Season Update, Ocean Firing, Inland Opener Mostly a Bust Until Aug 1
As of early August, the big mass of ocean salmon was positioned off the southern Mendocino coast, as evidenced by good catches by the commercial fleet fishing there. But there also seemed to be a steady trickle of bigger fish, pulled by nature’s clock to their spawning grounds, that were trickling down through Sonoma County, Bodega Bay, and to the Marin coast. There also seemed to be a second, smaller body of fish trickling up from south of the San Francisco along the San Mateo County coastline. This has been seen in occasional catches outside the Half Moon Bay harbor and steady catches off Pacifica up to the SF ship channel through late July and early August.
The Sacramento River, from the Red Bluff diversion dam south, opened July 16 to salmon fishing. More of the river, above Red Bluff, opened August 1. The July opener reportedly produced very few fish in the lower and mid river due to extremely high-water temperatures. The exception was some fish taken at the confluence of the American River and the Sacramento River due to cold water releases from Folsom Lake. Some guessed that warm mainstem river temperatures drove the salmon to hurry into whatever deep, colder, pools of water they might be able to find.
The August 1 opener above Red Bluff produced more salmon for those who fished the Barge Hole, located at the confluence of Battle Creek and the Sacramento River. Salmon held in the cooler deep waters there and one estimate was that about 50 boats caught about 150 salmon on that opening day. Reports since then suggest fishing has slowed down.
Commercial Catches Relatively High
The commercial fleet’s success in landing king salmon this season has seen the development of temporary mini gluts on the market. A contributing factor is a high volume of salmon from Alaska this summer which may be competing for the consumer’s eye at the grocery store. These factors have combined to drive prices down from around $8/lb at the beginning of the season to below $5. Prices rebounded fairly quickly to above $6. After years of relatively low production, mainstream outlets like Safeway have been slow to offer local wild caught king salmon. Getting those mass markets back seems possible with production and prices like we’ve seen this year. As always, wild caught king salmon is competing not only with seasonal Alaska salmon, but also with the ever-growing volume of environmentally damaging farm raised salmon that seems to have become a mainstay in many grocery chain stores. As the saying goes, Friends don’t let friends eat farmed salmon.
Future Ft. Baker Releases, A Work in Progress
After a loosely sourced report swept the coast in July that the National Park Service was cutting off access to Ft. Baker as a hatchery release site, discussions resumed between CDFW and the Park Service to get a new five-year permit to release at the Sausalito site. The Park Service has expressed concerns about the effect of hatchery salmon on native coho salmon, something GSSA, the hatchery folks at CDFW, and others disagree with. Because of the high survival of fish released at this site, and their outsized contribution to the ocean fishery, GSSA is ready to engage friends in the federal government if needed to see that releases continue there. However, CDFW has asked for some room to quietly negotiate with the Park Service, which GSSA is honoring. Other promising release sites have been used in the last two years but data on their survival rates is not yet in. There’s good reason to believe that any release site closer to the ocean than the traditional site at Vallejo will be an improvement. Getting the state to move the releases closer to the Golden Gate has been a top priority for GSSA in its advocacy with the state. To its credit, the state has been responsive.
Putting Salmon Back Above Oroville Dam?
Efforts to reintroduce salmon to the Feather River above Oroville Dam are being contemplated by the state and others. The state is party to an agreement with PG&E and others, tied to relicensing Oroville Dam, which promised to find or create new spawning and rearing habitat for Feather River spring run salmon. Neither the state nor PG&E could find any. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the legal enforcer of the agreement, has stated it’s open to forcing the parties to consider reintroduction above the dam as an alternative. In a recent letter to Congress, NMFS says it considers reintroduction of salmon above dams a necessity. Hopefully the parties will take this seriously and move from discussing the issue ad nauseum to acting soon. CDFW says they’ve already seen evidence of good spawning conditions in the north fork of the Feather River from planted landlocked chinook going upriver to spawn.
Zombie Tunnel is Back, State Releases New Water Diversion Plan
The Newsom Administration has released yet another proposal to build an underground tunnel to move water from the Sacramento River, around the Delta, and down to the Delta pumps near Tracy. The latest version proposes to pump even more Sacramento water to almond growers and others south of the Delta. Ironically, ag operators in the San Joaquin Valley are not backing it. GSSA has repeatedly made the argument that the state must first complete the update to the Bay Delta Plan which will tell the state how much water might be available for such a tunnel to transfer. Planning a tunnel first, without knowing what volume of water might be available is likely to lead to a project that is neither legally nor ecologically valid. The biggest backer of the tunnel, after the State, is the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Since the state continues to display backwards thinking, it may be up to MWD to be the adult in the room and tell the state to first complete the Bay Delta Plan and stop wasting everyone’s time by pushing premature tunnel plans forward. The latest plan put forward by the state appears to be incomplete, rushed, and poorly thought through. Observers have questioned how sincere Gavin Newsom is about pushing a huge infrastructure project that isn’t likely to show results before he likely runs for president. The shoddy plan released by the state has fueled some of these questions.
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