State Senator Mike McGuire convened the 45th annual Zeke Grader Fisheries Forum last week in Sacramento, bringing together a dozen-odd anglers and experts for an afternoon of testimony about the state of California’s aquatic life. Grader was a legendary commercial fisherman in the state, who died a few years ago.
As McGuire noted, the fisheries meeting this year had special significance, occurring as it did against the backdrop of a reinvigorated offshore gas- and oil-drilling push from Washington, which pretty much nobody in California is supporting.
The meetings occurred against an additional backdrop which has seen sardine populations collapsing across the state and where, in Marin County, state health officials moved to shut down the coastal shell-fishery there two weeks ago because of high levels of a potentially fatal poison found in mussels and oysters at Point Reyes National Seashore.
Warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures are the suspected culprit, an increasingly common theme in state waters that have only recently come through a devastating and demoralizing outbreak of domoic acid poisoning in Dungeness crabs. In short, the poisoning occurs via algae blooms that occur in warm water.
A third straight year of low king salmon runs is expected to deliver another blow to one of the North Coast’s most iconic and lucrative fisheries, wildlife managers indicated Thursday, as both regulators and fishermen faced the prospect of a federally mandated plan to reverse the trend and rebuild key stocks.
The grim news comes amid a dramatic, yearslong decline in the state’s commercial salmon landings, which are down 97 percent last year from their most recent peak, in 2013, when they hit 12.7 million pounds.
The full picture for commercial and sport seasons won’t be clear for several more weeks, but spawning projections show Sacramento River salmon — historically the largest source for the state’s ocean and freshwater harvests — have fallen so low that they’re now considered by regulators to be “overfished.”
Wildlife officials acknowledged that term minimizes the many factors that have led to this point, including shifting conditions in the ocean and years of low river flows during the drought, all of which have pummeled stocks.
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The rising hum of activity in the port of Bodega Bay over recent days reveals an unexpected level of interest in the commercial salmon season that starts today, despite a three-month delay and what’s been an extremely grim outlook for the beleaguered fishery.
A large proportion of the local fleet has been gearing up to head out to open ocean, ready to drop their lines and test the waters. But the satisfied, even boisterous enthusiasm that once characterized the marinas during preseasons past has diminished during years of struggle in the fishing industry, some say.
A time that once carried the promise of hard work and dependable results now brims with uncertainty.
“It just isn’t there anymore, the old vim and vigor, and the excitement about getting ready for an opener, and this kind of stuff,” veteran fisherman Dan Kammerer, 75, said, recalling laughter and jokes that used to be shared along the docks. “It just isn’t fun anymore.”
Chinook salmon, also called king salmon, were once a prized staple of the North Coast’s fishing grounds, ranked just ahead or behind Dungeness crab in annual landings. But the population has been in severe decline, due in part to historic drought and disrupted ocean conditions that have reduced the survival of young salmon in freshwater streams and coastal waters.
After two dreadful seasons, state and federal wildlife biologists last spring forecast the lowest chinook salmon stocks off the Pacific Coast since 2009, when both sport and commercial fisheries were closed for the second consecutive year.
Read more: Uncertain salmon season launches in Bodega Bay | The Press Democrat
“It’s not that we think the net pen project is necessarily a bad project,” the committee’s past chairman, Gordon Bennett, and president of Save Our Seashore, said, but the potential risks and mitigations need to be evaluated.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has pulled the plug on plans to release a quarter-million hatchery-born Chinook salmon into Bodega Bay after several North Bay conservation groups demanded the agency first conduct a full environmental review.
The decision to cancel the project came just weeks before the planned release, providing what commercial and recreational fishing interests hoped would be a boost to fishery stocks when the juvenile smolts matured in three years.
But limited experience with ocean releases, and available data on survival, migration and spawning habits of trucked hatchery fish raised concerns about how they might mix or out-compete endangered fish naturally occurring in the Russian River and Lagunitas Creek once the introduced fish reached spawning age.
