Federal, state and tribal fishery officials are huddled this week in Sacramento to, among other things, devise a range of summertime fishery strategies for what is expected to be relatively bountiful salmon harvests off the coasts of Oregon, Washington and California this year.
The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 1-6 meeting in Seattle. A package of fishing alternatives, with varying quota levels for both recreational and commercial chinook and coho, is being developed during March 2-7 meetings in Sacramento. Those alternatives will be offered for public comment over the coming month.
The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council convenes meetings each year to review available data regarding anticipated, particularly, chinook and coho abundance to assess how much harvest should be allowed in the Pacific both south of Cape Falcon near Manzanita on Oregon’s north coast and north of Falcon, the strip of ocean from the cape north to the Washington-British Columbia border.
In its “Preseason Report I, Stock Abundance Analysis and Environmental Assessment Part 1 for 2012 Ocean Salmon Fishery Regulations,” the PFMC’s Salmon Technical Team provides 2012 salmon stock abundance forecasts, and an analysis of the impacts of 2011 management measures, or regulatory procedures, on the projected 2012 abundance. The analysis is intended to give perspective in developing 2012 management measures.
The report also constitutes the first part of an Environmental Assessment to comply with National Environmental Policy Act and to determine whether a federal action, in this case NOAA Fisheries’ ultimate approval of fisheries, will have significant impacts.
Two additional reports to be issued prior to the beginning of the ocean salmon season will analyze the impacts of the Council's proposed alternatives and adopted fishery management recommendations.
Fisheries “South of Falcon” look to be the best in years. A primary feeder has long been the Sacramento fall chinook stock, a population that declined severely during the middle of the past decade and forced fishing closures up and down the south Oregon and northern California coasts. Declines in Klamath River fall chinook returns mirrored those of the Sacramento River.
But his year the preseason abundance forecast is for 819,000 Sacramento “Index” fish, which would be slightly higher than last year’s 729,900 estimate, and nearly 20 times greater than the low point of 54,600 in 2008.
The Sacramento Index is the sum of Sacramento River fall chinook fishery harvest south of Cape Falcon between Sept. 1 and Aug. 31, impacts from non-retention ocean fisheries when they occur, the recreational harvest in the Sacramento River basin, and the adult spawner escapement.
The new forecast predicts Klamath River fall chinook ocean abundance will be 1.65 million, a huge total compared to a recent low point of only 110,000 in 2006.
Columbia River fall chinook stocks typically form the largest contributing stock group to Council chinook fisheries north of Cape Falcon. Abundance of these stocks is a major factor in determining impacts of fisheries on weak natural stocks critical to Council area management, particularly ESA-listed Lower Columbia River natural tule chinook.
The preliminary forecast for 2012 upriver bright fall chinook ocean escapement is 383,500 adults, about 109 percent of last year’s return and about 131 percent of the recent 10-year average of 268,860. The URBs are fish headed to spawning grounds and hatcheries upstream of Bonneville Dam. The projected escapement is well above conservation objective of 39,625 natural area spawners in the Hanford Reach, Yakima River, and areas above Priest Rapids Dam, and should allow opportunity for both ocean and in-river fisheries, the PFMC report says.
The preliminary forecast for 2012 ocean escapement of ESA-listed Snake River wild fall chinook is 15,100, about 101 percent of last year’s preliminary return estimate of 14,911.
Ocean escapement of Lower River wild fall chinook in 2012 is forecast at 16,200 adults, about 107 percent of last year’s forecast, and about 106 percent of the recent 10-year average return of 15,310. The forecast is greater than last year’s actual return, and the spawning escapement goal of 5,700 to southwest Washington’s North Fork Lewis River should be achieved this year.
The preliminary forecast for 2012 ocean escapement of Lower River hatchery fall chinook is for a return of 127,000 adults, about 116 percent of last year’s return and 135 percent of the recent 10-year average of 93,890.
A total of about 651,000 fall chinook are expected to return to the Columbia River this season -- a run size similar to the past couple year’s returns.
The majority of coho harvested in the “Oregon Production Index” area originate from stocks produced in rivers located within the OPI area (Leadbetter Point on the southern Washington coast , to the United States/Mexico border). The stocks include hatchery and natural production from the Columbia River, Oregon Coast and northern California, and are divided into the following components: (1) public hatchery (OPIH), (2) Oregon coastal natural (OCN), including river and lake components, (3) Lower Columbia natural (LCN), and (4) natural and hatchery stocks south of Cape Blanco, Ore., which include the Rogue, Klamath, and Northern California coastal stocks.
The 2012 preseason prediction for OCN (river and lake systems combined) is 291,000 coho, 117 percent of the 2011 preseason prediction and 93 percent of the 2011 postseason estimate. The lower Columbia estimate is 30,000, which is slightly down from the previous year.