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Expected ban on salmon fishing dampens Bodega Bay Festival

BODEGA BAY ? Just days before federal officials are expected to call a halt to another salmon season, longtime fisherman Steve Anello put on a brave face Sunday for the annual Fisherman?s Festival and blessing of the fleet.

But the colorful boat parade, a centerpiece of the weekend, was a bit less festive this year. Anello counted just 16 fishing boats in the parade, amongst several others, including sail boats. Last year there were about 25 fishing boats, he said.

?They all went and got jobs,? Anello said.

Historically, the two-day festival, held every spring on the edge of Bodega Bay, kicks off the start of the salmon season and celebrates coastal trades and area attributes.

But this is the second year commercial salmon trollers won?t be allowed to fish for the silvery chinook salmon. The federal Pacific Fishery Management Council won?t take official action until Wednesday in Millbrae, but the ban has been long expected due to dismal numbers of salmon returning last year to the Sacramento River.

?I?m not surprised,? Anello said. ?There just wasn?t the return.?

?We already know there?s not going to be a season,? said Chris Lawson, president of the Fisherman?s Marketing Association of Bodega Bay.

The federal council, which regulates salmon fishing along the West Coast, is considering three options for salmon fishing this year, and none would allow commercial fishing off California.

The only option for a recreational ocean salmon season would provide 10 days of fishing between Eureka and Crescent City, where scientists predict that most of the available salmon would be returning to the Klamath River.

Last year for the first time in history the federal government banned all ocean fishing and declared the salmon fishery a disaster. Regulators said the action was needed to preserve the dwindling numbers of chinook salmon from the Sacramento, for decades the West Coast?s most productive salmon river.

Both commercial fishermen and charter boat operators said the closures have caused them considerable financial pain.

?We?re making it,? said Anello. ?But it?s also been a bad crab year too.?

Lawson, like other fishermen, said this summer he planned to fish for albacore. Others also are fishing for slime eels or looking for other work.

?We?re just hanging on, taking it day by day,? Lawson said.

Congress last year provided $170 million in disaster aid for West Coast fishermen and related businesses. Some of that aid has yet to be released, and may be available again this year.

State and federal scientists have reported that the decline of the Sacramento salmon was caused primarily by poor ocean conditions. But fishermen and their allies have argued for more than a year that freshwater diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are largely to blame for the fishery?s woes.

For Anello, Sunday was more about the 36th annual Fisherman?s Festival than it was about marking the start of another cancelled fishing season.

Under Sunday?s blue breezy skies, the event included the traditional sea food, live music, arts and crafts and kite flying.

While they won?t be catching salmon this season, Anello and his wife, Cathy, had them all over their boat Sunday.

?I decorate it differently every year,? Anello said, as the couple tied a six-foot homemade salmon to the rigging.

Large wooden cutouts of salmon were attached to paddle wheels on the sides of the Robert Croll and a huge orange crab dangled up high from ropes.

?I?ve been in every festival since it started,? said the 51-year-old, with a touch of pride.

Fisherman Dick Ogg, of Bodega Bay, took out his fishing boat, the Miss Peggy, in the parade. It was decorated with brightly colored flags and windsocks.

Ogg represents a group of fishermen who have had other careers and fished on the side. Now retired, he fishes for fun and hopefully money.

He also said he?d be seeking other options now that salmon is again off the table.

Sunday morning he took a boat full of people out with him to see the blessing, many of them local residents who?ve never gotten to go.

?It?s something really cool to do for people. They love to go on the boat parade,? Ogg said.

At the nearby festival many lined up to watch the passing parade, while others took in the entertainment and food.

Mark Gentry and his family have come to Sonoma County for the last five or so years, making a weekend out of attending the festival both days.

?We love it,? he said. ?We come every year.?

Gentry, from Pleasant Hill, comes with other family from Calaveras County. They bring some empathy for the struggling fishermen.

?They?re loggers,? he said of his family from the big tree country. ?They can relate.?

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