The fish were to have been transported directly from the Mokelumne River Hatchery in San Joaquin County to Bodega Bay, bypassing the usual downstream voyage from native freshwater habitat to the ocean.
That plan would have left them subject to straying randomly upstream, a Marin County salmon restoration group wrote to state wildlife officials as part of its insistence on a full and public environmental review.
“We have already documented adult Chinook from Half Moon Bay releases straying into Lagunitas Creek,” said the letter from the Lagunitas Creek Technical Advisory Committee, an independent consortium of about two dozen local, state and federal natural resource and wildlife agencies.
The hatchery fish, the letter said, “could increase the extinction risk of the nearby wild and endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead,” potentially bringing disease, diluting the genetics of wild fish stocks or out-competing natural fish for food and habitat in both ocean and freshwater areas.
Read more at: State decides against salmon release in Bodega Bay | The Press Democrat
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The hatchery-reared fish will be trucked directly to Sonoma County from the state-run Mokelumne River hatchery near Lodi as part of a continuing effort to augment California’s declining Chinook salmon stocks, which took an especially hard hit during the prolonged drought.
Modeled after similar programs elsewhere on the California coast, the operation involves the use of a custom-made net pen to be positioned in the water, dockside, at Spud Point Marina in order to receive the smolts. The pen will provide a place for the young fish to adjust after their tanker ride and to acclimate to salt water before they head toward open water with the outgoing tide a few hours after their arrival.
The key advantage of such an effort is it allows the young fish to bypass the obstacles they would otherwise face getting downstream to the ocean, past unscreened water pumps and other dangers in the Sacramento River/San Joaquin River system, enhancing their chance of surviving to adulthood.
“The delta pumps just eat all those fish coming down, the little smolts coming down the river, and this makes sure that they make it northward to Bodega Bay, as a start,” said veteran Petaluma angler Victor Gonella, founder of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, a sport and commercial industry group that put the project together.“This is just really good news for the fishermen in Bodega, the businesses in Bodega, anybody who loves salmon,” Gonella said. “We’re all hopeful that it will continue for years to come as we continue this process.”
Read more at: Bodega Bay to be release site for quarter-million hatchery salmon
[The new viewing gallery] will host visits by about 3,000 school children a year, and the Water Agency will offer free tours of the Mirabel facility from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 12 and Nov. 18. People can register for one of the tours at www.scwa.ca.gov/tours.
A massive concrete structure, built to withstand floods and earthquakes beside the Russian River near Forestville, is the latest step toward restoring the river’s beleaguered salmon and steelhead populations.
The 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county residents who get their drinking water from the river paid for most of the $12 million fish ladder, which includes both a video monitoring system so scientists can count the migrating fish and a viewing gallery that will give the public a glimpse as well.
Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which developed the facility, said it offered a unique, submarine vantage point in California to watch wild salmon make their way upstream.
“This is open-heart surgery that we accomplished in our river system,” he said.
At a formal ribbon-cutting attended by about 150 people Wednesday, state Sen. Mike McGuire hailed the fish ladder as “a legacy project.”
“The Russian River is who we are in Sonoma County,” he said, noting that the river’s once-abundant salmon and steelhead long fed the region’s Pomo Indian tribes.
Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, lauded the project as a pivotal one for salmon recovery in California.
Describing the annual migration of river-born fish to the ocean and back to their own spawning grounds, Bonham said, “What journey is more inspiring than that one?”
Read more at: New $12 million Russian River fish ladder offers glimpse of salmon recovery efforts | The Press Democrat
October 13, 2016, NOAA FISHERIES NOAA Recovery Plan for Chinook and Steelhead
Millions of wild salmon and steelhead once returned to California’s north and central coastal watersheds. Development over the last 100 years and the conversion of forestlands to urban and agricultural use led to the decline of these populations. From 1997 to 2000, California Coastal Chinook salmon, Northern California steelhead, and Central California Coast steelhead were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as species threatened with extinction.
