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Sac salmon winter-run needs more help

04/30/15 -- Commercial salmon fisheries off most of California will open May 1, though seasons for both commercial and sport fisheries will be shorter in several areas this year. The California Department of Wildlife (CDFW) and state fishing industry representatives of the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) worked together to recommend additional actions to protect endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook, which have been impacted by California’s severe drought.

“We needed to do more than what the bare minimum of the law required,” said Marci Yaremko, CDFW’s representative to the PFMC. “Methods used to forecast salmon stock abundance or run sizes don’t yet incorporate many of the environmental variables or other data streams we believe are indicative of poor salmon survival.”

The sport and commercial fishing seasons approved by the PFMC are expected to reduce impacts to winter-run Chinook to 17.5 percent, less than the maximum allowable impact rate of 19 percent prescribed by the National Marine Fisheries Service, pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. In recent years, federal guidance aimed at protecting winter-run Chinook from ocean fisheries has come largely in the form of this allowable rate cap. The rate limits the incidental harvest of winter-run Chinook, which co-occur in the ocean with other healthy salmon runs that fishermen are looking to target.

“Looking at the rate cap alone did not seem to be enough,” Yaremko said.

Earlier this year, CDFW scientists and managers examined data from dockside and at-sea fishery sampling programs to look for trends, with the goal of designing fishing seasons to avoid times and areas where contact with winter-run Chinook is most likely. During their time in the ocean, winter-run Chinook appear to be concentrated south of Pigeon Point, especially south of Point Sur, during the late summer and early fall. These analyses prompted CDFW to recommend shortened fishing seasons and size limit restrictions in some high-risk times and areas to the PFMC, in order to minimize the chance of harvesting adult winter-run Chinook. The measures also are expected to reduce catch-and-release mortality of sub-adult fish, which become susceptible to fisheries in the fall.

“Throughout this process we have been concerned about the impacts of the drought, and in particular the effects the drought is having on our salmon stocks,” said Dan Wolford, President of the Coastside Fishing Club and the PFMC member representing California recreational fishing interests. “With the loss of the 2014 winter-run brood year it was apparent that we had to take extraordinary measures to help recover these fish.”

Commercial salmon trollers were also in support of reducing fishery impacts and were “prepared to follow CDFW’s recommendation of a maximum 17.9 percent impact rate for this year,” as stated by Dave Bitts, California commercial representative on the PFMC’s Salmon Advisory Subpanel and President of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

From Pigeon Point to Point Sur, the commercial season opens May 1 and runs through Aug. 15, which reduces fishing opportunity by approximately six weeks in August and September. From Point Sur to the U.S.-Mexico Border, the season is open May 1 through July 31, a reduction of almost nine weeks in August and September.

In the sport fishery from Pigeon Point to Point Sur, the season runs through Sept. 7, reducing fishing opportunity by approximately four weeks in September and October, while from Point Sur to the U.S.-Mexico Border, the sport fishery runs through July 19, reducing the season by approximately 11 weeks between July and October. The San Francisco (Point Arena to Pigeon Point) sport fishery closes at the end of October, reducing fishing opportunity by eight days in November in that area.

For complete ocean salmon regulations, please visit CDFW’s ocean salmon webpage, or call the Ocean Salmon Regulations Hotline at (707) 576-3429.

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