Forecast again predicts too few ocean salmon in region

Recreational and commercial fishing for chinook salmon could be lost off the southern Oregon and northern California coasts again this summer amid another grim forecast for Sacramento River salmon.

Improved, yet still poor, returns of chinook bound for the Sacramento could again drag down fishing opportunities in the region. Last year no chinook fishing was allowed in the ocean for the first time in history.

Released today, the Pacific Fishery Management Council's salmon abundance forecasts about twice as many fish expected to be bound for the Sacramento. But the 122,196 fish forecast for the Sacramento would only be absent of any ocean chinook fishing, and it would place returns at the bottom end of the range of spawners targeted by the PFMC, council documents show.

However, about 81,000 fall chinook are bound for the Klamath River, almost twice that of last year and well above the so-called "escapement" floor level of 35,000 adult chinook, the report states.

Since those fish intermingle with other chinook stocks along Northern California and most of Oregon, managing for the Sacramento's escapement drives sport and commercial seasons to protect the weaker Sacramento stock.

Last year, that meant no chinook fishing all spring and summer from Cape Falcon south to Mexico.

The council, which advises the Department of Commerce on fishing issues here, will set this year's seasons in April.

In a prepared statement released this afternoon, council Chairman Don Hansen said the council "won't be able to talk about this without using the word 'disaster.' "

PFMC staff were meeting in Newport today and were unavailable for comment.

The salmon picture was more optimistic north of Cape Falcon, according to the report. That includes the Columbia River, where the return of hatchery-bred coho salmon is more than 1 million fish this year, the document states.

— Mark Freeman

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