By John Hurwitz
I have been writing about this survey in recent columns so I knew the numbers would be poor from our experience alone. What follows are the August results of the Genetic Stock Identification (GSI) Survey. Half Moon Bay had extremely bleak salmon catch numbers, but some of the other ports did better. What’s better? See for yourself.
The samples were collected by the GSI fishermen, given to the port liaisons, and shipped to the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Laboratory in Santa Cruz, California. There the samples were processed and analyzed by the scientists under the direction of John Carlos Garza, Ph.D. and Eric Crandall, Ph.D.
As with all the ports participating in the survey, we had a certain number of fishing days per month. Each management zone received sixty days a month, which were divided up among the ports in each zone. For example, the San Francisco management zone had 60 days per month to divide between its two ports, 30 days to Half Moon Bay and 30 days to San Francisco.
Management zones with only one port had all 60 days allocated to the one port, as was the case with Ft. Bragg and Bodega Bay. Utilizing different strategies the fishing days were then divided evenly among the boats in each port. In Half Moon Bay any leftover days were distributed among the boats by lottery, allowing each boat at least one extra day.
Latitude lines defined the management zones. In the SF management zone, fishermen from the San Francisco port fished from the northern latitude, Pt. Reyes south to Point San Pedro; Half Moon Bay fishermen fished from Point San Pedro south to Pigeon Point. The Bodega Bay boats fished from Reyes north to Arena, and the Ft. Bragg boats from Arena north to Horse Mountain above Shelter Cove.
Just to give you an idea of how many salmon aren’t out there to be caught, take a look at the following numbers from Ft. Bragg for all of August. Keep in mind that all the GSI fishermen below Arena were fishing mostly closed salmon zones whereas Ft. Bragg had a quota salmon fishery. In July, Ft. Bragg was allowed 18,000 fish from July 15 to the 31st. In August, they were given a quota of 9,000 fish for the entire month. In a normal salmon fishing year (pre 2006), the July quota would be filled in a few days and the August quota would be over in a week. This year neither month came even close to meeting the quota, not even remotely near the number of fish needed to “fill out” the quota. Incidentally, Ft. Bragg was the most productive port of all the ports in the GSI Survey.
Have I got your attention yet? I hope so because this survey was very, very good science and we need to pay close attention to it.
Keep in mind that for August Ft. Bragg fished 117 sample days and the boat average was between 4 and 5 fish per day. Due to constraints on space we’re unable to show the charts, but another interesting finding in the study is the percentage of Central Valley Fall-Run Chinook Salmon caught in August: Ft Bragg had 51.42 percent, Bodega Bay 94.97 percent, San Francisco 99.09 percent, Half Moon Bay 100.0 percent, Santa Cruz/Monterey 90.54 percent. Another thing not included in the preceding information is the number of sub-legals (shorts) in the total catch.
Again for August the ports have the following percentages: Ft Bragg 21 percent sub-legals, Bodega Bay 38 percent, San Francisco 35 percent, Half Moon Bay 50 percent, Santa Cruz/Monterey 17 percent. The concern about the Central Valley Fall-Run Chinook Salmon is that it has been defined as a collapsed run. In reality our retention fisheries (Pt Arena and north) were taking even more fish out of this collapsed run.
The guidelines for sampling were that we should fish just as we would commercially, in other words, go for it. I have never fished harder, nor more diligently, to catch a fish than I did this summer during the survey. We continually ran gear, changed gear regularly, tried plugs, tried all flashers and hoochies, tried no flashers and hoochies, we tried hoochies and no flashers.
Sometimes if we caught a fish on a certain spoon, we would change one side to that spoon and back tack over and over that spot to see if the magic would work again. No. Nothing worked. Know why? Because there were so few salmon out there to be caught.
It should also be noted that these fishermen were not rookies. To give you an idea of the experience of the Half Moon Bay GSI fleet: F/V Irene Marie- Irene and I have fished salmon for 35 years, Rusty Boro, F/V BeBe, has been fishing salmon for more than 35 years, most of it out of Half Moon Bay. Jim Andersen, F/V Allaine, grew up fishing salmon in Half Moon Bay, again for more than 35 years, Steve and Eric Masuda, F/V Sachiko, more than 35 years. Bill Webb, F/V Cricket, more than 35 years, Gary Thurston, F/V Becky Ann, lifetime fisherman, Bob Berry, F/V Donald B, grew up fishing on the boat with his dad, and now fishes it with his wife, Mary Alice. Hopefully, you get the point. We knew what we were doing, and mostly what we were doing was fishing, not catching. All the other ports had similarly staffed vessels with long time salmon fishermen at the helm.
In my opinion, there are not enough salmon along this California coast to allow any commercial or sports fishery. I believe that a multi-year closure would give these fish a chance to rebound. We’ve seen this work with the improved coho salmon runs and we’ve seen management of the Klamath stocks show positive results. These closures should be commercial, sport, and complete.