This year's recreation salmon season has been set and it should be a good one, Port of Brookings Harbor Commissioner Jim Relaford told the Brookings City Council in a work session Monday evening.
The season, he said, will extend from May 10 to Sept. 7, and be limited to 80,000 pounds of Chinook.
"Those numbers are good for us," he said. "It tells us we're going to have an absolutely full salmon season."
Relaford was in attendance to ask the city to join the Klamath Management Zone (KMZ), an organization whose members lobby to get salmon quotas for the areas they represent along the West Coast. Brookings is in the zone that extends from Humbug Mountain to Horse Mountains near Eureka.
Brookings' involvement in the organization is important to ensure lengthy hauls in the years to come - a situation about which Relaford is more concerned in light of California's disastrous drought that appears might continue indefinitely.
"We can expect some hard times," he said. "I'm concerned about next year - the next three years."
California is in the grip of a drought that could rival everything since the state's inception.
Five years ago, the salmon season was called off after 30,000 smolt died after water was diverted from the Klamath River in California to slake the thirst of crops in the state's interior valley. This year, 12 million salmon smolt were transported in tanker trucks from the Coleman National Fish Hatchery in Anderson, Calif., 180 miles to Rio Vista, shortening the route the salmon take by 260 to 300 river miles.
Coleman smolts are typically released on-site into Battle Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento River, so they complete the imprinting cycle during their outmigration to the ocean. But the continuing severe drought in the Central Valley of California has made conditions in the Sacramento River and Delta untenable to the survival of juvenile salmon, according to officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
They're hoping the one-time release will decrease salmon mortality and increase ocean harvests.
"It's a tricky, tricky situation," Relaford said.
Thousands of people depend on the little fish making it.
"Every fisherman who comes here and puts his boat in the water represents about $400 a day," Relaford said, of the impact to the local economy. "Last year, there were 50,000 trips over the bar. This port is the busiest salmon fishing port in all of Oregon. It means a lot to our community."
His goal, he said, is to "develop days on the water," whether fish are caught or not.
"We don't really care if people catch a whole lot of fish," he said. "We want a whole lot of people trying to catch fish."
He said the water situation in California prompted him to appeal to the council - "on bended knee," he said - to join the KMZ.
"It's a battle between zones, between people who'd just as soon see Brookings out of season and Newport have a great big year," Relaford said.
The city council cannot make decisions in a work session, but agreed to consider the request at its next meeting, recognizing the importance of the salmon industry to the local economy.
"We could put flowers on every post in town," said Mayor Ron Hedenskog. "Or bears on every corner. And it won't attract visitors like a big, fat salmon will."