[env-trinity] Santa Rosa Press Democrat 7-10-2010
bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon Jul 12 11:02:34 PDT 2010
Salmon's sad state: Short season highlights fishery's woes
Santa Rosa Press Democrat-7/10/10
By Jeremy Hay
Commercial fishermen plying North Coast waters for salmon this weekend are,
with the rare exception, hauling in nothing but disappointment.
Setting out from Bodega Bay and other ports into an ocean expanse stretching
from Santa Barbara to Crescent City, they packed hopes that their first
fishing season in two years might herald a change in fortunes that have
dwindled over a decade.
But waters once teeming with salmon are yielding little but pessimism about
the health of the once-abundant fishery.
"It's the slowest I think anybody's ever seen - it's the slowest I've ever
seen," said Charlie Beck, a Bodega Bay fisherman for 32 years.
Beck said he caught four salmon Thursday, the opening of the second four-day
fishing period allowed this month by the Pacific Fishery Management Council,
which regulates the fishing seasons.
The fishery council decided in April to allow a short commercial season -
after banning it for the previous two years. But many questioned the
decision, saying the health of the fishery was uncertain.
"The fishery was controversial to begin with this year. The fishermen were
perplexed by the decision, the people that know the science were perplexed,"
said Bill Sydeman, executive director of the Petaluma-based Farralon
Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research.
"I think that even the management council was hoping for something they were
uncertain of, because the population is so dramatically reduced," Sydeman
Explanations for the decline focus on the health of an ecosystem ranging
from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the Pacific Ocean. And concerns
over the fishery have prompted a prominent seafood consumer guide to advise
against buying wild salmon from off the California and Oregon coasts.
Both commercial and recreational salmon fishing had been banned since 2008
because of dramatic declines in the number of chinook salmon making their
way upstream to spawn.
The figures are striking.
In 2002, 800,000 natural and hatchery-raised chinook made their way back up
the Sacramento River. Last year, about 40,000 returned, a third of the
number state biologists predicted, Sydeman said.
But this year, the fishery council lifted the ban after federal biologists
predicted a larger salmon run of about 245,000, 65,000 above the threshold
at which they allow a fishing season.
While the recreational season was allowed to open in April and extends
through Sept. 5, commercial fishermen were granted only the much briefer
The limited opening angered some fishermen, leading them to stay home.
"They only give you eight days, it's a slap in the face," said Steve
Carpenter of Bodega Bay, whose family has fished the North Coast seas for
four generations. "Most of my family didn't bother rigging up."
"It wouldn't pay," Carpenter said, citing the costs of rigging a boat with
fuel and supplies.
The season, "at best, is a token fishery," said Zeke Grader, executive
director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations.
"That's why so many fisherman questioned it, why open up? And what we've
seen so far is pretty dismal," he said.
Another Bodega Bay fisherman, Al Vail, skipper of the Argo, went out
Thursday but decided to return by Friday.
"I never caught a fish," he said. "I've never seen a year like this, and
I've been fishing for 45 years."
Vail said that since May he's fished seven days as part of a federal program
to take DNA samples of fish, and that in total he caught perhaps 18 salmon.
"It's sad, you know," he said.
While the season opened July 1, stiff winds forced many boats to stay in
Of perhaps a half-dozen boats that went out July 4, one caught four fish and
the others caught none at all, said Chuck Wise, another veteran Bodega Bay
"It's pretty much that way up and down the coast," he said. "It's worse than
bad. In July we should have an abundance of fish off Bodega Bay. Boats going
out should get 60, 80, 100 fish."
For some, though, the season, short as it is, has so far proved worthwhile.
"Things could be worse," Dave Bitts, a Eureka fisherman, said Friday. "It's
a beautiful ocean, it's not totally devoid of fish. What few fish there are
really nice, fat, well-fed creatures."
Bitts, who was fishing off Shelter Cove with about 20 other boats, wouldn't
divulge his catch but said, "If I can average what I did yesterday, it'll be
worth it. As long as I can have a reasonable chance of doing double digits."
And some sportfishing captains - who, with shorter lines and fewer hooks,
can fish shallower waters - also report good catches.
"We've had some decent days off and on," said Rick Powers, captain of the
New Sea Angler out of Bodega Bay. On Thursday, he said, "The recreational
guys, the sport fleet, caught the heck out of them."
And Grader, of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations,
said returns are better in north Oregon, where king salmon are running well
up the Columbia River.
That has drawn some local fisherman north.
"I'm fishing up in Oregon right now," said Chris Lawson, president of the
Fishermen's Marketing Association in Bodega Bay.
The boats in Bodega Bay "have hardly moved," he said. "You had four days of
lousy weather, 15- to 25-knot winds, it has been blowing all spring, and
there are no fish to begin with."
A longer season, but one with a quota of 9,375 salmon, was also allowed
north of Point Arena, set to start Thursday.
And Chuck Tracy, salmon staff officer for the Portland, Ore.-based fishery
council, said it's premature to declare the season a mistake or a wash.
"It's pretty early to speculate, we'll just have to wait and see," he said.
The chinook already is on the federal endangered list, and the reasons for
the limited fishery are varied and debated.
Many fishermen argue that the diversion of freshwater in the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta, largely for agricultural purposes, is to blame, causing fish
to lose their way and get sucked into pumps.
"The fact is that about 90 percent of our production comes out of the
Sacramento-San Joaquin and down into San Francisco Bay and when that
(diversion) happens the fish go down," Grader said.
Sydeman said other factors also are at play.
"The health of the rivers, including water quality and just the amount of
water, that certainly plays a role," he said. "But the ocean has played a
huge role in the past five years."
He said oceanic conditions including warming that is "likely related to some
extent to climate change," are one factor, while the most discernible cause
is reduced availability of food.
"There's not a single factor and this is why it's really very difficult to
put your finger on all this," he said.
At the same time, the influential Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch,
which recommends what fish consumers should and should not buy, cited the
poor fishery in advising people to avoid "wild caught" salmon.
"It's unfortunate because the fishermen didn't create this problem - it's a
very responsible fleet - but they are probably the biggest victims of there
not being enough fish in the sea," said Ken Peterson, the aquarium's
""We're pretty miffed about that," said Bitts, speaking from his boat, the
Elmarue, and referring to the Seafood Watch recommendation.
Bitts, who advises the fishery council, said the Seafood Watch "is basically
a good thing," but added the group didn't participate in the discussions on
opening the season.
"What is going to be the effect" of a salmon boycott, he asked. "Is this
going to have any effect at all on the San Joaquin Valley water barons who
we believe are the root cause of this?" he said. "The main victims of this
are likely to be the fisherman."
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land/fax
415 519 4810 mobile
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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