PFMC Recommends Closure For California’s Ocean Salmon Fisheries; For Oregon, Washington Fishing Opportunities Likely Similar To Last Year

The Pacific Fishery Management Council acted unanimously to recommend closure of California’s commercial and recreational ocean salmon fisheries through the end of the year, mirroring recommendations made last year to close the fisheries in 2023.

Salmon stocks continue to be impacted in California from ongoing issues associated with drought and climate disruption. The salmon currently present and returning to California’s coast and rivers were impacted by a multi-year drought, severe wildfires, and associated impacts to spawning and rearing habitat, harmful algal blooms and ocean forage shifts. The low ocean abundance forecasts, coupled with low 2023 returns, led the PFMC to recommend full closure of California’s commercial and recreational ocean salmon fisheries.

After reviewing the PFMC recommendation, it is expected that the National Marine Fisheries Service will take regulatory action to enact the closure, effective in mid-May. In addition, the California Fish and Game Commission will consider whether to adopt a closure of inland salmon fisheries at its May 15 teleconference meeting.

“After the closure last year, this decision is not an easy one to make,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “While we have been enjoying back-to-back rainy and wet winters this year and last, the salmon that will benefit from these conditions aren’t expected to return to California until around 2026 or 2027. The current salmon for this year’s season were impacted by the difficult environmental factors present three to five years ago.”

“While incredibly painful to fishing families and fishing communities, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations supports the closure,” said George Bradshaw, president of PCFFA. “We all need to be doing everything we can to give California’s salmon a chance to recover. It has to be an all hands-on deck effort to ensure survival for our Central Valley and Klamath salmon runs.”

Following today’s actions, CDFW will work to expedite a request for federal fishery resource disaster determination for the State of California 2024 Sacramento River Fall Chinook and Klamath River Fall Chinook ocean salmon fisheries. Gov. Newsom made a similar request in response to the closure in 2023, which was approved. The Department is currently seeking comments on the 2023 spend plan for the $20,625,729 that has been allocated by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration for the disaster.

Anglers in Washington can expect similar salmon fishing opportunities in 2024-2025 compared to last season, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fishery managers announced.

“These salmon fishing seasons were crafted carefully to ensure conservation goals are achieved for salmon populations, especially those listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. “We’ve worked carefully with treaty tribes to ensure there will be sustainable salmon fisheries and developed a fair number of fishing opportunities in Washington while protecting weaker salmon stocks.”

Continued low returns of some key Puget Sound Chinook salmon stocks are expected to limit some salmon fisheries in the upcoming season. They include the Nooksack, Skagit, Snohomish, and Stillaguamish rivers.

Negotiations between WDFW and tribes this year were guided in part by the Puget Sound Harvest Management Plan, which is expected to provide long-term fishery guidance for Puget Sound. In February of 2023, the National Marine Fisheries Service found that the plan was sufficient to proceed with a formal review.

“This year we had to make difficult decisions because of the limiting numbers of Quillayute coho, Nooksack spring Chinook, Stillaguamish Chinook, Snohomish Chinook, and Skagit summer/fall Chinook,” said Ed Johnstone, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission chairman. “Warming temperatures in oceans and natal streams are also an increasing threat to salmon populations. We know harvest management alone won’t recover salmon—we also have to restore habitat and continue to focus on hatchery production. We need more active partners, including our Canadian counterparts, to work together to ensure Washington’s salmon are here for the next seven generations.”

Season recommendations now move forward for approval by the National Marine Fisheries Service and final rule making, including additional opportunity for public comment and consideration of those comments.

The ocean salmon fisheries reflect forecasts for Columbia River Chinook that are similar to 2023. The number of hatchery coho expected to return to the Columbia River is lower than 2023 but should provide good opportunities. WDFW fishery managers agreed during this week’s PFMC meeting to recreational ocean quotas of 41,000 Chinook and 79,800 marked coho.

Summer Chinook salmon fisheries on the Columbia River are expected to have fewer retention opportunities than 2023, with fishing planned to be open June 16-19 from the Astoria-Megler Bridge to Bonneville Dam. Bonneville Dam to Priest Rapids Dam will open June 16-30, and closed to retention thereafter. Sockeye retention is expected to be allowed in the daily salmonid bag limit from June 16-July 31 for waters downstream of Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco.

Fall fisheries from Buoy 10 to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco are planned for an Aug. 1 opener, with different dates by area for Chinook and coho. This includes steelhead restrictions throughout the river. The coho run size is expected to be lower than in recent years but should provide similar fishing opportunities. The Chinook run size is less than last year’s return but is still expected to provide good fishing opportunities.

The 2024 Columbia River sockeye forecast of 401,700 is up 16% over the recent 10-year average. The Okanogan River sockeye forecast of 288,700 is up from 187,400 and an actual return of 179,655 in 2023.

The Lake Wenatchee sockeye salmon forecast is 97,000 up from a 44,300 forecast in 2023 and the actual return was 146,875. The management objective is 23,000 sockeye at Tumwater Dam. The lake could provide a late-summer sport fishery if the objective is met.

While in-river fisheries are also tentatively set, WDFW fishery managers are concerned over the current low mountain snowpack, which brings the potential for drought conditions, high water temperatures and low water level issues in rivers. These conditions could impact freshwater sport fisheries and salmon migration in late summer and early fall timeframe. Winter flooding also has the potential for impacts on future salmon runs.

As climate change impacts Washington’s watersheds and ecosystems WDFW will monitor impacts and may need to adopt in-season management changes to address these conditions.

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