Fishermen in Half Moon Bay are facing a shortened commercial salmon season off the California coast due to low Chinook salmon stocks following a decision from the Pacific Fishery Management Council earlier this week.

The commercial salmon season typically starts on May 1 and runs until September, but this year will have an intermittent, later start that has left fishermen upset.

“This is the least amount of fishing time that I can remember for California fishermen since the closures of 2008 and 2009,” said Half Moon Bay fisherman Don Marshall.

Chinook salmon season in the Fort Bragg area will be open Aug. 1-17 and September. The San Francisco area from Point Arena in Sonoma County to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse in San Mateo County will be open intermittently from mid-June through mid-August and all of September. The Monterey area from Pigeon Point to the Mexico border will be from May to mid-August.

The San Francisco area will get about 70 days total for salmon fishing, while the Monterey area will get around 60 days, both decreases from last year, Robin Ehlke of the Pacific Fishery Management Council said.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council made the season restrictions recommendation during its April meeting last week after conversations with commercial fishermen. The organization makes recommendations for the 2021 ocean salmon season timeline and manages fisheries for most salmon and fish species on the West Coast. Its recommendations are up for approval May 16 by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The shortened season is based on an estimated low stock of Chinook, or king, salmon derived from statistical modeling. An ocean abundance forecast of adult salmon has 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, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Marshall was disappointed in the amount of fishing time and the lack of open areas given. In May, he plans to fish south of Pigeon Point before fishing from Pigeon Point to Shelter Cove in Humboldt County when the season opens in June and August. Marshall said most salmon is caught from Pigeon Point to Shelter Cove as catching salmon south of Pigeon Point is unlikely given his experiences historically.

“The fish really need to be there, and the price needs to be there, or it’s going to be bad,” Marshall said.

He is also concerned about the lack of unified fishing times to travel up and down the coast to fish. Good areas will not be open, while lots of bad areas will be open but unlikely to have options. Last year offered more fishing time and more swaths of water to fish, while intermittent start times also hinder fishermen. He did not have financial expectations yet for this season but needs to earn $100,000 gross to justify the season’s expenses and time.

Fisherman Scott Edson said the shortened season would be tough when he fishes out of Half Moon Bay, but it could have been worse given the circumstances. He struggled during crab season and knows this will be an important few months to make a living this year.

“I have to produce for salmon. Crab didn’t do anyone any favors,” Edson said.

Edson expects salmon will be harder to buy, and the cost could go so high it could push suppliers to buy salmon from Alaska. The coming months will make it harder for local buyers and the public to buy salmon.

“Prices will certainly be higher, particularly due to increased cost of operating and limited time on the water,” Edson said.

Fisherman Barry Day said new state models of determining how many salmon are available in rivers are making it harder to get time off the coast to fish. He also plans to fish out of the Monterey area south of Pigeon Point before the June and August dates for Point Arena to Pigeon Point. The changing rules and restrictions are simply part of the new reality for him and the local fishing industry.

“This is what we got. This is what we’ve got to deal with,” Day said.

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