California Fishermen Bracing For A Complete Closure of Salmon Season

The state forecast a population of 169,767 adult chinook out in the ocean -- the lowest since 2008 when the season was closed entirely

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The sight of his charter boat, Salty Lady, propped up on blocks in a Richmond boat repair seemed the perfect metaphor for Captain Jared Davis’ upcoming salmon fishing season -- up in the air. 

With the biologists in California projecting a record low return of Fall chinook - or King salmon - Davis' prospects of getting to fish this year were about as empty as his nets. 

"The numbers are pretty clear," said Davis who operates out of Sausalito, "I don’t see how there could be any other options aside from having a completely closed season this year." 

Fishing regulators are likely to come to the same conclusion. On Friday, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council is set to release its fishing options for the upcoming commercial and recreational salmon seasons which normally begin in May. But most in the industry expect the council to recommend closing the entire salmon fishing season for the first time since 2008, and only the second time in history. 

The state forecast a population of 169,767 adult chinook out in the ocean -- the lowest since 2008 when the season was closed entirely. 

"The prospect of not being able to do what I love and take a financial hit this year," Davis pined, "it’s devastating."

Davis expected the potential closure of salmon fishing season to trickle down through the industry, impacting boat owners, restaurants, tackle shops and hotels. For many commercial fishermen who switch between Dungeness crab and king salmon, the closure will hit hard. 

Captain Jared Davis stands in a Richmond boat repair yard where his charter boat Salty Lady is undergoing repairs for what many believe will be a cancelled salmon fishing season.

"Salmon are king, as they say," said Craig Hanson, who operates Argo fishing charters out of San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. "There’s no doubt about it that it really will make a difference down here on the wharf."  

The downfall of this year's salmon population is likely the result of the state's crippling drought. Since salmon are on a three-year life cycle, this year's ample rain didn't arrive in time to erase previous years' devastation. 

Hanson said without a salmon fishing season, he would target halibut for his charter tours. But the salmon is his main bread and butter. 

"We have many charters that say 'well, we just want to fish for salmon,'" Hanson said. "That’s going to mess us up, there’s no doubt about it." 

Davis said the routine repairs being done on the Salty Lady would likely set him back as much as $10,000 in a year where he'll likely have limited income. 

The Golden Gate Fisherman's Association called for the closure of the 2023 salmon fishing season -- while asking the state and federal governments to approve disaster assistance for commercial operators. 

In recent boom years, the decks of the Salty Lady would be filled with anglers hauling in limits of fresh king salmon. Davis said the prospect of a year without that scene and its bounty of fish and income, would be hard to stomach. 

This is far more than a job, it’s a way of life," said Davis. "And while we’re a resilient bunch of folks - men and women - this one’s going to take its toll." 

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