West Coast salmon numbers up, but not enough

By: By JEFF BARNARD, Associated Press Writer
By: By JEFF BARNARD, Associated Press Writer

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - West Coast salmon fishermen can expect another lousy fishing season - the third in a row.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council said Wednesday that there are barely enough chinook returning to California's Sacramento River to spawn a new generation.

That will likely mean no sport or commercial salmon fishing off California and little off Oregon, for fear of unintentionally killing too many Sacramento fish swimming with more prevalent stocks, said Chuck Tracy, head of the salmon section for the Portland-based council.

Even so, returns are forecast to be some of the best ever for coho and chinook returning to Oregon and Washington rivers, particularly the Columbia, which will mean a general improvement in fishing north of Cape Falcon on the northern Oregon Coast and into Washington.

"The only comfort is it's an upward trend, but not upward enough this year to expect anything but closures all the way up to Cape Falcon," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, which represents California-based salmon fishermen.

Ocean seasons were generous in 2007, but the catch was poor. In 2008, the seasons were practically shut down coast-wide for fear of wiping out the Sacramento chinook run after it took a sudden drop. Both years Congress voted disaster assistance to salmon fishermen. California has traditionally had the biggest fleet, followed by Oregon and then Washington.

The average economic impact of the fishery dramatically dropped from $66 million between 2003 and 2007 to $6.9 million in 2008.

Last year's collapse was blamed primarily on poor ocean conditions producing little for salmon to eat. Fishermen and conservation groups also pointed to large irrigation withdrawals from the Sacramento Delta as juvenile salmon were migrating to the ocean in 2005 and 2006.

Scientists have said a switch in climatic conditions in recent years has produced more food in the ocean, setting up more abundant salmon returns in 2010.

In coming decades, salmon are expected to have it tougher, as warming temperatures reduce the amount of water stored in mountain snowpacks, diminishing flows in rivers where salmon spend the first part of their lives.

A draft report on 41 potential factors in the Sacramento decline is to be delivered to the council in April, when it meets in Milbrae, Calif., to set the final ocean salmon seasons.

Actual returns regularly fall short of forecasts, but this year's prediction for the Sacramento calls for 122,196 salmon if none are caught by fishermen - just 196 more than the minimum for spawning a new generation.

The Klamath River forecast was also up, but marked the fourth straight year below what is needed for a new generation. Low returns to the Klamath have been a perennial headache for fisheries managers due to dams, logging and poor water quality.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., said he would work to see that any leftover 2008 disaster assistance is made available to fishermen.

A coalition of 100 outdoor gear and recreational fishing businesses called on President Barack Obama and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to reverse the policies of the Bush administration on salmon in the Columbia Basin, where 13 salmon runs are on the threatened and endangered species lists.

"With the Obama administration and a new Congress, we now have our best opportunity to end the political and legal deadlock of the last eight years and bring our salmon back from the brink of extinction," Gareth Martins, marketing director for Osprey Packs, said in a statement.

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On the Net:
Pacific Fishery Management Council: http://www.pcouncil.org


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