[env-trinity] North Coast Salmon Cutbacks Result Of 2002 Fish Kill

Daniel Bacher danielbacher at hotmail.com
Wed Mar 23 09:41:04 PST 2005

Cutbacks On North Coast Salmon Seasons Result From 2002 Fish Kill

by Dan Bacher

While the ocean abundance estimate for Sacramento River chinook salmon is 
the highest on record, recreational anglers on the Klamath River and 
commercial fishermen on California’s North Coast will be subject to severe 
cutbacks. The reason for the low abundance is the juvenile fish kill in the 
spring of 2002 that preceded the adult fish kill that September on the 

The fall run ocean abundance estimate is 239,700 fish, based on jack returns 
last year. The river and ocean fishing seasons are based on achieving a goal 
of 35,000 natural spawners on the Klamath. The fish are divided between the 
river recreational, tribal, recreational ocean and commercial ocean 
fisheries. The Pacific Fishery Management Council  (PFMC) will adopt its 
final salmon management measures at its April 3-8 meeting in Tacoma, 

The California Fish & Game Commission, at its meeting in Oakland on March 
18, chose a 15% allotment for the fall salmon harvest for in river anglers. 
“This means that we will have to divide 1262 salmon as follows:  631 salmon 
to the Lower Klamath, 210 salmon to Upper Klamath, 210 to Lower Trinity and 
210 fish to Upper Trinity, “ said Ed Duggan, fishing guide. “This fall looks 
like a very short salmon season on the river.”

Because of this, the in-river recreational fishery will be mainly a catch 
and release fishery for adult salmon. Although anglers will have to release 
adult chinooks after the quota are reached on the river, they can keep jack 
salmon and hatchery steelhead.

The Yurok Tribe on the Lower Klamath will also be constrained by the low 
abundance of Klamath River salmon. “It is highly unlikely that we will have 
a commercial season at the mouth like we have had in the past,” said Dave 
Hillemeier, Yurok Tribe fishery biologist. “We will not even have enough for 
our subsistence fishery – probably 6800 to 7000 fish at best.”

North Coast ocean recreational anglers will also feel the impacts. In the 
Klamath Management Zone from Humbug Mountain to Horse Mountain, the Pacific 
Fishery Management Council (PFMC) is proposing a season of May 21 through 
July 4 and August 14 through September 11. Oregon anglers will be able to 
fish in a selective coho fishery, whereas anglers fishing California waters 
have to release all coho.

Commercial fishermen along the coast will face the surreal dilemma of being 
prevented from fishing the healthy stocks of Central Valley ocean salmon to 
protect Klamath fish. Commercial salmon troll seasons in California and 
Oregon are structured to protect the coast’s weakest salmon runs, which are 
those from the Klamath River this year. Because the Klamath fish intermingle 
in the ocean with healthy stocks, 50 or more fish from the Central Valley 
must be excluded from harvest this year in order to prevent the accidental 
capture of each Klamath-origin fall chinook.

“We don’t have a lot of choice,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the 
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA). “We warned 
people about this after the fish kill happened and we wrote to the President 
last July to do something about it. Any one of the options proposed by the 
PFMC is a killer to our industry.”

The commercial fishing season will be particularly grim along the North 
Coast. From the OR/CA Border to the Humboldt south Jetty, the PFMC is 
proposing a limited salmon season of September 1 through the earlier of 
September 30 or 6,000 fish. The other option provides for the complete 
closure of the fishery.

Along the coast from Horse Mountain to Point Arena, traditionally one of the 
most heavily fished commercial areas, the options are a limited salmon 
season from September 1 to 30 or a complete closure.

A variety of closure options are proposed in the three commercial fishing 
zones from Point Arena to Pigeon Point and Pigeon Point to Pt. Sur. The most 
liberal season, from May 1 through September 30, is proposed for commercial 
fishermen from Point Sur to the U.S./Mexican Border.

How will this closure impact the economy? “We could be looking at a $100 
million loss to California’s economy this year,” said Zeke Grader, executive 
director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations 
(PCFFA). “This is ironic when we’re looking at a record number of Sacramento 
River chinooks on the ocean.”

The impact upon commercial fishermen – and recreational anglers as well – 
will all depend upon where the fish go in response to ocean water and forage 
conditions. “If the salmon go south from Point Arena to Point Sur and Point 
Sur south, we could have a good year,” said Grader. “If the fish go north 
into the closed or restricted zones, we could miss nearly everything.”

The constraints on commercial harvest could result in the bizarre situation 
of the too many Sacramento system fish returning for the available habitat. 
“We could end up with a virtual train wreck, with too many fish for the 
available spawning gravel on the Central Valley rivers,” said Craig Stone, 
owner of the Emeryville Sportfishing Center. “An overabundance of fish can 
be detrimental to the fishery.”

Regardless of whether the salmon go north or south, it is obvious that the 
Klamath River stocks are in great crisis. According to Glen Spain, northwest 
regional director of the PCFFA, flows in the spring of 2002 were kept so low 
that the water warmed up too much and the conditions either didn’t allow the 
fish to grow properly or killed them outright.

“This fish kill is different from the widely publicized fish kill that 
killed up to 70,000 adult salmon in 2002, but both were caused by the same 
thing – low river flows,” said Spain. “The spring 2002 juvenile fish kill is 
hitting the industry this year. The fall 2002 adult fish kill will hit us 
next year.”

Spain emphasizes that “a deliberate act” of the federal government” appears 
to be primarily responsible for killing the young king salmon in 2002. In 
order for the Bush administration to curry the favor of agribusiness for the 
reelection of an Oregon Senator, the Department of Interior ordered a change 
in water policy that favored subsidized agribusiness over Klamath salmon and 
other species.

Even in a dry year like this one, many scientists have called for Iron Gate 
Dam flows of between 1450 and 1600 cfs in March to have healthy salmon 
populations. At press time, releases to the Klamath River below Iron Gate 
were only 800 cfs.

The dilemma the recreational, tribal and commercial fishermen are in this 
year will only be resolved when we succeed in convincing the federal 
government to restore the Klamath. Among the solutions are forcing the 
federal government to leave more water in the Klamath, stopping cheap 
electricity subsidies to Klamath Basin farmers and removing the six Klamath 
hydroelectric dams up for relicensing in 2006.

“All users of the river, including the Indian tribes, commercial fishermen, 
recreational fishermen and farmers, should get together and work things out 
or we’ll continue to face this crisis on an ongoing basis every year,” said 
Roger Thomas, president of the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association and a 
member of the PFMC.

A march and rally held at the State Capitol on March 14 on the International 
Day of Action for Rivers points to the growing movement among diverse groups 
in tackling the complex problems of the Klamath. The four Klamath River 
Tribes – the Yurok, Hoopa, Karuk and Klamath – united with commercial 
fishermen, recreational anglers, environmental groups and farmers over the 
common goal of getting the Governor to use his power to pressure for the 
removal of the Klamath River dams.

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