An abundance of salmon expected to return to the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers likely will mean longer seasons for salmon fishermen this year.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council announced its recommendations for the 2012 sport and commercial salmon fishing seasons on Thursday. The plan now goes to the National Marine Fisheries Service for approval by May 1.
The changes were viewed by fishermen as "modest but significant" increases over the season last year, said Dave Bitts, president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
"If the numbers are like they said, it might be our best season since 2004," Bitts said. "If there's anything like the kind of fish that has been predicted, we should be able to use our opportunity more productively than we have the last couple years."
The season for sport fishermen will begin Saturday and run through Oct. 7 south of the Shelter Cove area in Humboldt County.
Along the Sonoma County coast, the commercial chinook salmon season will be open May 1 to June 4, June 27 to Aug. 29, and Sept. 1-30. The fishing area stretches from Point Arena to Point Sur in San Francisco.
In the Fort Bragg area, from Horse Mountain to Point Arena, commercial chinook salmon fisheries will be open July 11 through Aug. 29 and Sept. 1-30.
The Sacramento River could have the largest number of returning fall Chinook salmon since 2005, the Council said, based on an estimated 819,400 salmon in the ocean. Chinook returning to the Klamath River are expected to be four times more numerous than average and the highest on record since 1985.
"We proceed with guarded optimism," said Duncan Maclean, California salmon troll adviser to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council. "It's not an exact science, and it probably never will be, because nature throws in a lot of curves, and then we decide to throw in a lot of curves with it."
There was no commercial fishing season in 2008 and 2009, a short season in 2010, and a somewhat longer season last year, although fishermen reported that low numbers of fish were caught.
<NO1><NO>The last time Bodega Bay fishermen had a full season, which is May 1 to Sept. 30, was in 2004.