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Improved forecast for upcoming North Coast salmon season

The North Coast fishing community was treated to encouraging news Thursday about the state of the ocean salmon fishery, with forecasts suggesting increased productivity and opportunities for fishermen during the coming sport and commercial seasons, despite the continuing drought.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has issued what it calls an “abundance forecast” of 652,000 adult king salmon from the Sacramento River fall run waiting off the North Coast and potentially available to anglers once they’re permitted to drop their lines later this year.

That’s a slight improvement from last year’s forecast of 634,650, though that estimate was actually about 13 percent too high, said Brett Kormos, a senior state Fish and Wildlife environmental scientist.

Estimated sport and commercial catches, and adult carcasses counted from spawning areas, added up to 554,932, meaning this year’s forecast represents about an 18 percent increase from what was in the water at this time a year ago.

“We’re a solid 100,000 ahead of last year,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, a coalition of advocates for the salmon fishing industry.

Another 424,000 adult chinook are estimated to be offshore of the Klamath River region, for a total of more than a million salmon, McManus said.

Combined with positive news on the endangered Sacramento River winter run, anglers say the outlook is good, particularly given their experiences in 2008 and ’09, when low salmon stocks cancelled the commercial seasons entirely.

Commercial king salmon landings in Bodega Bay during 2013, the latest year for which figures are available, totalled more than 632,000 pounds worth $3.7 million - about $1 million more than the previous year, according to data compiled by state Fish and Wildlife.

Fort Bragg’s 2013 landings totalled nearly 1.4 million pounds, valued at more than $7.4 million, the state agency said.

“We’re very happy with what we saw today,” said Rick Powers, who runs a charter boat for recreational fishing out of Bodega Bay.

Data presented to the more than 120 people who attended Thursday’s annual forecast meeting will be used by regulators in the coming weeks to determine how the sport salmon season, set to begin April 4, and the subsequent commercial season will look in terms of the season length, minimum size limits, catch limits and the like.

“All things being equal, we have room to wiggle,” compared with some of the constraints put on commercial anglers in previous years, Half Moon Bay fisherman Duncan MacLean said in an interview. “We should get more days on the water.”

Fishery experts said the effect of recent drought in California would be more apparent in future years, when fisheries begin reflecting the impact of what McManus called “hostile” spawning seasons in 2013 and last year - when creeks and rivers were running so low many adults could not get upstream to spawn, and hatchery young had to be trucked downstream to make it out to sea.

“The pain salmon fishermen and our coastal and inland salmon communities experience from drought is always delayed a few years until baby salmon, lost to the drought, fail to return as adults,” he said in a written statement. “But we are happy we have fish this year, though no doubt, we would have a bigger salmon run but for the drought and water diversions.”

Gualala fisherman Chuck Cappotto, past president of the Bodega Bay Fishermen’s Marketing Association, said optimistic forecasts for the current season don’t mean the weather or even nature won’t interfere. Recent weather patterns that have warmed coastal waters and reduced the upwelling that normally brings nutrients toward the surface, making fisheries more productive.

Those who make their living on the water need to be aware of troubling signs in the ocean environment, he said.

“Regulatory restrictions may be minimal, but you never know what’s going to happen,” Cappotto said.

You can reach Staff ?Writer Mary Callahan ?at 521-5249 or mary.?callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter ?@MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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