Today, NOAA Fisheries released its final plan to recover these species by addressing the threats they face and restoring the ecosystem on which they depend. The recovery plan strategically targets restoration efforts to the needs of salmon and steelhead throughout each of their life stages, from their time as juveniles in freshwater habitat, through their maturation in the ocean, and their return to streams to spawn. Using this framework, the plan seeks to improve estuarine and riparian habitat conditions, restore floodplains and stream channels, enhance stream flows and improve fish passage across 8 million acres of California’s north and central coast.
With science at its foundation, the plan provides for the biological needs of fish. A technical team of scientists, led by NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, developed criteria that will ensure the species persists over the long-term. The criteria address such attributes as population size and reproductive success rates, as well as sufficient geographic distribution and genetic diversity. The idea is to target on-the-ground actions to the needs of fish throughout their life cycle to restore robust populations across the landscape.
Read more at: New multispecies plan provides roadmap to salmon and steelhead recovery :: NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region
Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Another deadly summer of drought has heightened fears of extinction in the wild for an iconic California salmon, federal officials said Wednesday.
Officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service said preliminary counts indicate that hot, shallow waters caused by the drought killed most of this year’s juvenile winter-run Chinook before they made it out to the Pacific Ocean.
It “doesn’t look very good,” said Garwin Yip, a federal fisheries spokesman.If a final count this winter confirms the bad news, it would mean a second straight summer in which 5 percent or less of the young fish survived California’s drought.
Since the fish spawn on a three-year cycle, the die-off would make management of next year’s water critical for the salmon’s survival in the wild.
The development suggests failure for a second year in a row for federal efforts to manage water flows from Lake Shasta, a main reservoir in the state’s water system, to keep salmon and other species alive.
“Droughts are always hard on salmon, but water management decisions made it worse this year,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.
The juvenile salmon depend on water temperatures in the mid-50s, and were unable to survive in the warmer temperatures produced by shallower than usual water.
Chinook salmon are a mainstay of the state’s commercial fishing industry. California’s fishing industry and environmental groups are vying with the state’s farmers for diminishing water supplies in the driest four years on record.
Source: California drought puts Chinook salmon in danger of | The Press Democrat
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The North Coast fishing fleet got its first glimpse this week of rules guiding the commercial salmon season set to start May 1, including more days on the water this year than last, reflecting a hopeful outlook for the catch this year despite grim a cycle set in motion by the statewide drought.
The schedule set for the Fort Bragg region, in particular, is far more generous this year, with the season opening a month earlier than in 2014 and dates that allow seven additional days of fishing split between June and July.
Only one fishing day has been added for the coastal waters that include the Sonoma Coast and Bodega Bay, home port to 40 or 50 fishing vessels.
“This year we kind of bet that there’s going to be a northern shift (in the salmon stocks) because of ocean conditions,” said McKinleyville fisherman Dave Bitts, a member of the salmon advisory subcommittee to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees coastal fisheries off California, Oregon and Washington.
The season outlines were predicted by a relatively optimistic forecast released in February for the Sacramento River fall run of chinook salmon, which largely determines the North Coast harvest. Analysts predict about 652,000 adult chinook are waiting off the coast this year, about 18 percent more than are believed to have been in the ocean a year ago.
Any satisfaction with the current forecast, however, is somewhat overshadowed by concerns about the future, when adult salmon populations will more fully reveal the impact of three years of drought on spawning and offspring survival.
“This might be the last full season for four years,” longtime Bodega Bay fisherman Chris Lawson said. “We never do see what we call a traditional full season anymore, but this might be the most allotted time for we don’t know when. I can’t even say four years. I won’t know until it starts raining and fish populations come back.”
Read more via Hopeful year for North Coast salmon fleet, but | The Press Democrat.