Salmon season forecast shows ‘slightly improved’ prospects

Sacramento and Klamath Chinook still 'overfished'

A Chinook salmon swims in the Klamath River. California’s 2019 ocean salmon fishing season should be slightly better than last year’s, the CDFW said Friday. (The Times-Standard — File Photo)
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The California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced California’s 2019 ocean salmon fishing season is looking “slightly better than last year’s,” in a statement released Friday.

According to the statement, ocean abundance projections put estimates for Sacramento River fall Chinook salmon at 379,000 adult salmon, with Klamath River fall Chinook coming in at 274,000.

Chenchen Shen, an environmental scientist with the CDFW Ocean Salmon Project, said she believes there “likely will be a season.”

“It depends on how the council decides,” she said. “There is some good news, and ocean abundance levels are higher than last year.”

Shen said the situation is a bit complicated. Although the ocean abundance projections are looking better than last year, for the most part, both Klamath River fall Chinook and Sacramento River fall Chinook are in an “overfished status.”

The reason both types of Chinook are in an “overfished status” is due to low “spawning escapement” for the past several years, meaning most fish made it to spawning. A three-year geometric mean is used to determine current escapement levels, and if the number falls below what the minimum escapement threshold is, the fish is labeled as overfished.

Shen said the minimum escapement level for Klamath River fall Chinook was about 41,000, with over 50,000 returning last year. Next year, the escapement level would have to be about 63,000 if the Klamath River fall Chinook are to move out of the overfished status.

Dave Bitts, a local commercial fisherman, said the numbers looked “a little bit scant.”

“It should be enough for people to have some success fishing and still put enough in the river,” he said. “It’s far from great … we start to get excited if predictions are around a half million or more.”

The numbers for Sacramento River fall Chinook, which Bitts called the “bread-and-butter stock,” are much better than the previous year, he noted. Last year there were 50,000 to 70,000 available to catch.

“70,000 fish doesn’t go very far,” he said.

If the forecast is accurate, he said, there could be as many as 200,000 Sacramento River fall Chinook for all parties to catch this year.

Aaron Newman, another local commercial fisherman, said he feels like the projections are a bit lower than they should be and worries they might lead to a shorter season.

“I hope things work out good this summer for a good season,” he said.

Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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