The Pacific Fisheries Management Council has released three alternative fishing seasons for 2018.
With few exceptions, all are shorter than 2017 except for those fishing north of Horse Mountain in far northern California. The only area in California slated to open on the normal first week of April is basically from Santa Cruz south to the Mexican border (Pigeon Point in southern San Mateo County is the northern line of this district). Everyone else will see a later opener.
In broad terms, the seasons for both sport and commercial are shorter than last year in order to conserve the Sacramento River fall Chinook. The National Marine Fisheries Service told the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (the group that decides the seasons) that season alternatives must allow increased returns to the Sacramento River, over and above the minimum escapement target of 122,000 adult salmon (three years old or older). The three alternatives aim to produce returns of 151,000, 165,000 and 180,000 adult salmon, respectively. With a forecast ocean abundance of about 230,000 Sacramento fall Chinook, that doesn’t leave many fish available for harvest.
The Council will finalize the 2018 salmon season at its April meeting in Portland, Oregon. (more on the season alternatives below)
This is about lingering effects from the very bad drought we went through that let up in 2016.
Remember most salmon live to three years of age before reaching adulthood and returning to the Central Valley to spawn and die. In the late summer and early fall of 2015, when most of this year’s class of salmon were born, the river overheated in the drought and the fertilized salmon eggs never hatched. Both the California Dept of Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service documented the loss of up to 98 percent of the eggs laid in the upper Sacramento River to hot water.
In the spring of 2016, when Northern California experiencing the “greatest El Nino” of all time (which turned out to be only a regular wet winter), the few baby salmon that survived the hot water incubation went to sea. Although conditions for getting down the river and out to sea were decent with all the runoff, there were simply very few wild-hatched salmon to take advantage. Hatchery salmon should have done fine getting to sea in the spring of 2016 and these will once again likely be the main fish we catch this year.
GGSA worked hard during the spring and summer of 2015 to get the federal Bureau of Reclamation to manage water releases from Lake Shasta in a way that would conserve more of the cold water at the bottom of the lake for salmon. But our warnings fell on deaf ears. The Bureau released too much in spite of the warnings from GGSA and others and the river’s spawning grounds overheated. Since then GGSA has taken the case to the State Water Resources Control Board. There we’ve sought to get the water board to change the permits held by the Bureau to prevent this from happening again. We haven’t yet succeeded, but we continue to work on it.
Sportfishing opportunities in the most generous alternative are reduced by more than a third, with more restrictive alternatives cutting days open to fishing by more than one-half.
Commercial fishing opportunities are also reduced substantially over what would be allowed were the abundance of Sacramento fall Chinook greater.
Both Oregon and California took action to close nearly all salmon fisheries that had been scheduled to open in April. The only exception is that California will allow the sport fishery to open in the Monterey management area (from Pigeon Point to the Mexican border), although that area will also see the earliest closure under all of the season alternatives.
The low forecast of Sacramento adult salmon is based on the return of 24,500 two-year-old sub-adult salmon to the Sacramento Basin in 2017. Based on that number, fishery managers have forecast only 230,000 adult Sacramento salmon in the ocean now. However, in past years where two-year-old returns numbered around 24,000, much higher forecasts of three-year-old adult salmon in the ocean the following spring were made and generally, decent fishing seasons were the rule. For instance, 20,000 two-year-old spawners in 2013 converted into a forecast of just under 635,000 adult salmon in the ocean in the spring of 2014.
Here are some additional resources you can click on for further information about this year’s season-setting process and what’s next.
Our mission is to protect and restore California’s largest salmon producing habitat comprised of the Central Valley rivers that feed both the Bay-Delta ecosystem and the communities that rely on salmon as a long-term, sustainable commercial, recreational and cultural resource. Salmon recovery is our passion.