With commercial salmon fishing in California likely headed toward a shortened season starting in late June, fishermen out of Half Moon Bay remain worried about what a short season means during an already down year.
“This is an extremely limited season. It doesn’t have a lot of hope in it. It looks like there will be a lot of lost time on the water,” Half Moon Bay fisherman Don Marshall said.
The commercial salmon season typically starts on May 1, but the season’s start for the coastal area of California is expected to be delayed due to low salmon numbers. Instead of having a wide-open season from May to September, there will likely be only one to two weeks each month for fishing, with expectations for a late June start for the Bay Area, according to Kandice Morgenstern, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Ocean Salmon Project.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council, a federal agency that regulates commercial salmon fishing on the West Coast, will pick from several alternative date options, with one starting May 1 and the others starting in June. The process could also lead to a combination of all three alternatives. The Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet April 6-9 and April 12-15 to set dates for commercial salmon fishing.
The shortened season will be set based on an estimated low stock of chinook salmon derived from statistical modeling. An ocean abundance forecast of adult salmon estimated the Sacramento River in 2021 to have around 271,000 salmon, while the Klamath River had around 181,500, both lower than their 10-year averages of 487,600 and 449,000, respectively, Morgenstern said.
Marshall is pessimistic about the season’s start and how regulatory agencies will manage the season. He thinks state and federal regulators don’t take enough account of the lost days from windy and bad weather. Marshall believes the statistical model for determining how many adult fish are available is wrong, citing times when fishermen in previous years caught more salmon than the total population the models predicted. Marshall thinks many won’t fish this season or will supplement salmon with rockfish or halibut. He does not plan to put all his time and money into salmon fishing.
“It’s very personal, and it hits home. Don’t put your eggs all in that basket,” Marshall said.
Frank Souza, a fisherman out of Half Moon Bay, wants to fish May through August, but he expects a much shorter season, with fishermen only getting 40 days total in the season.
“It’s going to be a chopped-up season,” he said.
Souza said the process for deciding salmon season in coordination with regulatory agencies gets complicated. There was no full season last season, and a shortened season has been normalized. The stop and start nature of the season will make it harder for him to follow and find salmon during the season, as they can travel to different places up and down the California coast. In the past, he has followed salmon from Bodega Bay down to Monterey. Dungeness crab fishing this season went badly for many fishermen, and Souza struggled this year to turn a profit given the crab fishing delays and COVID-19.
“This year is going to be more important because crabbing was not all that lucrative this year. It’s important to have a good salmon season,” Souza said.
Fisherman Scott Edson plans to start fishing out of Monterey Bay and then San Francisco when the season opens. He hopes the season will be decent, although success depends on weather and wind conditions. The crab fishing was terrible this year, and he caught more crab in one day last season than he did this season, he said.
“I’ve never worked so hard to lose money,” Edson said.
A good salmon season would give him the profit he needs to recoup some from boat repairs and preparation for fishing seasons. He is hoping for prices starting at $8 a pound this year and rising. Prices last season ranged from $4.50 to $7 due to COVID-19.
“I’m going all-in on the season. I’m pulling out all the stops,” Edson said.
To turn enough of a profit to justify preparing and going salmon fishing, most fishermen need to gross $80,000-$100,000 from sales, as part of the profits go to deckhands and boat maintenance. Edson said last salmon season went well and helped make up for delays from crab fishing.
“If I can do a season like last year this year, that would be great,” Edson said.
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