Federal Council Announces California Ocean Salmon Season Alternatives

by California Department of Fish & Wildlife

The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) has produced three options for ocean salmon seasons beginning May 16, 2024. Two of the three alternatives would authorize short ocean salmon season dates and establish small harvest limits for commercial and sport fishing off California in 2024. The third alternative would close the ocean fisheries off California for a second consecutive year. The alternatives were approved by the PFMC for public review Monday.

In response to several years of drought over the past decade, key California salmon target stocks are forecast to have 2024 abundance levels that, while higher than last year, are well below average. The 2024 stock abundance forecast for Sacramento River Fall Chinook, which is often the most abundant stock in the ocean fishery, is 213,600 adults. Meanwhile, abundance of Klamath River Fall Chinook is forecast at 180,700 adults. At this level of abundance, the Pacific Coast Salmon Fishery Management Plan authorizes only low levels of fishing on these stocks, and requires management be designed to allow most of the adult population to return to the river to spawn.

Commercial fishing alternatives propose a limited number of small quota fisheries, and would require vessel-based weekly trip limits that would apply in each open period. In-season action would be taken to close remaining season dates if total catch is expected to reach the harvest limit.

Recreational fishing alternatives would authorize up to seven short open fishing periods ranging from four to six days in length beginning in June and running through October. Scheduled dates would not be guaranteed and would be subject to two different statewide harvest guidelines. If the total sport catch reaches the limit prior to September, remaining dates prior to September would be canceled. Similarly, if total sport catch reaches the limit for dates scheduled in the months of September and October, remaining dates would be canceled.

In-season management and harvest limits are new concepts in management of commercial and recreational ocean salmon fisheries off California. Given the low abundance forecasts and spawner returns in recent years, it is crucial that any limited salmon fishing ultimately authorized be managed to ensure most of the fish return to the river this fall. Use of these strategies in 2024 ocean fisheries is expected to keep catches within pre-season projections.

On recommendation from California and Oregon agency representatives and industry advisors, the National Marine Fisheries Service took in-season actionto cancel ocean salmon fishery openers that were scheduled between Cape Falcon, Oregon and the U.S./Mexico border that were scheduled to open prior to May 16, 2024. The sport fishery off much of California had been set to open in early April. Season dates and regulations may be found on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife web page at www.wildlife.ca.gov/oceansalmon.

On March 25, 2024, the PFMC will hold a public hearing in Santa Rosa to receive public comment on the three proposed regulatory alternatives. The PFMC will then meet April 5-11 in Seattle, Washington to adopt final regulations for the season. More information on the three alternatives can be found at this link or see Pacific Fishery Management Council (pcouncil.org) for information regarding PFMC meetings and public comment opportunities.

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