Anglers deal with impact of delayed start to ’23 salmon season | Fish Rap

Not this year. Cody Frank from Santa Cruz with a 24-pound beauty caught in 2022. (Contributed)
Not this year. Cody Frank from Santa Cruz with a 24-pound beauty caught in 2022. (Contributed)

By ALLEN BUSHNELL | | sports@santacruzsentinel.comPUBLISHED: March 23, 2023 at 12:30 p.m. | UPDATED: March 23, 2023 at 1:04 p.m.

Local anglers are dismayed with last week’s announcement regarding the 2023 king salmon season in California.

Last year, salmon season dates were carefully regulated along the coast, with the Klamath River area being closed completely. This year, all areas along the coast will remain closed for both recreational and commercial king salmon fishing. Only once before, in 2008, has an overall closure been imposed on this vitally important fishery.

The decision was announced this month by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council that has jurisdiction over the U.S. West Coast Exclusive Economic Zone (3-200 miles offshore). The California Department of Fish and Wildlife aligns with decisions of the PFMC.

This closure was determined a necessity as a result of California’s eight-year drought, with the past three years being particularly severe. Golden Gate Salmon Association president John McManus commented, “We don’t have enough salmon this year to have a season.”

Low numbers of returning spawners in California rivers, particularly the Sacramento and San Joaquin systems are driving this decision, and all agree the underlying problem is lack of water as well as state mismanagement along these river systems. The GGSA believes ongoing state water policies unfairly favor Big Agriculture businesses over the preservation and enhancement of the natural resources that support healthy riverine systems necessary for robust salmon populations.

McManus points to dam operations and subsequent water allotments as primary culprits. First off, damming rivers prevents salmon (and steelhead) from reaching many historical spawning areas upstream. Dams restrict the natural flow of our rivers leaving downstream spawning areas high and dry after eggs are deposited during periods of high water. In addition, lower flows means higher water temperatures in the rivers that often means death for incubating eggs.

The closure will have a big economic impact all along the coast, but especially in the Monterey Bay area, where salmon is “King” for both sport and commercial anglers. That negative impact also spreads to peripheral and support businesses such as tackle shops, fuel sales, hotels, restaurants and other seaside businesses.

Commercial and sport boats will likely make up some of the loss by targeting other species such as rockfish, halibut and the deepwater sablefish. Depth restrictions for the rock cod fishery were lifted for this year, which might help a bit. Many stakeholders are very concerned that the halibut population will get hammered this year as anglers search for alternate prey.

Allen Bushnell also operates Santa Cruz Kayak Fishing and Surfcasting Guide Service. Please send your reports, pictures or questions to