After two years of canceled salmon fishing off California's coast, fishermen are finally hearing a bit of good news.
Despite a historic collapse in the number of chinook, or king, salmon returning to the Central Valley last year, federal fisheries regulators are predicting a better 2010.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council forecast that 245,500 salmon would return to the Sacramento River basin this fall. While good news, the prediction was met with cautious optimism from fishermen hoping for a chance to fish this year.
Last year, some 122,000 chinook were predicted to return to the river, but that proved inaccurate. Instead, a record-low 39,500 chinook were recorded in 2009, down from more than 750,000 counted in 2002.
The council has more study to conduct before any final decisions are made, said Chuck Tracy, head of the salmon section for the Portland, Ore.-based council. A final recommendation will be made during the council's March meeting in Sacramento.
With California shut out the past two years, West Coast commercial salmon fishermen landed fish worth just $1.15 million in 2009 -- 91 percent below the average for the previous five years, according to the council's Web site. The premium fish -- king salmon -- accounted for just 13,500 fish, the lowest number on record.
Overall, commercial and recreational salmon fishing contributed $17 million to the West Coast economy in 2009, the second lowest on record.
In the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, fishermen and federal regulators believe large pumps used to move water around for use by cities and farms is to blame for the salmon's decline. They say the pumping blocks fish from swimming from the freshwater, where they spawn, back to the ocean where they mature.
Others cite changing ocean conditions due to global warming as another possible factor.
The council's Tracy said better returns seen to the north in the Klamath River -- where more than 331,000 adult chinook are predicted to return this fall -- are another good indication there could be more fish off the California and Oregon coasts to catch this year.
"It's too early in the process to say, but there's still a possibility there could be a season," Tracy said.