California Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends 2024 ocean salmon closure

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BY DAVE HURLEY

SACRAMENTO– The California Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended Alternative 3 – Salmon Closure during the final days of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) meeting mirroring the opinions of commercial and recreational charter boat anglers. The department’s position is a significant change from early March. The PFMC meetings are being held in Seattle from April 6 to 11, and the final recommendations of the council will be forwarded to the California Fish and Game Commission in May.

Marcy Yaremko, Environmental Program Manager, Marine Region (Region 7) presented the department’s position on April 6 during the PFMC salmon setting process meetings in Seattle. Yaremko said, “We came back from the March meeting, and our department spent some time carefully considering the alternatives, and the department has made the very difficult decision to again recommend closing ocean salmon fisheries in California in 2024. The department also strongly urges the council for all council-managed fisheries to minimize the impacts for Sacramento and Klamath River stocks. This year’s Sac fall ocean abundance forecast is just over 213,000 adults, yes, that’s an improvement over last year’s forecast of only 169,000 adults, but it is still the second-lowest forecast since the fishery was closed in 2008/2009. The performance of the abundance forecasting tools add concern when considering prosecuting fisheries in 2024 given the consequence of management error would be more severe when the projected harvestable surplus is so marginal. Last year, the preseason projected escapement when we left was 165,000 adults to return, but the postseason returns were only 133,000 adults. This was with no fishing. In fact, Sac fall narrowly missed an overfished determination in 2024 had escapement been on slightly lower than it actually was.”

Yaremko went on to review the Klamath escapement returns, and although there was some improvement in the forecast, the stock remains overfished for the 7th consecutive year. The escapement forecast barely exceeded minimum goal by 900 adults. Escapement to the upper Sacramento was very poor for fall-run, winter-run, and spring-run this year. Spring-run returns were perilously low with only 1400 adults and only 100 in the natural spawning tributaries. Winter-run was likewise very depressed. Fall run returns in the upper Sac were historically low. Natural area adult returns were the lowest two years consecutively in history with only 9620 adults. She ended with “Overall, there is some improvement in some instances and perhaps some reasons for optimism. We seem to be enjoying some spawner improvements in some stocks, but there is still a long way to go. CDFW understands the significant impacts that fishery closures have on the people of California, but these abundance forecasts for our stocks are just too low. The stocks and their habitats just need another year to recover.”

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So it appears that for the second year in a row, the salmon fishery will be closed in California, leaving coastal communities in economic peril. The disaster money allocated for 2023 has yet to be distributed to commercial, recreational charter boats, tackle shops, and other businesses affected by the inability to fish for salmon. Despite the department’s optimism, we are at a tipping point for the survival of California’s salmon and the salmon industry.

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