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The long-awaited recreational salmon fishing season will open in California’s ocean waters on Saturday, April 5, 2014, from Horse Mountain in Humboldt County (40° 05' 00" N. latitude) south to the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the California Fish and Game Commission and the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).
Federal fishery biologists estimate 933,932 fall-run Chinook salmon, including Sacramento River and Klamath River fish, will be in California coastal waters through the summer.
Central Valley fall Chinook, the driver of the West Coast salmon fishery, are forecast at 634,650, providing salmon fishing opportunity while allowing estimated spawning escapements over 300,000. The minimum conservation goal is 122,000 – 180,000 spawning adult salmon.
The ocean abundance forecast for Klamath River Fall Chinook is 299,282, “providing reasonable sport and commercial harvest while meeting the minimum natural spawning goal of 40,700, and the 2014 management objective of an ocean harvest rate of no more than 16 percent,” according to the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC).
Fishing in the Klamath Management Zone from Horse Mountain to the California/Oregon border will begin in May. The three season alternatives are May 1 through September 7, May 17 through September 7 and May 24 through September 1.
“Though lower than last year's estimate, there are still plenty of fish to allow for significant angling opportunities for salmon enthusiasts in all areas off California,” according to Barry Miller from the CDFW Marine Region.
Dan Wolford, former PFMC Chair and a member of the PFMC and board member of the Coastside Fishing Club commented after the March PFMC meeting, “I’m really pleased that the Council could accommodate the recreational and commercial fishermen. The returns on the Sacramento and Klamath last fall were sufficient to give a reasonably close to a full season. We will refine and select from the options. We will have at least one more good year of salmon fishing.”
“While we have heard a lot about the negative effects of the drought in California on juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean, the older salmon that have been in ocean for the past few years seem to be enjoying excellent growing conditions,” said Council Executive Director Donald McIsaac.
Final 2014 ocean salmon regulations will be decided next month by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) during their April 4-10 meeting in Vancouver, Wash. and by the Commission at their April 16-17 meeting in Ventura. Final sport regulations will be published in the CDFW 2014 Supplemental Fishing Regulations booklet available online and in booklet form in May.
Three alternatives are being considered for California's recreational ocean salmon seasons that will begin on or after May 1. The public is encouraged to comment on any of the proposed alternatives, which can be found on the PFMC website. (http://www.pcouncil.org/)
The daily bag limit will remain at two Chinook salmon, but the Commission recently took action to change the salmon possession limit. “Two daily bag limits are now allowed in possession when on land; however, when on a vessel in ocean waters, no person shall possess or bring ashore more than one daily bag limit,” the CDFW stated.
The minimum size limit is 20 inches total length between Horse Mountain and Point Arena (38° 57' 30" N. latitude). For areas south of Point Arena, the minimum size limit is 24 inches total length.
For anglers fishing north of Point Conception (34° 27' 00" N. latitude), no more than two single-point, single-shank barbless hooks shall be used and no more than one rod per angler when fishing for salmon or fishing from a boat with salmon on board.
In addition, barbless circle hooks are required when fishing with bait by any means other than trolling. The retention of coho salmon is prohibited in all ocean fisheries.
For complete ocean salmon regulations in effect during April, please visit CDFW's ocean salmon webpage or call the Ocean Salmon Regulations Hotline at (707) 576-3429.
Fishing groups were glad to hear that both recreational and commercial fishermen will be able to target salmon in California ocean waters this year, but were concerned about the impact of the drought, exacerbated by poor water management by the state and federal governments, on this and next year’s salmon seasons.
“We’re heartened to know we’ll go fishing this year, but the drought has us worried about next year and the year after,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association. “Drought conditions in the Central Valley rivers continue to harm baby salmon which are now trying to leave the rivers and get to the sea. GGSA is working with state and federal officials to address drought-related problems and hope to have positive results to announce soon.”
McManus noted that the 2014 salmon abundance forecast is more than 200,000 lower than the fish count last year, which topped out at 862,525. “There can be a lot of leeway between the forecast and the actual number of fish counted when all is said and done due to the inexact model used to calculate the run size,” he said. .
The 300,000 plus adult salmon that spawned naturally last year represent less than a third of the 990,000 natural spawning salmon required by federal law.
The Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) of 1992 required the doubling of all naturally-spawning anadomous Central Valley fish populations, including Chinook salmon, steelhead, white sturgeon, green sturgeon, American shad and striped bass, by 2002. Due to massive water exports and the mismanagement of federal and state dams and reservoirs, this doubling mandate has been never fulfilled.
“The main reason for failure to achieve the legally required number is the degradation of the Central Valley freshwater habitat needed by the salmon. The degradation is tied to diversion of water supplies and human modification of the rivers. Complying with the law and producing 990,000 naturally spawning salmon would swell the value of California’s salmon fishery to an estimated $5.4 billion,” said McManus.
The 2014 forecast compares to 2012 when the Sacramento River produced around 650,000 adult salmon. Between the sport and commercial fishery, a little over half of them were taken in 2012 with over 319,000 making it to the river to spawn.
“This could be the last decent salmon season for a few years. Next year we’ll start seeing the real cost of the drought on returning adult salmon,” said McManus. “It didn’t rain at all in the spring of 2013 when 2015’s fish were babies trying to make it to sea. Conditions were harsh and many were likely killed. Long term, we’ve got to do better as a state managing our water supplies so we don’t leave our salmon high and dry when supplies get tight.”
In addition to working to address damage caused by drought, McManus said GGSA is promoting a “long term plan to rebuild California’s Central Valley salmon stocks.” The 26-project plan would restore more natural river and Delta conditions needed by salmon.
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