Encouraged by predictions of plentiful salmon returns along the West Coast, the Pacific Fishery Management Council on Wednesday released three alternatives for managing salmon fisheries this summer along the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.
After hearing public comment on the alternatives over the next few weeks, the Council will make a final recommendations at their next meeting in Seattle on April 1-6. The recreational, commercial and tribal fishing allocations for areas from the United States-Canada border down to central California must ultimately be approved by NOAA Fisheries Service.
Details of the recreational, commercial and tribal alternatives can be found at:
The PFMC’s web page:
The three ocean salmon-fishing options approved by the PFMC anticipate an abundance of chinook in the ocean, but a down year for Columbia River hatchery coho salmon. The PFMC, made up of federal, state and tribal officials, establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.
“It is great to see such a nice rebound for California salmon populations and the prospect of good fishing in 2012,” said Council chairman Dan Wolford.
Salmon fisheries in California and Oregon – the so-called “south of Falcon” area -- look particularly promising, due strong salmon survival resulting from good river conditions, and excellent ocean conditions.
Sacramento, Klamath, and Rogue River chinook returns are expected to be significantly higher than during the past several years, and Oregon Coast coho also have a strong forecast. South of Falcon includes salmon fishing zones from Cape Falcon on the north Oregon coast down along the coast of California.
However, fishery alternatives there are necessarily constrained to protect Endangered Species Act-listed Sacramento River winter chinook and Columbia River coho stocks.
North of Cape Falcon – from the cape on Oregon’s northern coast near Manzanita to the U.S.-Canada border -- returns look similar to last year.
The Oregon Production Index coho forecast is 632,700 fish, about the same as last year. Columbia River hatchery coho returns in 2011 were larger than forecast, but still below average.
Columbia River chinook returns were generally lower than forecast, but still above historical averages last year.
An estimated 317,000 coho also are expected to return to the Columbia River this year, about 45,000 fish below last year's projection. Columbia River coho also account for a significant portion of the ocean catch.
About 742,500 summer and fall chinook are expected to return to the Columbia River this year compared to an actual return in 2011 of 684,400. The 2012 Columbia River tule chinook forecasts are mixed, but overall above average. The forecast for Oregon coastal natural coho is similar to last year’s actual return and the highest forecast since 1996.
Washington coast coho stock forecasts are generally higher than last year, although Puget Sound coho forecasts are generally lower.
The three options establish a framework for developing fishing opportunities on healthy wild and hatchery stocks while meeting conservation goals for weak salmon populations, said Phil Anderson, WDFW director.
"Chinook salmon abundance in the ocean is expected to look much like it did last season, when we had a strong return to the Columbia River," said Anderson. "The challenge this year will be to ensure we meet our conservation goals for coho while still providing a full season of meaningful fishing opportunities in the ocean."
Anderson, who represents WDFW on the management council, said two of the North of Falcon options include recreational mark-selective fisheries for hatchery chinook that would begin in mid-June. If implemented, mark-selective fisheries for hatchery chinook would open ahead of the traditional recreational fishing season for the third straight year.
Mark-selective fisheries allow anglers to catch and keep abundant hatchery salmon, which are marked with a missing adipose fin, but require that they release wild salmon.
About 651,000 fall chinook are expected to return to the Columbia River this season, a run size similar to the last couple year's returns. A significant portion of that run -- nearly 191,000 - is expected to be lower river hatchery chinook, which traditionally have been the backbone of the recreational ocean chinook fishery.
-- Sport Season Alternatives for North of Falcon
Ocean sport fishery alternatives north of Cape Falcon in Oregon and off the Washington coast have seasons similar to 2011, with mark-selective coho quotas ranging from 54,600 to 71,400 that start in late June and run into September (last year, the quota was 67,200 marked coho).
For chinook salmon, quotas range from 35,500 chinook to 51,500 chinook (last year, the quota was 64,600 chinook). Two alternatives include a mark-selective chinook fishery in June.
The three options announced Wednesday establish parameters for state and tribal fishery managers in designing this year's fishing seasons. The recreational fishing options are:
Option 1 -- 51,500 chinook and 71,400 coho;
Option 2 -- 45,500 chinook and 63,000 coho; and
Option 3 -- 35,500 chinook and 54,600 coho.
The PFMC last year adopted recreational ocean fishing quotas of 33,700 chinook and 67,200 coho salmon.
Under each option for this year, the ocean recreational fishery off of Washington would vary:
Option 1: The recreational salmon fishing season would begin with a mark-selective fishery for hatchery chinook June 9 in Marine Area 1 (Ilwaco), and June 16 in marine areas 2 (Westport/Ocean Shores), 3 (LaPush) and 4 (Neah Bay). The selective fishery in marine area 1 would run through June 22, while the fishery in marine areas 2, 3 and 4 would run through June 30. In all areas, the fishery would be open seven days a week with a daily limit of two salmon, not including coho and wild chinook which must be released. The fishery could close earlier if a coastwide quota of 8,000 hatchery chinook is reached.
The traditional recreational salmon season for chinook and hatchery coho would begin June 23 in Marine Area 1, and July 1 in the three other coastal areas. Anglers would have a daily limit of two salmon in marine areas 3 and 4. Those fishing marine areas 1 and 2 would also have a two-salmon daily limit, but could keep only one chinook. In all areas, the fishery would be open daily.
