Sport and commercial fishing for chinook salmon appears to be dead this year off the Southern Oregon coast — doomed by a crash in chinook headed for the Klamath River.
None of the three Pacific Fishery Management Council options for sport and commercial fishing off Southern Oregon and Northern California this year call for any chinook harvest, with one allowing some catches of fin-clipped coho salmon after June 24.
"It's going to be pretty gruesome this year," said Todd Confer, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Gold Beach District fish biologist. "It's going to be bad."
It's the first time since 2008 that both sport fishers and commercial fleets will be kept at bay during the summer. In 2008, it was because of a crash in the maturing adult fish headed to the Sacramento River.
This year, however, the council is basing its options on the lowest forecast for returning 4-year-old chinook to the Klamath River since estimates were first made in 1985, according to the PFMC.
These chinook headed to the ocean as smolts during 2014's double-whammy of inland drought and poor ocean conditions.
The drought heightened the warmwater parasite load on Klamath smolts already stressed by low and warm stream flows. Those that made it to the ocean faced poor forage conditions, meaning there was little food such as krill for them, and larger fish preyed more heavily on the small chinook than in normal years.
Sport and commercial fishing seasons off Southern Oregon and Northern California are managed largely to protect chinook returning to the Klamath and Sacramento rivers. Because chinook bound for rivers in this region blend together in the ocean, seasons are fashioned to protect the weakest of the stocks from overharvest.
The Klamath chinook problems could trigger a 2018 closure as well, because this year's return of 3-year-old Klamath chinook — the precursor to next year's 4-year-old returns — is the second lowest on record, according to a PFMC report.
Also threatened this year is the October "bubble" fishery off the mouth of the Chetco River for sport and commercial fishers targeting adult chinook returning to the Chetco, Confer said.
The preseason estimate for Chetco-bound adult chinook is about half the long-term average and the lowest since 2008.
The October season is referred to as the "bubble" fishery because the near-shore open water is shaped like a bubble around the Chetco's mouth.
The PFMC is scheduled to adopt sport and commercial seasons when it meets April 6-11 in Sacramento.
PFMC forecasts call for open chinook seasons north of Humbug Mountain near Port Orford because those seasons do not take into account Klamath returns.
The Klamath forecast comes as the forecast for in-river return of Rogue River fall chinook is the highest since 2013 and slightly above the 10-year running average, according to ODFW. Those fish will be accessible to sport anglers in the bay at Gold Beach and upriver.
— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.