BROOKINGS — Southern Oregon's recreational ocean fleet could see a full summer of salmon fishing under proposals crafted Thursday to take advantage of better offshore salmon abundance this year.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council on Thursday unveiled a set of options for this summer's season that includes the potential of chinook salmon fishing from before Memorial Day until after Labor Day off the Southern Oregon and Northern California coasts.
More conservative options call for starting the recreational chinook season June 16 or July 3, but even those contain the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends coveted by coastal communities hit hard by sport and commercial fishing cutbacks in recent years.
Together, this year's options detail a summer ocean season for recreational anglers that's longer than any since 2007 and far more expansive than last year's token chinook season around Labor Day.
The PFMC set the options Thursday in Sacramento, culminating a weeklong meeting on how best to mete out available salmon among various sport, commercial and Native American fisheries. The pie of offshore salmon is distributed with the notion that enough adult salmon will return to spawn in key indicator rivers such as the Sacramento and Klamath.
Returns to the Sacramento have been below minimum thresholds the past two years, triggering unprecedented chinook fishing shutdowns for the sport and commercial fleet in California.
But forecasts are for an expected 245,000 chinook headed up the Sacramento this year should no fishing on them be allowed. Since the Sacramento's minimum conservation goal is for 122,000 spawning adults, PFMC members saw wiggle room for the fisheries to resume or expand this summer.
But forecasts also call for severe downturns in future Sacramento returns, PFMC forecasts show.
"So we've got an opportunity for one year of fishing," Brookings sport-fishing advocate Jim Welter said. "After that, it'll go down the toilet."
Also, the Klamath is expected to reach its spawning goal of 35,000 fish, PFMC forecasts show.
Sacramento and Klamath salmon abundance drive the chinook seasons off Southern Oregon and Northern California, where they mix with chinook bound for the Rogue, Chetco and other rivers.
The options also include a summer season along the Oregon Coast for fin-clipped hatchery-bred coho salmon beginning either in June or July and with a catch quota ranging from 25,000 to 35,000 fish. That represents a drop from the 110,000-fish quota last year, which was Oregon's biggest clipped coho season in 17 years.
The PFMC will collect public comments on the options over the next month, including a March 29 hearing at the Red Lion Hotel in Coos Bay and a similar hearing March 30 at the Red Lion Hotel in Eureka, Calif.
The PFMC then will reconvene April 10-15 in Portland for a final vote.
The vote is a recommendation to the secretary of commerce, who officially sets the ocean seasons.
"We're certainly looking for some opportunity this year," said Eric Schindler, an ocean-salmon biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We'll see how it plays out in the council process."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.