Workers and visitors to Porto Bodega Marina have witnessed something in recent days they haven't seen in two years — people carting salmon off of recreational fishing boats.
After a two-year ban due to declines in salmon populations, salmon fishing returned to the coast as of Saturday with some promising results despite less-than-ideal conditions.
The resumption of salmon fishing is a hopeful sign for operators of sport fishing boats throughout the region. More important, it's indicative of a salmon run that's on the rebound.
But what's uncertain is whether fishing regulators will allow commercial salmon fishing for the first time in three years. We encourage officials Pacific Fishery Management Council to move with caution before taking this next step.
The fishery management council lifted the sportfishing ban this year after federal biologists predicted a salmon run of 245,483 salmon. That certainly would be a vast improvement over last year's actual run of 39,800 and 66,000 the year before that. But whether it's enough to trigger reopening the commercial fishing operations is debatable.
The predicted salmon run is just that — a prediction. And predictions can be wrong. Last year, biologists projected a run of Sacramento River Fall Run Chinooks of 122,100 salmon. But the actually count, as noted above, was far short of that.
In addition, while salmon fishing has been prohibited for two years, salmon populations have been in sharp decline much longer than that and will need more than one good year to rebound.
The number of wild chinook returning to the Sacramento River and its tributaries numbered in excess of 800,000 are recently as 2002. That was also the year of the massive salmon die-off in the Klamath River due to water diversions in Oregon for agriculture.
Rick Powers, the captain of the New Sea Angler in Bodega Bay, said it best when he told Staff Writer Jeremy Hay that fishery regulators should be cautious about lifting tight regulations on salmon.
"What we want to see is the runs returned for future generations," he said.
Not for just one year.