For recreational fishing enthusiasts, springtime is in the air – and this year, in the water as well. Saturday, April 2, marked the opening day for salmon fishing in ocean waters off most of California, and for the first time in many years, the forecast suggests anglers may have many a tight line to look forward to.
Both the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC) and the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) approved the April 2 opening date based on scientific information suggesting that the Sacramento River Fall Chinook ocean population size is more than 700,000 fish – almost triple last year’s forecast.
“We are cautiously optimistic that Sacramento River salmon stocks have recovered to the point that fisheries this year – our California sport and commercial ocean fisheries as well as river fisheries – can be sustained while still being confident that enough fish will return to natural spawning grounds and hatcheries to reproduce next fall,” said the Department of Fish and Game’s Marija Vojkovich, who represents the state of California on the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
The April 2 opening date applies to waters south of Horse Mountain (near Cape Mendocino) southward to the U.S. – Mexico border. For waters north of Horse Mountain to the California – Oregon border, the opening date will be determined in mid-April, but is anticipated to be a date in May.
When the 2011 recreational season is open off California, salmon fishing is allowed seven days per week, the minimum size limit is 24-inches total length, and the bag and possession limit is two fish per person. The retention of coho salmon and steelhead remains prohibited in all ocean fisheries.
Sacramento River fall chinook generally comprise 80 to 90 percent of the salmon catch in ocean waters off California. Therefore, the forecast for this stock plays a crucial role in determining when and where fishing opportunities can be provided. In 2008 and 2009, virtually no fishing was allowed because of low abundance forecasts and poor returns of fish to the Sacramento River Basin. Fishing in 2010 was also constrained for the same reasons.
Approximately 125,300 adult fall Chinook returned to the Sacramento River Basin in the fall of 2010, exceeding the minimum goal of 122,000 adult fish. In 2009, the return of adult Sacramento River Fall Chinook salmon was an all-time low of approximately 39,500 fish. The 2010 return is the highest observed since 2006.
Most charter boat operators no longer carry one-day licenses for purchase. DFG reminds anglers to purchase their license ahead of time at one of approximately 1,500 license agent locations or online at dfg.ca.gov/licensing/.