Restricted season likely with poor Sacramento and Klamath river salmon abundance

Dan BacherStockton Record Correspondent via

SACRAMENTO – A forecast of relatively low numbers of Sacramento and Klamath River fall Chinook salmon now swimming in the ocean off the California coast points to restricted ocean and river salmon fishing seasons in 2021. 

Naz Jalil successfully battled this hard-fighting Chinook salmon while trolling outside of the Golden Gate aboard the Golden State Salmon Association’s “Fish Like A Girl” trip aboard the Salty Lady on Aug.16

State and federal fishery managers during the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s salmon fishery information on-line meeting on February 25 forecast an ocean abundance this year of 271,000 adult Sacramento Valley fall Chinook salmon, about 200,000 fish lower than the 2020 estimate.  

A total of 473,183 Sacramento River fall Chinook salmon were forecast last year, but after the number caught was added to those that returned to spawn, the real number came out to be 370,000, about 22% fewer than forecast, according to John McManus, President of the Golden State Salmon Association (GSSA). 

The Klamath River fall Chinook ocean abundance forecast of 181,500 adult salmon is slightly higher than the 2020 forecast, but still significantly lower than the long-term average. This will “likely result in restricted fishing opportunity” in the areas north of Pt. Arena, said Kandice Morgenstern, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Ocean Salmon Project. 

“Klamath River fall Chinook abundance forecasts and spawner returns have been low over the last few years,” Morgenstern said. “Fisheries were limited on the northern sections of the California coast last year to reduce impacts on this stock, and that will likely be the case again this year,” 

“Furthermore, with a reduced abundance forecast for Sacramento River fall Chinook, we could be looking at reduced fishing elsewhere along the coast, as well,” she said. 

In the coming weeks, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) will use this forecast and other information to set times and areas open to both sport and commercial ocean salmon fishing for 2021.  

Recreational anglers, commercial salmon trollers and others at the meeting asked questions of scientists and provided comments to a panel of fishery managers, scientists, and industry representatives.  

Sacramento River fishing guides and anglers reported how the 2020 fishing season was one of the worst they have ever experienced.  

Many San Francisco Bay Region charter boat captains urged fishery managers to adopt a 20 inch minimum salmon size limit while providing as much time on the ocean as possible. 

About 138,000 adult salmon returned to spawn in the Sacramento Basin during 2020, 105,000 fewer than the 233,000 fish predicted to return to spawn, according to scientists. In addition, about 14,000 jacks (2-year-old salmon) returned to spawn. The 2020 jack count is used to forecast the number of adult salmon scientists believe are now in the ocean. 

McManus said the reason for the drop off in the 2021 salmon forecast is “chronic over-diversion of Central Valley rivers.” 

He noted that 2020 returns were also bolstered by added hatchery production in 2017 that contributed to the 2020 fishery, but there was no additional hatchery production to aid 2021 fisheries and returns.  

“It will be several more weeks before we begin to learn what kind of restrictions we might see on fishing this year, but the treatment of our salmon resource by freshwater managers as an afterthought is taking its toll,” McManus said.   

Three ocean season alternatives will be developed during the virtual Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) meeting, scheduled for March 2-5 and 8-11, 2021. Final regulations will be adopted at the April 6-9 and 12-15, 2021, virtual PFMC meetings. Information: 

Folsom Lake kings: As anglers await the PFMC meeting results, Oroville, Folsom and Don Pedro reservoirs will provide anglers their best chance to battle salmon. Jerry Lampkin of TNG Motor Sports Guide Service and Robin Wood landed four kings ranging from 18 to 20 inches long while trolling at Folsom on Feb. 26. They used double glow hoochies with purple tinsel behind nickel glow crush dodgers at 40 to 50 feet deep. Information: (530) 320-0994. 

Contact Record correspondent Dan Bacher at