Opponents Of Blue Creek Closures Vent


Klamath River. (CDFW)
Klamath River. (CDFW)

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s decision to close a portion of Blue Creek off the Klamath River to recreational king salmon fishing has triggered some backlash.

The Triplicate  newspaper of Crescent City covered last week’s  public forum hosted by the Yurok Tribe, which proposed the closure that the CDFW agreed to.

Here’s a portion of what went on:

Fishers and Del Norte County supervisors criticized the commission for closing the Blue Creek confluence without due notice to make complaints. By the time supervisors Chris Howard and Gerry Hemmingsen marched their board’s grievances to a June 10 Fish and Game Commission meeting in Mammoth Lakes, the decision had already been made to establish a no-fishing buffer zone near the mouth of Blue Creek, between a half mile downstream of the creek to 500 feet above it until mid-September. After that, until the end of the year, the restricted area will be reduced to 500 feet above and below.

Hemmingsen maintained Monday that in addition to the potential impacts on the county’s economy if guides aren’t able to pull out fish where they reside, he also objects to “the process” that led to the closure.

“This was kind of a push-through deal,” he said.

In June, the commission advised the Board of Supervisors to follow pertinent issues more closely to avoid being surprised by policy changes. On Monday, Friends of Del Norte Don Gillespie called out the Board of Supervisors for spending taxpayer money on a too-late, 10-hour trek to Mammoth Lakes, when they could have spoken up earlier. Hemmingsen told the Triplicate last month, however, that the supervisors had written letters to the commission on the issue without hearing a response. …

Executive Director Troy Fletcher, who facilitated Monday’s meeting, said the Yurok Tribe has been striving to address the Klamath’s dwindling fishery for years now, and the closure at Blue Creek is, in part, a result of that.

Having recommended to the Fish and Game Commission a policy that disallows catch and release fishing at the mouth of Blue Creek as well as at the mouth of the Klamath, the commission opted to close the creek’s confluence completely, since the state requires that all wild steelhead that are caught be released.

It’s well documented that anadromous fish don’t take kindly to warm water, and this was the basis for the tribe’s recommendation.

Throngs of cold-water fish congregate in the thermal refugia at the mouth of Blue Creek, the first cool-water haven salmonids meet, some 17 miles up the main stem, after heading inland from the chilly Pacific Ocean.

That makes for prime fishing at this spot, particularly in exceptionally hot and dry years, and the fact that it’s an important refuge for fish is indisputable, Yurok Fisheries Program Manager Dave Hillemeier addressed the group.

“You know that because you know where the fish are,” he said. …


Mike Coopman, of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service, said he appreciated the open dialogue at the meeting, but he still wanted to see specific numbers pertaining to the mortalities at Blue Creek. It’s possible the stress the fish suffered when hooked could be alleviated, he suggested, if the they were released in the cooler water.  

“I’m going to tell you, the mortality rate is not what people were projecting — I can see the bottom of that river just like anybody else. I landed 75 fish a day in my boat alone at Blue Creek last year,” Mick Thomas of Lunker Fish Trips attested. “The whole bottom of the river would be lined with fish.

Clearly, this was never going to make everyone happy, so with the king salmon season on the Klamath opening on Aug. 1, expect the friction to linger.