On the water: 1.5 million reasons to prep for ocean salmon
Written by Larry Ellis, fishing columnist   
March 01, 2013 07:24 pm

Sharpen your hooks, tie your leaders and buy bait! Ocean salmon anglers from Brookings to Eureka can expect another terrific ocean salmon season this year. The annual pre-season report for ocean salmon abundance is predicting that 1,561,908 Sacramento and Klamath River Chinook will be finning their way through the ocean this year.

This year’s forecast predicts that a combination of 834,208 Sacramento River Chinook and 727,700 Klamath River kings will be swimming in the ocean. Both the Sacramento and Klamath rivers’ Chinook provide most of the fuel for the ocean salmon fishery in the southern Oregon/northern California coast.

Fisheries scientists often use jack salmon (2-year-old salmon) that return to a river as part of a predictor for the next year’s 3-year-old ocean abundance, since a significant portion of 2-year-olds remain in the ocean to become 3s.

Jacks that returned to the Klamath in 2012 and 2013 numbered 55,000 and 35,000 respectively, and that high jack return may have played a huge role for predicting this year’s ocean abundance of age-3 Chinook.

Of the 727,700 Klamath River salmon expected to be in the ocean this year, 390,700 fish are expected to be 3-year-old kings. Predicting the 3-year-old ocean abundance is the most difficult because scientists only have river returns to go by.

Predicting the amounts of 4-year-olds, and 5-year-old fish is far more accurate, since biologists use both previous river returns as well as current ocean catches to validate each other.

Since there were a lot of 3-year-old Klamath Chinook caught in the ocean last year, this year’s forecast is calling for 331,200 age-4 Chinook. That’s more than four times the amount of age-4 Klamath River Chinook that were forecast last year.

In addition, there should also be approximately 5,700 5 year olds available to anglers as well.

But I’m actually more excited about the Sacramento forecast of 834,208 Chinook, which is 14,808 more Chinook than 2012’s pre-season forecast of 819,400 salmon.

There have been a lot of years when incredible amounts of Klamath River Chinook were predicted to be in the ocean, yet the season was a little lackluster out of the Port of Brookings Harbor, due to the fact that most of these fish were caught off of Eureka and never made it past the California/Oregon border.

Every year, ODFW port samplers pass an electronic wand over a hatchery fish’s nose to determine if a coded-wire tag has been implanted in its snout. You are then given an option of filling out a self-addressed postcard. The following February, you receive the postcard with detailed information where the fish was raised and released.

All of the postcards that I received last month indicated that the fish were raised in the Sacramento River or in one of its tributaries. Another acquaintance had 10 postcards returned indicating that nine of the fish were Sacramento River based, with only one of the fish being raised on the Klamath.

So all in all, everything is looking very optimistic for a great ocean salmon season. One of the area’s representatives who fights for our salmon seasons had just relayed to me his thoughts on Thursday, after having attended the Ocean Salmon Industry Group Meeting in Newport, Oregon.

“I expect to develop options that are similar to last year for the KMZ recreational fishery,” said Brookings resident Richard Heap, Oregon Sportfishing representative on the PFMC Salmon Advisory Sub-panel.

“I would also anticipate a mark select coho fishery in July, similar to last year with a somewhat better hatchery/wild ratio. In all, we are getting started with optimism. The options will be set on March 11 and available on the PFMC website by the next morning.”

There will be a public hearing on the options on March 25 in Coos Bay for the public to provide input to the PFMC on the options.

Tight lines!