Best salmon return since 2014 leads to longer season for North Coast fishery

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North Coast fishing crews idled by an early end to the Dungeness crab season will have a longer 2019 salmon season than in recent years after fishery managers finalized dates Tuesday, a reflection of this year’s healthier projected adult spawning run.

In fact, this generation of returning adult king salmon is thought to be the most abundant since 2014, allowing for a season opener beginning May 16 and stretching to at least late September in coastal waters between Point Arena on the southern Mendocino Coast and Pigeon Point on the coast of San Mateo County.

That 122-day span is nearly twice the 73 days provided to commercial boats in 2018 — a reflection, experts say, of abundant rainfall when this year’s adult spawners were juveniles two years ago, making their way down freshwater streams to the Pacific Ocean.

The brighter forecast comes amid generally declining conditions across ocean fisheries and continued restrictions needed to rebuild West Coast salmon stocks, twin blows that have landed hard on California’s struggling commercial fishing fleet.

And this year’s bounty is no sure thing. The fish said to be there still need to be caught, creating the perennial gamble that defines the business.

“At least the guys get a chance,” said Dick Ogg, a veteran Bodega Bay fisherman. “They’re going to make some money.”

For Ogg, it’s hard not to view Tuesday’s news through the lens of hardship suffered by the North Coast fleet, which who would normally fish crab until at least next month and even clear to the end of June.

A lawsuit settlement reached last month, however, brought an early end to that fishery, typically one of the most lucrative, behind salmon. The deal between state wildlife regulators and wildlife advocates is aimed at protecting whale and other marine life from entanglement in crab gear during a key migration and feeding period.

The closure took effect Monday, and rough ocean conditions have made it difficult for everyone to bring in all of their gear, Ogg said.

“Nothing’s going to make up for the loss of the crab season,” Ogg said, especially since not all crabbers fish salmon, but for those who do, “it’s going to be relatively good,” he said.

The San Francisco District from the Sonoma Coast to Pigeon Point will run the second half of May, June 4-30, July 11-31, Aug. 1-28 and Sept. 1-30. South of Point Reyes there will be 11 additional days in October.

On the Mendocino Coast, the commercial season will not open until June 4, running the same days in June, July and August as in Sonoma County, without a season in September.

The recreational fishery opened Saturday along the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts and will run through April 30, reopen May 18 and continue through October.

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