Klamath River Salmon Season Faces Closure due to ‘Unprecedented’ Forecast

Both sport and commercial salmon fishing near the Klamath River could be completely closed this year as a result of what the Pacific Fishery Management Council is projecting to be the lowest return of spawning Chinook salmon on record.

“The salmon runs this year will present a challenge for ocean fishermen and managers throughout the West Coast,” Council Executive Director Chuck Tracy said in a statement. “In the north, several coho runs will keep ocean quotas lower than normal. In the south, the low forecast for Klamath River fall Chinook is unprecedented, and the most restrictive alternative the council will consider allows no ocean fishing between Cape Falcon, Oregon and the U.S./Mexico border after April 30 this year.”

A group of fishermen & fisherwomen cast their lines on the mouth of the Klamath River. The Klamath is projected to have a historically low run of Chinook this year, prompting suggestions of a season closure. (T-S file)

The council recommends fishery management measures to the federal government each year and provides several alternative options. For the Klamath Management Zone, which runs between the Oregon border to the Humboldt Bay south jetty, every alternative the council is recommending would close sport and commercial ocean salmon fishing.

Local salmon fisherman David Bitts who serves as the California troll salmon advisor to the council said that this year’s season looks very much like 1992, which he said was the leanest year he’s experienced. Bitts said they expect about 12,000 Chinook salmon spawners to return to the river this year when they would want to see about 35,000 to 40,000.

“It’s going to be a grim year and I hope there are enough fish in the ocean that people can catch enough to get through the year,” he said.

In-river harvest could be completely closed or limited to a total of 120 fish, which Bitts said would likely result in a full closure due to the low number.

Last year, the Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes were allocated about 7,000 salmon to harvest by the management council. This was the second lowest harvest the tribes have ever received, prompting the Yurok Tribe to close its commercial fishery and limit the number of fish tribal members could catch for food. Yurok Tribe general counsel and tribal member Amy Cordalis said last year’s harvest was not enough for every tribal member to harvest even one fish.

This year, the management council is recommending the tribes be allocated as few as 200 salmon to a maximum of about 800, according to the council’s preseason report.

“We’re looking at a collapse of the coho and chinook genes on the Klamath River,” Cordalis said.

Hoopa Valley Tribe Fisheries Director Mike Orcutt said this is the worst available harvest the tribes have received and will affect not only the tribe’s fisheries, but also its cultural ceremonies such as the deerskin dance.

“I don’t think the realization of what we’re looking at has hit home for people,” he said.

The now former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker declared a fisheries disaster for the Yurok Tribe in January because of last year’s poor Chinook salmon, which opens the tribe up to federal relief funds. Congress will have to appropriate funding for the tribe, which could occur within the next several weeks.

“Our commercial fishery is one of the only ways we can make money,” Cordalis said. “There are very limited economic opportunities in Klamath. So we have suffered. There are challenges for tribal members to pay their bills, kids are going without school clothes. The delay has been very challenging for us.”

While federal disaster relief funds will help temporarily, Orcutt said, “Money doesn’t replace the resource that we’re going to be losing.”

Both the management council and Cordalis state that this year’s low run is the result of a combination of drought as well as poor river and ocean conditions during the past three years.

Tribal studies conducted in 2014 and 2015 found up to 90 percent of juvenile Chinook salmon on the lower Klamath River were infected by a deadly intestinal parasite, which Cordalis said is a contributing factor in this year’s low returns.

Both the Hoopa Valley and Yurok tribes filed a lawsuit against two federal agencies last year that alleged the federal government’s control of dam water releases on the Klamath River resulted in the high infection rate. In February, a federal judge ordered the federal agencies and the tribes to work to create a new dam water release plan for the Klamath River to prevent further outbreaks from occurring.

Cordalis said that the proposed removal of four Klamath River dams along with improved management of the river will work to revitalize the salmon runs.

“Restoring the salmon runs is economic development for Humboldt and Del Norte counties,” Cordalis said.

Bitts said this year’s increased rainfall and improved river conditions are encouraging. While he remembers 1992 as one of the poorest salmon seasons on record, the fish that spawned that year resulted in one of the largest returns in 1995 and 1996.

“So we’ll cross our fingers that the few fish that make it up the river this year find good conditions and the little ones coming down find good conditions in the ocean,” Bitts said.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council is set to meet in Sacramento between April 6 and April 11 to select a final alternative to recommend. This final recommendation is expected to be forwarded to the National Marine Fisheries Service for approval and implementation by May 1.

Article by: Will Houston
Published: March 23, 2017 by The Eureka Times-Standard
Read original here.