Salmon season shows promise for Bay Area fishermen

After three dismal years for local Chinook salmon fishermen, Bill Webb and his seafaring colleagues at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay may finally have some significant fishing time to look forward to this summer.

Webb, the skipper of “The Cricket,” said he’s been surviving on income from Dungeness crab fishing and salmon relief payments from the federal government in years past.  “I’ve been able to squeak by and make ends meet. But it’s borderline, you know?” 

He and other fishermen could get some welcome news next weekend, when the Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in San Mateo from April 9 to 13 to set the schedule for the 2011 salmon fishing season.

Dates for three proposed schedules vary, but all would start May 1, exclude some days in June or July and end in mid-September or mid-October. All would be an improvement from recent years, when seasons were canceled in 2008 and 2009 because of a crash in the Sacramento River salmon population and lasted only eight days in 2010.

“It is looking a lot better,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations of the proposed schedules.  “I think a big question is how much time we may be able to get in June, but other than that it’s the best we’ve had in at least the past five years.

“Now,” Grader added, “the issue is going to be if there’s any fish out there.”

A preseason report from federal biologists projected 730,000 adult Chinook salmon in the ocean the year, significantly higher than the 245,000 last year.

Council spokeswoman Jennifer Gilden said favorable ocean conditions, including a proliferation of food like krill and plankton, are believed to be part of the reason behind the increase. But questions remain about the cause of the population decline in the first place, including habitat loss and pumping of water from the Delta to Southern California.

Grader said the recreational salmon season, which began Saturday as expected, should give an estimated 250 commercial fishing boats in the Bay Area a hint as to what they should expect come May 1.

Webb is hopeful. He said the past few years have taken a toll on some fishermen who haven’t had the money to keep up with maintenance on their boats. 

“It’s a pretty dangerous profession as it is,” Webb said, “but if you don’t take care of your ship, you’re playing with fire.”

Fishing schedules

The Pacific Fishery Management Council is considering three alternative schedules for salmon fishing. For the San Francisco region, which extends from Point Arena to Pigeon Point, these are the current options:

ALTERNATIVE 1: May 1-31; June 25-July 6; July 9-27; July 30-Aug. 29; Sept. 1-30; Oct 3-14 (Pt. Reyes to Pt. San Pedro)

ALTERNATIVE 2: May 1-31; July 1-Aug 29; Sept. 1-30

ALTERNATIVE 3: May 1-June 7; July 1-Aug. 29; Sept. 1-15

Source: Pacific Fishery Management Council

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