California set for salmon gold rush

Fish News EU
May 2, 2012

May 1 saw California’s commercial salmon fleet ready to launch from dozens of ports with high expectation for the biggest commercial salmon season the state has seen since 2005.

According to the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), natural resource managers have predicted an ocean abundance of some 820,000 fall-run Chinook from the Sacramento River and nearly 1.6 million fall Chinook from the Klamath River this year. The welcome news comes after several years of dramatic salmon declines in the two biggest salmon rivers in the state.

Fishermen and many scientists primarily credit more balanced, science-based water management plans instituted in the Klamath in 2006 and in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in 2008 and 2009 with the salmon population resurgence.

“California salmon fishermen are thrilled to be back working on the water, providing some of the healthiest and most delicious seafood available anywhere in the world,” said Zeke Grader, PCFFA Executive Director. “Consumers looking for local, sustainable, and nutritious food will find no better choice than California king salmon.”

Fishing towns along 700 miles of California coast, from Morro Bay to Crescent City, will participate in this year’s salmon season, which runs from May 1 to October 12. The rigorously regulated West Coast salmon industry represents one of the most environmentally sustainable fisheries in the nation, and supports thousands of family wage jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity in the state each year. Before the recent salmon population collapse, California fishermen delivered an average of 4.5 million pounds of wild salmon from over730 commercial fishing vessels between 1996 and 2005.

Between 2006 and 2011, however, the industry suffered a series of poor harvests and economically devastating season closures. According to the PCFFA, the salmon decline was sparked by excessive freshwater diversions in the Klamath and Sacramento River systems, causing mass mortality in juvenile salmon before they could reach the ocean. The Sacramento River in particular has traditionally provided most of the salmon harvested in Oregon and California, but record freshwater pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in recent years caused the death of huge numbers of juveniles and drove down fish populations to the lowest levels on record. Beginning in late 2008, court-ordered changes to the management of massive government-run Delta pumps have significantly improved conditions for Sacramento salmon.

Since Chinook salmon have a 3-5 year life cycle, it takes a few years for salmon populations to reflect improvements in freshwater management. The salmon abundance of 2012 shows that these commercially-valuable fish can rebound if given sufficient freshwater flows and habitat protections, and these protections in turn can restore jobs and food production in the state.

“If this year’s salmon abundance predictions are correct, we hope to provide over 4 million pounds of sustainably-produced seafood this year,” said Grader, “This should help us keep up somewhat with the incredible consumer demand for our product. The more people know about California king salmon, the more they like it – and demand it.”

Historically, California’s commercial salmon harvest averaged around 7 million lbs of Chinook and Coho. As recently as 1988, the commercial catch reached 14 million lbs, with abundant recreational catches and with abundant returns of spawning fish back to the rivers. The state’s fishermen believe California is capable of sustainably producing 20-30million lbs of salmon a year to fulfil the needs of its commercial, recreational, and tribal fisheries while meeting local and international demands for this high quality wild fish – if stream flows are protected and some improvements are made to in-river fish habitat.

Seafood consumers looking to purchase the freshest wild salmon in the state, and perhaps learn first-hand about the 150-year-old California salmon industry, can purchase fish directly from commercial fishermen in several scenic California seaports, including Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, Bodega Bay, Fort Bragg, and Crescent City.

“We’d like to encourage people to visit our beautiful California coast and top off a great trip by taking home some salmon – one of our state’s most iconic and traditional local products,” said Grader.

Original source