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Chinook salmon fishery policy on Sacramento River explained in detail

May 21, 2009 | 11:16 am

Ben Bowers_lfr chinook In support of the California Department of Fish and Game and its effort to keep hunters and anglers informed, Outposts, on Thursday afternoon or Friday, lists a portion of Carrie Wilson's weekly Q&A column and provides a link so viewers can read its entire contents. Here's this week's lead topic:

Question: With the collapse of the salmon fishery in 2008, what was the reasoning for allowing people to fish for salmon in the Sacramento River? I saw numerous pictures of king salmon taken in the Sacramento River last year, but if there is a downfall in the species, this makes no sense. These fish have been traveling for miles only to be snagged by some angler. They are full of eggs and are a future resource. If we can't fish in the ocean, how can we allow the river anglers to kill the spawners? Please have the powers that be answer why when we are worried about the number of fish [salmon] returning to the rivers, the Department of Fish and Game allows river fishing. (Todd F. and Bill G)

Answer: There are four distinct runs of Chinook (king) salmon in the Central Valley: fall run, winter run, spring run and late-fall run. The fishery closure in 2008 was enacted to protect the Sacramento River fall run Chinook. The limited 2008 fishery opportunity was designed to target the late-fall run Chinook (a different run of salmon) after the majority of the fall-run Chinook of concern had moved upstream and out of the small area opened to fishing.

According to Senior Fisheries Biologist Scott Barrow, late-fall run Chinook have had a stable status of 10,000 to 18,000 adult salmon in the last five years with a historic range of 1,000 to 40,000 adults since 1996. The California Fish and Game Commission approved the 2008 recreational fishery from Knights Landing to Red Bluff Diversion Dam to target this stock, and it was successful with negligible impact on Sacramento River fall run Chinook.

Economically, the 2008 late-fall run fishery provided $1 million of economic benefit to the inland salmon fishing communities during the otherwise declared 2008 salmon disaster year (with its projected $255 million loss for the State of California.)

The good news for 2009 is that 122,100 adult Sacramento River fall run Chinook are projected to return to spawn. This is more than double the 2008's projection of 59,000 returning adults. It also just meets the federal Salmon Fishery Management Plan conservation objective of 122,000 to 180,000 returning natural and hatchery adult Sacramento River fall run Chinook.

For 2009, the Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended and the Commission approved a 10-day ocean fishery in northern California to target Klamath River fall run Chinook stocks. Also approved was another limited recreational fishery for late-fall run Chinook on the Sacramento River from Knights Landing to the Red Bluff Diversion Dam, with a two-week delay in the opening date. Both of these limited area fisheries will have negligible impact on the Sacramento River fall run Chinook stock.

The rest of the Central Valley basin, which includes the Sacramento (excluding the area between Knights Landing and the Red Bluff Diversion Dam), Feather, American and San Joaquin rivers along with all of their tributaries, will remain closed to salmon fishing in 2009.

Also new for 2009: Catch-and-release fishing for salmon is now illegal when salmon fishing is closed in all Central Valley areas.

--Carrie Wilson

Photo: DFG scientific aid Ben Bowers measures and takes a scale sample for aging from a late-fall run Chinook salmon from last year's fishery on the Sacramento River near Knights Landing. Credit: Harry Morse