PFMC adopts three alternatives for very limited or closed salmon seasons in California

Photo of adult Chinook salmon in spawning mode courtesy of the CDFW. |


By Dan Bacher | 

In another disastrous year for salmon fisheries in California, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) at its meeting in Fresno on Monday, March 11 adopted three alternatives for 2024 ocean salmon fisheries off California including two options for an extremely limited season and one for a complete closure.

“California fisheries offer very limited opportunity in 2024 due to the low forecasts for Klamath River and Sacramento River fall Chinook, and constraints surrounding California Coastal Chinook,” according to the PFMC. “Two alternatives for both commercial and sport fisheries offer limited opportunity coastwide, with the third alternative proposed being closed in all areas. 

Recreational fishing alternatives would authorize up to seven short open fishing periods ranging from four to six days in length beginning in June and running through October, according to the CDFW.

“Scheduled dates would not be guaranteed and would be subject to two different statewide harvest guidelines. If the total sport catch reaches the limit prior to September, remaining dates prior to September would be canceled. Similarly, if total sport catch reaches the limit for dates scheduled in the months of September and October, remaining dates would be canceled,” the Department pointed out in a statement.

The three alternatives for ocean recreational salmon fishing seasons for the Fort Bragg, San Francisco and Monterey regions are the following:

Alternative 1 will feature five potential short periods of fishing: June 5-9, July 3-7, August1-6, September 1-3, 27-29; and October18-20.  

In season action may be taken to close open days when the total harvest is approaching a statewide harvest guideline of 10,000 Chinook during June through August, and 5,000 Chinook during September through October, according to the PFMC.

Fishing will be open seven days per week. All salmon except coho, may be possessed, with a bag limit of two salmon per day. There will be a Chinook minimum size limit of 20 inches total length. 

In 2025, the season opens April 5 for all salmon except coho, two salmon per day. This opening could be modified following Council review at its April 2025 meeting 

Alternative 2 features a season of July 4-7 and August 1-4,7, 29-31. In season action may be taken to close open days when total harvest is approaching a statewide harvest guideline of 6,500 Chinook. 

The bag limits, days open and the Chinook minimum size will be the same as Alternative 1. In 2025, the season will open under the same guidelines as Alternative 1. 

Alternative 3 will be a total season closure. 

The Council will make a final decision on salmon seasons at its next meeting on April 6-11, 2024. Detailed information about season starting dates, areas open, and catch limits for the three alternatives are available on the Council’s website at www.pcouncil.org. 

“Meeting our conservation and management objectives continues to be the highest priority for the Council,” said Council Chair, Brad Pettinger. “Balancing those objectives while providing meaningful commercial and recreational seasons remains a challenge in 2024.” 

In a press release, the CDFW blamed the low salmon stocks on drought.

“In response to several years of drought over the past decade, key California salmon target stocks are forecast to have 2024 abundance levels that, while higher than last year, are well below average,” the CDFW stated. “The 2024 stock abundance forecast for Sacramento River Fall Chinook, which is often the most abundant stock in the ocean fishery, is 213,600 adults. Meanwhile, abundance of Klamath River Fall Chinook is forecast at 180,700 adults”

“ At this level of abundance, the Pacific Coast Salmon Fishery Management Plan authorizes only low levels of fishing on these stocks, and requires management be designed to allow most of the adult population to return to the river to spawn,” the agency said.    

However, Scott Artis, Executive Director of the Golden State Salmon Association (GSSA) said blaming the low salmon numbers on the drought doesn’t tell the whole story of why salmon are in such a state of crisis now.

“This season is emblematic of poor water policies that have come from the Newsom administration and California water agencies,” said Artis. “This is more of same stuff that we’ve been seeing to beat down salmon families.”

“It’s not surprising that we are looking at a potentially restricted or closed salmon season this year due to disastrously low return levels that have been caused by low water flows at hot temperatures that kill salmon on Central Valley rivers. Plus right now-we’re seeing the effects of Delta pumps and water on endangered steelhead and salmon,” said Artis.

“These water policies have created a mess for our fisheries and have harmed tens of thousands of salmon families,” noted Artis. “So we’re in an unfortunate situation where salmon are losing, people are losing, the fishing industry is losing and the Bay Delta Estuary and Central Valley rivers are losing. And the economy is losing.”

“If the fish are losing and people are losing, it’s no surprise that the salmon fishing season will be restricted or closed this year. It’s simply heartbreaking,”  he concluded. “The only winner is Governor Newsom and his unsustainable agricultural industrial partners.” 

The CDFW noted that in-season management and harvest limits are new concepts in management of commercial and recreational ocean salmon fisheries off California. Given the low abundance forecasts and spawner returns in recent years, it is crucial that any limited salmon fishing ultimately authorized be managed to ensure most of the fish return to the river this fall. Use of these strategies in 2024 ocean fisheries is expected to keep catches within pre-season projections.

On recommendation from California and Oregon agency representatives and industry advisors, the National Marine Fisheries Service took in-season action to cancel ocean salmon fishery openers that were scheduled between Cape Falcon, Oregon and the U.S./Mexico border that were scheduled to open prior to May 16, 2024. The sport fishery off much of California had been set to open in early April. Season dates and regulations may be found on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife web page at www.wildlife.ca.gov/oceansalmon

On March 25, 2024, the PFMC will hold a public hearing in Santa Rosa to receive public comment on the three proposed regulatory alternatives. The PFMC will then meet April 5-11 in Seattle, Washington to adopt final regulations for the season. More information on the three alternatives can be found at this link or see Pacific Fishery Management Council (pcouncil.org) for information regarding PFMC meetings and public comment opportunities.

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