Friday, March 13, 2009

As expected, no commercial salmon fishing this year

Published: Friday, March 13, 2009 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 6:32 p.m.

The bleak outlook for salmon fishermen continued Thursday when federal regulators crafted three options for fishing seasons that all would prohibit commercial catches off California.

The professional fishermen, who already were banned from salmon fishing last year, said Thursday’s action was expected, but it means another season off the water.

“We’ll just suffer through another year like we did last year,” said Chris Lawson, president of the Fisherman’s Marketing Association of Bodega Bay. Fishermen, he said, will apply for a second year of federal disaster aid.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council put forth the three season options Thursday in Seattle. The council will recommend one of the options at its April meeting in Millbrae. Based on that recommendation, the U.S. Commerce Department will set the West Coast salmon season.

Ocean sports fishing also was banned last year off California. The prospects are little better this year.

One of the three options would allow for 10 days of recreational ocean fishing for Klamath River salmon in late summer north of Eureka, said Dave Bitts, a commercial fishermen from Eureka attending the Seattle meeting. The other two options allow no ocean sports fishing.

“It’ll definitely mean tightening our belts,” said Roger Thomas, president of the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association, a group of about 50 charter boat operators.

Nonetheless, Thomas and commercial fishermen said the council had little choice but to prohibit fishing in order to protect dwindling numbers of Sacramento River chinook salmon, for years the mainstay of the state’s salmon harvest.

Only about 66,000 chinook returned to spawn in the Sacramento last fall. This year, state and federal biologists predict that 122,196 adult salmon would return if all fishing is banned.

That would meet the federal government’s minimum goal of allowing 122,000 adults per year to return to the river.

Fishermen said they hope they will be able to fish again in 2010. And Bitts said this year they plan to push state and federal agencies to find out “what the heck is going wrong with those Sacramento River fish.”

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