Strong Salmon Runs Forecast along U.S. Pacific Coast


From Washington to California, the 2014 salmon season is officially open. Chinook and coho are the salmon species most targeted in the ocean fisheries, and this season’s forecast looks to be as promising as last – welcome news for salmon fishermen. Scientists project that 3.2 million Chinook and 2.5 million coho salmon will return to the waters off Washington, Oregon, and California this year. The numbers add up to a 2014 season akin to 2013, with minor modifications in some areas.

North of Cape Falcon, forecasts indicate stronger Chinook and coho returns than 2013. Hatchery stocks in the Columbia River, for example, look to be especially promising. This translates into higher quotas. Total allowable catch for Chinook will be 26% higher than last year and hatchery coho quotas are 147% higher. This strong return year is likely attributed to good ocean conditions for these cohorts, as well as favorable passage when they migrated through the Columbia River as juveniles in 2010-2013.

Smaller returns are forecast south of Cape Falcon, resulting in limited fishing opportunity for certain stocks and regions. The Klamath River fall Chinook stock forecast is down 59% from 2013 – ocean abundance this year is expected to be 299,300, compared to 727,700 in 2013. This forecast is well within the range of expectations, as salmon exhibit considerable variation from year to year and fall Chinook returns to the Klamath River were unusually high in 2012 and 2013. The Sacramento River fall Chinook stock forecast also is down this year. In 2013, forecasts indicated ocean abundance of Sacramento River fall Chinook to be 834,200, and this year we anticipate 634,700 fish, a decline of 24%.

Commercial and recreational fishing regulations vary by fishery and area. They establish specific fishing areas, seasons, quotas, legal gear, fishing days and catch limits, possession and landing restrictions, as well as minimum lengths for salmon harvested. These management measures are established through an annual process by which the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council), to which NOAA Fisheries is party, sets forth fishing regimes that balance resource conservation with harvest opportunity. Management measures each year are designed to protect vulnerable salmon stocks, which results in harvest constraints for some fisheries.

Each year, the Council develops a series of management recommendations for the ocean salmon fisheries. The recommendations are based on reports from the previous season and estimates of salmon returns for the upcoming season. Following public meetings on the management alternatives, the Council adopts recommendations in April and submits them to NOAA Fisheries for approval. NOAA Fisheries ensures the measures are consistent with the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and acts quickly to implement regulations in time for the season opener on May 1.

Salmon ocean fisheries are culturally and economically important on the West Coast. These fisheries hold significant importance to many West Coast Indian tribes. For generations, they have harvested salmon for cultural ceremonies, subsistence, and commerce, and many tribes hold treaty reserved rights to fish in their “usual and accustomed” places. These Indian tribes partake in the Council management process, serving as co-managers of the resource.

Salmon fisheries are also strong drivers of local economies. In 2013, recreational anglers took approximately 307,100 ocean salmon fishing trips-up six percent from 2012. These trips require gas and gear, among other expenditures, which means business for local communities. Coastwide, income impacts from recreational and commercial ocean salmon fisheries were estimated at $79.3 million in 2013. After coming off of several restrictive salmon seasons, the strong returns forecast for 2014 look to be promising for both fisherman and local businesses.

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