Sac River Salmon Forecast Brings Doom And Gloom Possibilities (Updated)
The California Fish and Game Commission’s 2021 salmon forecast was unveiled on Thursday during its presentation, with far lower Sacramento River fall Chinook forecast than previous seasons.
Here’s the press release from the commission:
At the annual Salmon Information Meeting held virtually today, state and federal fishery scientists presented estimates of catch in 2020 fisheries and spawner returns to rivers and hatcheries, as well as the expected salmon abundance for the upcoming fishing season.
The 2021 ocean abundance projection for Sacramento River fall Chinook, a main salmon stock harvested in California waters, is 271,000 adult salmon, which is about 200,000 lower than the 2020 forecast. The Klamath River fall Chinook abundance forecast of 181,500 adult salmon is slightly higher than the 2020 forecast but still significantly lower than the long-term average and will likely result in restricted fishing opportunity in the areas north of Pt. Arena.
“Klamath River fall Chinook abundance forecasts and spawner returns have been low over the last few years. Fisheries were limited on the northern sections of the California coast last year to reduce impacts on this stock, and that will likely be the case again this year” said Kandice Morgenstern, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Ocean Salmon Project. “Furthermore, with a reduced abundance forecast for Sacramento River fall Chinook, we could be looking at reduced fishing elsewhere along the coast, as well.”
Recreational anglers and commercial salmon trollers at the meeting provided comments and voiced concerns to a panel of fishery managers, scientists, and industry representatives. Stakeholder input will be taken into consideration when developing three alternatives for this season during the virtual Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) meeting, which will be held March 2-5 and 8-11, 2021. Final regulations will be adopted at the April 6-9 and 12-15, 2021 virtual PFMC meeting. Meeting details and ways to attend can be found on the PFMC website.
To access materials and information presented at today’s meeting or to learn more about the salmon season setting process, visit the Salmon Preseason Process web page. For general ocean salmon fishing information, visit the Ocean Salmon Project web page or call the ocean salmon hotline at (707) 576-3429.
Central Valley anglers and guides have been critical of the projections after what they experienced as a very poor 2020 fall fishing season. James Stone, president of the NorCal Guides and Sportsmens Association, made a passionate plea in a Facebook video prior to the conference and also called into the public comment portion of the meeting on Thursday, reminding the commission of how poor the fishing went last fall and voiced concerns about the long-term sustainability of the salmon fishery.
“I’m going to be fighting for you. I’m going to be fighting for the resource,” he said on Facebook. “I’m going to be fighting to make sure that my (children) might have the chance to catch a salmon in the Sacramento River again.”
Stone told a heartbreaking anecdote about his 6-year-old son telling he he didn’t like going salmon fishing with his dad because it had become so difficult to catch fish.
“We keep pushing the cart down the path and we keep saying, ‘Oh, we’ll solve the problem later. We’ll fight for water; we’ll fight for this; we’ll fight for that.’ Well, guess what, folks? It ain’t working,” Stone said.
“We’ve failed the public. We’ve failed you. We’ve failed me. My family. Your family. We’ve failed the commercial fleet. We’ve failed the charter fleet. We’ve failed the ocean recreational fishermen. We’ve failed the inland fisherman…”
Stone’s NorCal Guides and Sportsmens Association posted a Facebook update this morning:
The February 25th Salmon Information meeting forecast there are about 270,000 adult Sacramento Valley salmon in the ocean for 2021. Although 479,000 plus salmon were forecast last year, after the number caught was added to those that returned to spawn, the real number came out to be 370,000, which was 25 % less than forecasted.
In the next 2 months the Pacific Fisheries Management Council will use this forecast and other information to set times and areas open to both sport and commercial ocean salmon fishing for 2021. There will be many constraints in the ocean and probably an expected horrible return to be less than last year.About 138,000 adult salmon returned to spawn in the Sacramento Basin during 2020, which is 50% fewer than the 277,000 salmon predicted to return to spawn and for harvest.
Last season we had about 14,000 jacks, or two year old salmon, returned to spawn. The jack number in 2020 is used to forecast the abundance number of adult salmon CDFW believes are now in the ocean. We will have many updates after the first PFMC meeting from March 2 to March 11 and a better idea of what will be happening next season.We will continue to participate in the process and update you along the way next week.
UPDATE: Golden State Salmon Association sent out a press relesase:
San Francisco, CA — Today officials forecast there are about 271,000 adult Sacramento Valley salmon now in the ocean off the West Coast. This compares to 473,183 forecast a year ago at this time and suggests some restrictions are likely to be enacted in the 2021 salmon fishing season. In the months ahead, officials with the Pacific Fisheries Management Council will use this forecast and other information to set times and areas open to both sport and commercial ocean salmon fishing for 2021. If restrictions are deemed necessary, we’ll learn of them then.
Although 473,000 plus salmon were forecast last year, after the number caught was added to those that returned to spawn, the real number came out to be 370,000, about 22 percent fewer than forecast.
About 138,000 adult salmon returned to spawn in the Sacramento Basin during 2020, which is 105,000 fewer than the 233,000 salmon predicted to return to spawn. In addition, about 14,000 jacks, or two year old salmon, returned to spawn. The jack number in 2020 is used to forecast the number of adult salmon officials believe are now in the ocean.
One reason for the drop off in the 2021 salmon forecast is chronic over-diversion of Central Valley rivers. 2020 returns were also bolstered by added hatchery production in 2017 that contributed to the 2020 fishery. There was no additional hatchery production to aid 2021 fisheries and returns.
“It will be several more weeks before we begin to learn what kind of restrictions we might see on fishing this year, but the treatment of our salmon resource by freshwater managers as an afterthought is taking its toll,” said GSSA president John McManus.
The number of fish that returned to the Klamath Basin, although slightly better than forecast, was still not enough to plot a 2021 commercial fishery free of concern. Commercial fishing in the Fort Bragg zone, stretching from Pt. Arena to just north of Shelter Cove in southern Humboldt County, will likely be limited in 2021.
“If water managers would leave more water in the rivers during some of the drier years, we’d always have more salmon,” said GSSA director and co-owner of Reel Magic Sportfishing Mike Aughney.
Since baby salmon are considered one year old when they leave the Central Valley in the spring, and most return as three year old adults, you can usually count on good fishing two years after lots of rain and snow. Although there was decent rain and runoff in 2019, this year’s forecast is poor, in part because of the severe decline of salmon in the last drought.
“Drought could revisit us almost anytime, including this year. We need to build and fortify in the good years so we don’t get wiped out again in the bad,” said GSSA secretary Dick Pool.
“That’s why GSSA is working overtime to get salmon recovery, habitat improvements, and hatchery improvements on the state’s radar.”