Salmon off the coast of California appear to be rebounding, with forecasts indicating this year’s season could be the best since 2013, the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA) reported Wednesday.
The salmon restoration coalition predicts 379,632 adult Sacramento Valley salmon are in the ocean off California, compared to 229,400 a year ago.
“This suggests a return to relatively plentiful salmon fishing in 2019 is likely,” said Michael Coates, public relations official for the agency.
Pacific Fisheries Management Council officials will now use this forecast and other information to set times and areas open to both sport and commercial ocean salmon fishing for 2019.
“The reason for the uptick in this year’s salmon forecast is directly linked to the better Central Valley river conditions during the very wet spring of 2017,” Coates said. “Increased natural runoff from rivers in the Central Valley always boost salmon survival, as measured two years later when the fish return to spawn as adults.”
“We are looking forward to a good salmon fishing season this year,” said GGSA president John McManus.
In addition to the Sacramento salmon forecasts, more salmon from other Central Valley rivers and hatcheries, as well as from the Klamath and other North Coast rivers, will add to ocean numbers.
“We could see the best season since 2013, which was a really good one,” said GGSA director Mike Aughney. “Then as now, the good times came two years after really wet winters and springs in the Central Valley. If water managers would leave more water in the rivers during some of the drier years, we’d always have more salmon.”
Salmon are considered 1 year old when they leave the Central Valley in the spring, and most return as 3-year-old adults. This year’s rain and snow should bring a bumper crop for the 2021 season, as well.
The “less good news,” Coates said, is that the number of adult salmon that returned to the Sacramento Valley to spawn in 2018 fell short of targets for the fourth consecutive year. After three years of missing the target, the National Marine Fisheries Service increased the so-called minimum escapement target from 122,000 to 151,000 fish in 2018.
“They may do the same again this season, which could result in a shortened season or some areas being closed,” Coates said. Those decisions will be made in the next month.
In spite of the relatively rosy forecasts, the entire Central Valley is still recovering from the last great drought, which greatly reduced salmon in various Central Valley tributaries.
“Drought could revisit us almost anytime, in fact it’s probably just a matter of when,” said GGSA secretary Dick Pool. “We need to build and fortify in the good years so we don’t get wiped out again in the bad.”
California’s salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in annual economic activity in a normal season. The industry employs tens of thousands of people from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon.