Salmon fishing outlook good for 2014

California should see strong offshore salmon fishing seasons this year, despite the drought, and regulators will meet in Sacramento next week to begin planning the commercial and recreational catch rules.

Biologists estimate that more than 600,000 Sacramento River fall-run chinook salmon are in the Pacific Ocean this year. While that is fewer than in 2013, it is probably enough to ensure a full fishing season once again.

“We can have last year’s fishery and then some,” said Mike Burner, salmon staff officer at the Pacific Fishery Management Council. “I don’t expect Central Valley or Sacramento River fish to be a constraining stock, if you will.”

The council, based in Portland, Ore., is a multistate agency that sets commercial and recreational fishing seasons in the ocean, where the salmon season typically starts in May.

Fishing seasons in California rivers will be determined by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife after the council acts. Several coastal rivers and streams, as well as the American River, were closed to fishing this winter in response to the drought. Those closures will be revisited when the department prepares new season rules.

Sacramento River fall-run chinook salmon are among the most important species for the wild-caught king salmon market in the lower 48 states. While the Columbia River produces a significant share of fish for this market as well, most of the salmon from that species travel north in the ocean and are caught off Canada and Alaska, Burner said.

“For the lower 48 states, and if you’re just considering marine fisheries, they are probably the most important,” Burner said of the Sacramento River salmon.

This run, however, has been through hard times in recent years. The council closed the fishery completely in 2008 and 2009, for the first time in history, to protect it during a steep population crash. It has rebounded since, but landings by fishermen are still well below the averages seen in the 1990s.

The current drought does not have much effect on salmon in the ocean, which were born in the river and migrated to sea two to four years ago.

Drought does raise a concern, however, for young salmon migrating to the sea this year. Many may not make it because river flows are relatively low and warm, and because those conditions subject them to more predators and pollution. The health of this population will determine the fishing seasons starting in 2015.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in Sacramento March 7 through 13 at the DoubleTree Hotel, 2001 Point West Way, to review an initial set of fishing season options for salmon and other species. Final decisions will be made in April at a meeting in Vancouver, Wash. For more information, visit www.pcouncil.org/salmon or call (503) 820-2280.