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Another bad year for a wild-salmon barbie

February 25, 2009 |  5:10 pm

Gastronomes beware. It’s looking to be another sorry season for wild salmon.

With federal regulators predicting another dismal return of Chinook to California rivers, commercial fishermen are anticipating they will once again be ordered to stay off the water.

Last year the feds, for the first time ever, shut down the salmon season before it began. Although returns on some rivers are better this year, they’re probably not enough to convince officials at the Pacific Fishery Management Council to let commercial anglers out of port.

“It looks lousy again,” said Duncan MacLean, a captain from Half Moon Bay. “I’ll be shocked if we get a season.”

The big problem once again is the Sacramento River. It's the prime salmon spawning ground on the West Coast, but it has flagged the last two seasons. Last year saw 66,000 fish return. This year scientists expect the numbers to almost double — but that’s not likely to be enough to allow commercial fishermen to go at it again.

“This is grim news for the state of California,” said Don Hansen, chairman of the regulatory council. “We won’t be able to talk about this without using the word ‘disaster.’ ”

Commercial salmon fishermen survived last year after the federal government ordered up $170 million in disaster relief for the industry. This year will require more of the same, said MacLean, or the industry will go bust.

“I used to be able to say they’d have to pry my gaff hook from my cold, dead fingers,” he said. “But I don’t know now. If I don’t have disaster help, me and a lot of other fishermen are going to be up the creek without a paddle.”

— Eric Bailey