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2024 Salmon Season in Doubt

On March 1, 2024, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) held its CDFW Annual Salmon Information Meeting via a webinar. The prognosis for a 2024 salmon season does not look good.

The closure of all California salmon fishing in 2023 brought an uptick in salmon escapement to 133,000 in the Sacramento River, which is somewhat positive. The forecast for this year’s fishable stock in the ocean (made up of broodyears 2021-2023), however, is not much better than last year’s, with the lingering effects of the 2020-2022 drought. If a normal fishery had been held last year or were to be held this year, the salmon stocks would no doubt fall into an “over-fished” status.

Notable points of interest:

  • Without fishing in 2023, there was an uptick in the relative percentage of four-year-old spawners, especially in the Klamath system. This was likely related to the fishery closure and strong production from broodyear 2019.
  • There seemed to be significant concern that a higher fishable stock level was important for the good of the endangered southern Orca population that feeds primarily on Chinook salmon.
  • The fisheries agencies appear more comfortable with a fishable stock well over 180,000 than with the forecasted 213,000 for 2024. Note that the 2024 forecast was based on jacks from broodyear 2021 that returned in 2023 that were produced in the heart of drought years 2021 and 2022. Jack numbers are representative of age three adult return numbers the following year (2024).
  • Not a word of concern was expressed for protecting wild, natural-born returning salmon.
  • There was no mention of prescribing a mark-selective fishery despite the recent adoption of such a measure for Columbia River Chinook salmon and its universal use in Coho salmon and steelhead fisheries.

Nothing was said about the possibility of at least experimenting with mark-selective fishing, wherein harvest is allowed on fin-clipped hatchery salmon, a practice prescribed with increasing frequency in Pacific Northwest salmon fisheries. I believe the fishable stock (age 2-4) of marked salmon in the ocean in 2024 is about 300,000.1 A mark-selective fishery could harvest 200,000 of these fish without harming spawning stocks of wild or hatchery fish.2

Sport and commercial fishermen should advocate for a mark-selective fishery in 2024 rather than a second consecutive year of a closed fishery. The Pacific Fishery Management Council is setting harvest control rules for California fishing in early March.3