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West Coast families, tribes, and communities that rely on salmon fishing for their sustenance, once again are faced with bleak options for the 2010 salmon, although the outlook is improved over the 2009 season, especially for sport fisherman. Beleageured by previous poor runs on the Klamath and Sacramento Rivers, commercial salmon season could be closed for a third year in a row depending upon the decision of Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC).
The PFMC is meeting this week in Portland, Oregon “to address issues related to salmon, Pacific halibut, groundfish, coastal pelagic species, highly migratory species, and habitat matters”. The council is expected to make a decision regarding sport and commercial salmon seasons on April 14 or 15, 2010. According to the PFMC, salmon management is “challenging”:
Correctly judging the size of salmon populations is a constant challenge. Salmon are affected by many natural and human-caused factors, so their numbers can vary widely…
Salmon are affected by a wide variety of factors in the ocean and on land, including ocean and climatic conditions, dams, habitat loss, urbanization, agricultural and logging practices, water diversion, and predators (including humans).
The good news is that six times the number of fall-run chinook salmon are predicted to head up the Sacramento River in 2010, following last year’s “worst showing on record”. This increase translates into the PFMC including sport fishing in all three options and commercial fishing in two of the three options they are considering. SFGate reports:
The earliest proposed start for commercial fishing would be May 9 in the Monterey area, and the latest start would be in the Fort Bragg area on July 15, depending on what option is chosen next month…
The recommendations allow much more fishing in Oregon and Washington. Recreational anglers are likely to have a full season, from May 1 to the end of September, in Oregon because most of the salmon there comes from the comparatively abundant Klamath River system. Last fall marked the first time anyone can remember that more salmon returned to the Klamath to spawn than the Sacramento.
Further north in California, ocean sport fishing may last two months and commercial fisherman may face a very limited season or a complete closure again. Some fisherman suspect a limited season may be approved simply to avoid funding federal disaster assistance, which is not guaranteed even if the season is canceled again. The Eureka Times-Standard explains:
”We feel it is essential to have greater fishing opportunity in the northern region so that more plentiful stocks to the north are accessed while shifting effort away from Sacramento stocks,” wrote Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association President Aaron Newman to the PFMC recently…
But if the PFMC keeps an especially tight rein on commercial fishing, or cancels it altogether, the economic effects could be severe. Federal disaster assistance has been granted during the closures of 2006, 2008 and 2009 — totaling $230 million — and securing more in the event of a closure could be difficult.
Whatever option the PFMC recommends to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the outlook is improved for fisherman and more promising than last year. Furthermore, increased salmon runs provide optimism the fish populations are recovering; however, protection is still prescribed. Until rivers are healthy places for salmon to spawn, fisherman will bear the brunt of water diversion policies.