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Cautious Optimism

While leaf peepers in New England eagerly await the fall of golden and red tinted leaves, West Coast fishery biologists and anglers are looking forward to a "fall" of a different kind. As the temperatures drop and the leaves change, the fall-run Chinook salmon begin the long journey back to their natal stream for spawning. Anglers are gearing up for prime inland salmon fishing and biologists have begun setting up fish counting systems in Central Valley rivers. Both are optimistic for what is anticipated to be a promising season for Central Valley salmon inland fishing and escapement (i.e., the fish that 'escape' the fishery and make it to the spawning grounds). The ocean fishing effort data reflect the increased enthusiasm among salmon anglers this year. As of August 31, recreational anglers off the coast of California are estimated to have made a total of 130,682 fishing trips, up from last year's total of 91,098. The ocean salmon season is coming to an end and the harvest numbers show substantial improvement since 2005, indicating that folks in the Central Valley may have reason for excitement.


The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) forecasted an overall Sacramento River fall-run Chinook (SRFC) salmon abundance of 819,400 adults this year. The California ocean harvest number are just component of the complicated sum used to estimate the Sacramento Index (SI) of SRFC abundance (i.e., the sum of recreational and commercial harvest attributed to SRFC, and SRFC escapement). Given the preliminary California ocean harvest was already 284,110 salmon as of August 31 (172,914 and 111,196 for commercial and recreational, respectively; Figure 1), everyone is hopeful that despite recent overestimates, the 2012 forecast was not overly optimistic. This preliminary harvest for California has already surpassed the overall annual SI for the past five years (41,100-257,900 salmon), indicating that the Sacramento population is continuing its climb back from the bottom. Unfortunately, catch numbers themselves are not a useful indicator of the actual SI abundance for a few reasons. The percent of SRFC salmon harvested in the ocean has fluctuated between 20% and 80% over the past ten years. Also, the total California harvest is a combination of Klamath River fall Chinook, SRFC and other Central Valley runs, thus an estimate of SRFC-specific harvest must be calculated. So, to know where the Sacramento River salmon stand in 2012 we'll have to sit tight till next February when the official numbers are announced by PFMC.


After a few years of extraordinarily low numbers, we may be approaching the light at the end of the tunnel. If the news is, in fact, as good as it sounds, we could be looking at the first sign of an industry on the rebound and the communities that have been affected by the California salmon collapse may feel some reprieve. However, the salmon harvest numbers are still far from the peak values seen in the early 2000s and the combination of events that lead to the collapse of Central Valley salmon in the first place is still under debate, so we aren't out of the woods yet.

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They're back!    

WIt's the time of year when Central Valley communities celebrate the return of fall-run Chinook salmon. Last weekend, thousands of people ventured to the Oroville Salmon Festival to enjoy music, food and vendors. Of course, the main appeal was to catch a glimpse of Chinook salmon swimming up the Feather River to the California Department of Fish and Game fish hatchery and to check out the spawning operation. Activities and games designed to teach children about the salmon life cycle were popular with the younger crowd, but nothing could beat the viewing windows of the fish ladder, where you could get within arm's length of large Chinook... Read more > 

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Figure 1. California ocean salmon harvest for commercial and recreational fishing. Data from 2001-2011 pulled from Table I-4 of the Review of 2011 Ocean Salmon Fisheries and 2012 data from the September Supplemental Information Report 4. Note: * Preliminary estimates. 
IN THE NEWS: Recent stories you might have missed...
Oroville Fish Hatchery killing some salmon without spawning
Oroville Mercury Register


With an unexpected abundance of chinook salmon entering the Feather River Fish Hatchery and the mixing of spring and fall runs, thousands of fish have been culled - or killed - without spawning this year, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. "All salmon are killed, even the ones spawned," said Kathy Hill, program manager of the Northern California Regional Office in Rancho Cordova... Read more>

New Study Provides Detailed View of Pre-Development Delta
DFG News


The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has been transformed over 150 years from the largest system of wetlands on the West Coast of the United States into an expanse of farms, levees and channels that support California's water delivery system. A new study provides a detailed look at the Delta before levees and water diversions permanently altered it. This will help guide efforts now under way to improve ecological function in the Delta... Read more>

Columbia R. chinook fortunes ride high on young salmon passing Astoria

There were doubles, a triple ... one boat may even have had four fish on at the same time. From dawn to dusk a week ago today, one of the best salmon bites in my lifetime lit up faces aboard a few hundred boats clustered between Tongue Point and the upper end of Rice Island. It was as if we'd launched on top of the entire fall chinook run, compressed by tide, temperature and divine providence into the narrow band of river-meets-estuary... Read more > 

NMFS report details millions of wasted fish
World Fishing & Aquaculture

The The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) findings showed that from North Carolina to Maine, a significant amount of fish were discarded, likely dead or dying - some trawl fisheries were found to dispose of more than half of their catch. The report follows the New England Fishery Management Council's fight against major reductions in catch limits for the 2013 year fishing based on a new stock assessment for groundfish fishery for cod, haddock and flounder, due to missing or inaccurate data... Read more >

Counting Fish 101

American Progress         

Science is integral to fishing operations. Without the ability to estimate how many fish exist in the ocean there's no way to determine how many of them we can catch while allowing the remaining fish populations to stay viable. But fish live in a mostly invisible world beneath the ocean surface, they move around constantly, and they eat each other. This creates a dynamic population structure that's incredibly difficult to track, making fish virtually impossible to count. Read more >