Option 2: The recreational salmon fishing season would begin June 16 with a mark-selective fishery for hatchery chinook in all ocean areas. The fishery would be open seven days a week, with a daily limit of two salmon, through June 22 in Marine Area 1 and through June 23 in marine areas 2, 3 and 4. The fishery could close earlier if a coastwide quota of 6,000 hatchery chinook is reached.
The recreational salmon season would then open for chinook and hatchery coho June 23 in Marine Area 1 and June 24 in marine areas 2, 3 and 4. Marine areas 1, 3 and 4 would be open seven days a week, while Marine Area 2 would be open Sunday through Thursday. Anglers fishing all four marine areas would be allowed to retain one chinook as part of a two-salmon daily limit.
Option 3: The recreational salmon fishing season for chinook and hatchery coho would be open from July 3 through Sept. 23 on a Tuesday-through-Saturday schedule in marine areas 3 and 4. In Marine Area 2, the season would be open from July 1 through Sept. 23 on a Sunday-through-Thursday schedule. In Marine Area 1, recreational salmon fishing would be open seven days a week from June 30 through Sept. 30. All four marine areas would have a daily limit of two salmon, only one of which could be a chinook.
North of Falcon Commercial and Tribal Season Alternatives
Non-Indian ocean commercial fishery alternatives north of Cape Falcon include traditional chinook seasons between May and September. Chinook quotas for all areas and times range from 32,500-47,500, greater than the 2011 quota of 30,900. The marked coho quotas range from 10,400 to 13,600 (compared to last year’s quota of 12,800).
Tribal ocean fishery alternatives north of Cape Falcon have chinook quotas ranging from 40,000 to 55,000 and coho quotas ranging from 40,000 to 55,000, similar to last year’s quotas of 41,000 Chinook and 42,000 coho.
South of Falcon Fisheries Alternatives
In the Klamath River, biologists are forecasting four times more salmon than last year – and an astounding 15 times more than in 2006. The ocean salmon population is estimated to be 1.6 million adult Klamath River fall chinook, compared to last year’s forecast of 371,100.
This estimate is based largely on the 85,840 two-year-old salmon jacks that returned to the Klamath in 2011. This is the highest number of jacks to return since at least 1978, when recordkeeping began.
Jacks are precocious male fish that return to freshwater after only one year in the Pacific Ocean. They are considered a signal of the strength of future years’ runs when their broodmates return as fully mature adults after two or more years at sea.
Sacramento stocks are also looking better, with a conservative forecast of ocean abundance of 819,400 Sacramento River fall chinook, up from 729,000 last year. Adult spawners in the Sacramento system are expected to be at least 436,000. The spawning escapement objective is 122,000 to 180,000 adult spawners, and the 2012 annual catch limit is at least 245,820 spawners.
These forecast returns are particularly important when seen in the context of the last several years.
Klamath and Sacramento stocks drive ocean fishing seasons off California and Oregon. In 2008 and 2009, poor Sacramento returns led to the largest fishery closures on record. In 2010, returns improved, allowing limited commercial fishing season off California. In 2011, there were commercial fishing seasons in Oregon and California areas at various times between May 1 and Sept. 30.
Commercial fishermen have noted that because of the series of poor years, much of the capacity to fish commercially -- especially in California – has been lost.
For the coming season the PFMC has proposed the following alternatives:
Oregon ocean recreational alternatives south of Cape Falcon open for chinook March 15 and run through September or October. Coho fishery alternatives include mark-selective fisheries in July as far south as the Oregon/California border and non-mark-selective coho fisheries in September down to Humbug Mountain, which is located six miles south of Port Orford on the southern Oregon coast.
Ocean chinook fishing alternatives in the Brookings/Crescent City/Eureka, Calif., area open in May and continue into September.
California ocean sport fishing alternatives generally start April 7 and run through October or November from Fort Bragg south, but size limits vary in the San Francisco and Monterey areas to protect ESA-listed Sacramento winter-run chinook.
South of Falcon Commercial Season
Commercial chinook salmon season alternatives in the Tillamook, Newport, and Coos Bay, Ore., area open April 1 and run through October. Oregon season options in the Brookings area open April 1 and run through August or September, with monthly quota fisheries starting in June.
California alternatives in Crescent City/Eureka have quota fisheries in late September or are closed. In Fort Bragg, commercial alternatives open in July or August and run through September. In the San Francisco and Monterey areas, alternatives open May 1 and run through September with some closures in June. Along the south-central coast, season alternatives are open from May 1 through Sept. 30.
The Council also included alternatives for to collect genetic stock identification samples from research fisheries in closed times and areas. All fish caught in research fisheries would have to be released unharmed after collection of biological samples.
Public hearings to receive input on the alternatives are scheduled for March 26 in Westport, Wash., and Coos Bay, Ore.; and for March 27 in Eureka, Calif. The Council will consult with scientists, hear public comment, and revise preliminary decisions until it chooses a final alternative at its meeting during the week of April 1 in Seattle.
At its April 1-6 meeting in Seattle, the Council will narrow these options to a single season recommendation to be forwarded to NOAA Fisheries for its final approval before May 1.
All Council meetings are open to the public, and audio is streamed online (for information on how to hear the online audio, go to http://tinyurl.com/7vvxuvg.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional fishery management councils established by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 for the purpose of managing fisheries 3-200 miles offshore of the United States of America coastline.
The conservation goal, or escapement goal, is the optimal number of adult fish returning to spawn in order to maximize the production of the stock. The annual catch limit is the number of spawners associated with preventing overfishing on an annual basis.