After the season for commercial salmon fishing kicked off in May with two stints totaling less than three weeks, fishermen are looking forward to the end of the month when they’ll be able to cast their lines almost uninterrupted through September.
June 30 marked the end of the second stint between Pigeon Point and the Mexican border, after the first open week spanned May 1-7. Starting July 26 through August, commercial boats will get the green light between Pigeon Point and Horse Mountain, including the San Francisco Bay.
And while fishermen are less than thrilled with this year’s scaled-back season for salmon, catches have been on the rise for many of them, at least when they’re allowed to fish.
“The guys did really well and some of them got 50 to 80 salmon a day [in June], which are numbers we haven’t had in a number of years,” said Cary Smith, deputy harbormaster at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay. “It’s been better than last season, but I still have to give it somewhere in the ‘fair’ range in part because of the drought.”
Barry Day, a longtime fisherman operating out of Half Moon Bay, hauled in 3,500 pounds of salmon in June, which exceeded his expectations. The average weight of the salmon he caught in June was 13 pounds, up 2 pounds since May.
He sold much of his catch to the public at the dock for $15 per pound, a substantial discount from store prices, but consumers have to buy the entire fish — still gutted, gilled and descaled — when they purchase them off the boat.
“It’s what you call a southern year,” he said, adding that some seasons, the salmon seem to be concentrated around Oregon, but this year plenty of them have been swimming off the California coast.
And June catches were successful in spite of less-than-ideal weather conditions, Smith said.
“Some guys said there was as much wind or more than we’ve had in a number of years. The fish scatter with all that wind and wind waves make it rough for fishermen so they’re not able to stay out as long as they’d like to,” he said.
Toward the end of June, suppliers were so inundated with salmon that prices dropped from $12 per pound for the first loads to $8 a pound later in the week, Day said.
“It’s a spider web of things that affect the price,” he said. “There were really good numbers, but they haven’t had the consistency. All of a sudden you get consistency and you get a big pile of fish.”
Day said suppliers couldn’t find enough clients for all the fish brought back in June, and Smith also attributed the price drop, in part, to the commercial season opening in Alaska.
Day said a consistent schedule means consistently lower prices.
“If we had a full season from May 1 all the way through, I’d probably be regularly charging $8 off the dock because I have a constant supply,” he said. “Due to demand and seasons, prices are high so the public is paying more for fish. It’s a direct result of the schedule, which affects everything.”
Smith said if fishermen have success north of the Golden Gate not too far from Half Moon Bay then they’ll likely return to the Johnson Pier to sell their catches as early as Saturday, July 28.
“It’s great to come down and smell the salt air, take a walk and come home with some fresh fish,” he said. “We’re very hopeful the guys continue on the pace they are so they have a successful season and our community gets to enjoy the bounties.”
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