OFF THE HOOK: Big abundance of Sacramento and Klamath Chinook forecasted this year
Federal fishery biologists predict that both Sacramento River and Klamath River fall Chinook salmon should be abundant in ocean and river fisheries this year.
However, anglers can expect to see some days off from the water on the ocean south of Point Arena to protect endangered winter run Chinook.
Federal and state fishery scientists released the abundance forecasts in the California Department of Wildlife's annual salmon information meeting in Santa Rosa on Feb. 28. Based on the data and input by recreational and commercial anglers, they will craft three recreational and commercial salmon season options for public review in March.
The salmon season setting options will be considered by the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Tacoma, Wash., from March 6-11.
The Sacramento River Fall Chinook ocean abundance is 834,200, slightly above last year's forecast, according to Dr. Michael O'Farrell of the National Marine Fisheries Service. The number is based on the number of jacks that showed the previous year.
"The abundance forecast is large," O'Farrell said. "The targeted escapement is at least 250,262 fish (a maximum 70 percent exploitation rate). This is unlikely to constrain 2013 fisheries."
If the 2012 regulations were implemented this year, an estimated 442,767 spawners would return.
Unfortunately, the winter run Chinook continues its struggle to survive — and the low numbers will impact fishing seasons below Point Arena. Spawner escapement of endangered winter Chinook salmon in 2012 was estimated to be only 2,529 adults and 145 jacks.
The service has determined the allowable age 3 winter run impact is 12.9 percent.
"With the 2012 regulations, there's a 15.9 percent age 3 impact rate prediction," O'Farrell said. "This will constrain the ocean commercial and recreational fisheries south of Point Arena."
O'Farrell said that this impact could not be met through just keeping the 24-inch size limit throughout the season.
"We calculate that this regulation change would shave off one percent, leaving us with a 14-percent impact," he said. "Increasing size limits alone is not sufficient to make the 12.9 percent impact limit."
He said that some area closures would be necessary to meet the 12.9 percent maximum impact.
"The impacts on winter run Chinook are highest in June, July and August, so closures then would allow for the least time off the water," O'Farrell said.
The recreational salmon seasons on the Sacramento, Feather, American and Mokelumne rivers are expected to be similar to last year's seasons.
During the meeting, state and federal fishery biologists went over data showing the strong salmon returns to the Sacramento and Klamath Basins.
A total of 283,871 hatchery and natural area fall run Chinook adults returned to the Sacramento River basin for spawning in 2012, according to Jennifer Simon of CDFW.
While this number exceeded the escapement goal of 245,800 hatchery and natural area adults, it is still 171,979 fish below the forecasted hatchery and natural area adult escapement of 455,800.
Fall Chinook returns to Sacramento River hatcheries in 2012 totaled 120,956 adults, while escapement to natural areas was 162,915 adults.
The estimated escapement to natural areas was 66,771 adults and 7,453 jacks on the Sacramento River, 57,507 adults and 6,142 jacks on the Feather River, 5,981 adults and 1,687 jacks on the Yuba River and 32,656 adults and 2,244 jacks on the American River.
The Coleman National Fish Hatchery reported 76,304 adults and 7,786 jacks, the Feather River Fish Hatchery reported 33,628 adults and 8,533 jacks and Nimbus Fish Hatchery reported 11,024 adults and 1,660 jacks.
Escapement of spring Chinook to the Sacramento River system in 2012 totaled 22,432 fish (jacks and adults). An estimated 18,694 fish returned to upper Sacramento River tributaries, including Butte, Chico, Battle and other creeks, while the remaining 3,738 fish returned to the Feather River Hatchery.
The harvest of adult fall Chinooks in the Sacramento River Basin was estimated at 81,136, with an additional 33,940 fish caught and released, according to Mike Brown of the CDFW.
The Klamath River abundance forecast is 727,682 fall run Chinooks, not the record abundance forecasted last year, but still above the long term average.
A record run of 302,108 fall adult Chinook salmon returned to the Klamath River in 2012, spurring an increase in bag limits to four salmon per angler.
O'Farrell said the potential spawner abundance forecast this year is large at 230,473 — and they must target an escapement of at least 73,751 fish (maximum exploitation rate).
However, Farrell noted that to target this escapement number, the sport regulations might have to conform closer to the typical recreational allocation.
The final ocean seasons will be selected at the PFMC meeting in Portland, Ore., on April 6-11, 2013. The California Fish and Game Commission is expected to review the ocean recreational seasons and choose the Central Valley in-river salmon season regulations in their meeting on April 17-18 in Santa Rosa.
For more information, go to www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/salmonpreseason.asp