fishermen began to regain a little ground with some decent catches and prices."
Prior to major increase in freshwater diversions from the Bay-Delta Estuary that began in the early 2000s, commercial salmon fishermen regularly landed in excess of 300,000 to 400,000 salmon annually. Salmon advocates say that increased water exports from state and federal Delta pumping facilities over the last decade drove Central Valley salmon, the driver of West Coast salmon fisheries, into steep decline.
"Looking ahead, the Supervisors in Humboldt County have taken steps to keep the proposed peripheral canal or canal from damaging Klamath River salmon runs," according to GGSA. "Canal proponents hope to capture and ship even more Northern California water south to agricultural operations in the San Joaquin Valley."
Some of this water could come from the Klamath River's main tributary, the Trinity River. The Supervisors have asked the state for assurances this won't happen.
"Taking any more water out of the Klamath could lead to a repeat of the disastrous fish kill that occurred in the Klamath in 2002 when upstream agriculture operations withheld too much water," the GGSA noted.
The Golden Gate Salmon Association is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fisherman, businesses, restaurants, tribes, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. Their mission is to protect and restore California's largest salmon producing habitat comprised of the Central Valley river's that feed the Bay-Delta ecosystem and the communities that rely on salmon as a long-term, sustainable, commercial, recreational and cultural resource.
Currently, California's salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in economic activity annually and about half that much in economic activity and jobs in Oregon.