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Forecasts Indicate Another Promising Salmon Season in Oregon

 


If preliminary estimates are any indication, prospects for the 2014 salmon season off Oregon’s shores are quite good for both recreational and commercial fishermen.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) leaders provided abundance forecasts during the Ocean Salmon Industry Group (OSIG) meeting held February 27 in Newport. At worst, they say 2014 could mirror last season’s upturn. At best, it could provide another step up as Oregon’s salmon fishery continues to try sailing out of the doldrums of several consecutive poor seasons.

Strong abundance forecasts for coho, as well as Sacramento River and Klamath River fall chinook promise commercial and recreational fishing opportunities along the entire coast, especially Oregon. Eric Schindler, ocean salmon sampling project leader with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW)’s Marine Resources Program, said predictions again look good south of Cape Falcon, Oregon, to the Oregon-California border.

Craig Foster from ODFW’s salmon technical team, said preseason expectations for coho show “the best forecast abundance in several years” at 1.2 million, most of them (983,100) hatchery fish. “It’s not two million,” he added, “but we haven’t seen numbers like that since 2009.” Coho expectations exceed the 2013 forecast by nearly half a million fish.

As for Chinook, the forecast is well below 2013 – the 635,000 from the Sacramento River is almost 200,000 less than 2013, and the almost 300,000 in the Klamath River is 435,000 less than 2013 – yet well above the required threshold for returns that would trigger severe restrictions or shutdowns. Foster said the Sacramento returns were “pretty similar to what we had in 2012,” which was the first year salmon fishermen were able to haul in any significant catches since 2005.

Commercial salmon fishermen, in particular, have watched their livelihoods dwindle to almost nil during the past several seasons – even the promising ones in 2011 and 2012 that didn’t quite reach anticipated potentials. Last season signaled a course change for their fortunes, but the cumulative economic effects during that stretch of poor fishing opportunities were substantial, not just for the commercial fishery, but recreational marine and freshwater fisheries and the communities that depend on them.

Nancy Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Oregon Salmon commission, said income impacts for coastal communities are estimated per commercial pound and per recreational fishing day. Those estimates are based on reported landings by area and other factors of personal income associated with harvesting, processing and “first level distribution activities” in the commercial and recreational salmon fisheries at the local community, county and state levels.

Fishermen say costs for moorage fees, insurance, equipment, fuel and more – all the expenses of preparation paid out before you even put a boat in the water – keep rising, market prices and weather fluctuate, regulations and restrictions change, and the ongoing debate between wild versus hatchery fish continues. Although the 2013 catch was a definite improvement, fishery managers said ocean conditions kept it from being even better.

Foster said, “ocean-related variables negatively and directly affected the coho forecast.” Chris Kern, ODFW’s acting deputy fish division administrator, agreed. “Ocean conditions weren’t outstanding – they were good, but not great,” he noted.

Despite the preseason optimism and abundance forecasts, the overall process for determining 2014 fishing seasons and quotas has just begun.

Fitzpatrick said the salmon fishery management equation – the way quotas and seasons are determined – makes salmon “the most complicated and regulated fish in the Pacific Northwest.”

Ocean salmon fishing regulations are developed through an open public process involving state and federal agencies, commercial and recreational fishing interests.

Regulations for ocean waters from 3-200 miles out are first proposed through the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), which recommends management measures for fisheries off the coasts of Oregon, Washington and California. The process is reviewed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and finally signed into law by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

While ODFW sets regulations from the shore to three miles out, those regulations must fall within the standards established by PFMC.

The process begins in late February and early March each year, with a week long PFMC meeting to review the status of the salmon populations of importance to West Coast fisheries, and consider proposals from the public and fishery managers for fishing season alternatives. These fishing season options then go out for more public comment through a series of public hearings to gather testimony. In April, the PFMC convenes to adopt the final set of regulations for the ocean waters off Washington, Oregon, and California. Those regulations generally go into effect May 1 and end April 30 the following year.

Final regulations from PFMC are submitted to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission (OFWC) for approval. OFWC can adopt stricter regulations for the state’s territorial sea, but otherwise must follow the PFMC regulations. State officials can adopt specific seasons to harvest salmon returning to coastal rivers.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife held its forecast meeting February 26, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife set its meeting for March 3. The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), met March 7-13 in Sacramento to adopt 2014 ocean salmon options, followed by a series of public meetings and hearings to discuss those options. The last of those sessions was set for April 3 in Olympia, Washington. PFMC didn’t adopt the 2014 salmon fishery regulations until the first week of April (after Fishermen’s News press time), and ODFW won’t adopt state salmon fishery regulations until April 25.

NOAA Fisheries must give its stamp of approval on May 1.

The underlying concern with the annual process and its timeline, said fishermen and others attending the OSIG session in Newport, is information lag.

Commercial fishermen say it’s too iffy trying to develop a business plan if they don’t know about the season’s potential until mid-March. Most would prefer having more reliable estimates and related data by December or January at the latest. Dean Fleck from Englund Marine, a marine supply business in Newport, echoed the fishermen’s concerns, noting that he must order well in advance to have enough of the right gear on hand when the season starts.

Commercial fishermen offered their suggestions for the Oregon fishery’s preferred options to pass along for consideration by PFMC members. Then all they could do was gear up for what they hope will be a good season.

 
 
 
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