Emergency California halibut regulations, river salmon season closure adopted

Willie White of Lodi bagged this 25 lb. halibut while drifting live anchovies in San Francisco Bay board the Lovely Martha on May 20.
Willie White of Lodi bagged this 25 lb. halibut while drifting live anchovies in San Francisco Bay board the Lovely Martha on May 20.

SAN FRANCISCO - California halibut fishing has been spectacular on San Francisco Bay this year, with some of the best action in memory reported in recent weeks.

For example, the Lovely Martha sportfishing boat returned to Fisherman’s Wharf on Thursday, May 25 with 14 limits of striped bass (28) and 14 limits of halibut (42). “We started out the day with a wide-open bass bite and then switched over to halibut,” reported Mike Rescino, Captain of the Lovely Martha.

Great halibut and bass action continued over the Memorial Day weekend. The Lovely Martha checked in with 23 limits (46) of bass (crew included) and 35 halibut for 20 anglers on a half day trip on Sunday, May 28. The anglers drifted live anchovies near Oyster Point. Information: (650) 619-6629.

However, the pressure on these fish this year, due to the total closure of ocean and river salmon fishing, led Rescino and other skippers and anglers to request a change in the bag limit from three to two fish to protect the fishery.

Over 30 years ago, the recreational halibut fishery in San Francisco Bay was decimated, due to the devastation of the bay by dredge spoils dumping by the Army Corps of Engineers and the commercial overharvest of halibut by a few operators of trammel nets outside of the Golden Gate when the fish entered the bay from the ocean to spawn and feed.

But United Anglers of California and other fishing groups successfully waged a successful campaign, via protests and packing meeting after meeting with anglers, to stop the dumping of dredge spoils in the bay.

The group then pressured the Legislature to restrict the destructive trammel net fishery outside of the Golden Gate. The result was the creation of a robust halibut fishery for three decades, with a few slow years mixed in, after the trammel net restrictions became effective in 1993. In 1995, United Anglers successfully pushed the Fish and Game Commission change to change the bag limit from 5 to 3 halibut.

This year we will see another change in the bag limit. In an emergency regulation to protect the heavily pressured California halibut fishery, the Commission on Tuesday, March 16, unanimously voted to reduce the daily bag and possession limit for California halibut from three fish to two fish in California waters north of Point Sur, Monterey County. The regulations are expected to take effect June 1, 2023.

“The reduced California halibut limit is designed to protect the resource amid increased recreational fishing pressure due to limited fishing opportunities and changes in other ocean fisheries including salmon,” the CDFW said in a press statement. “The Pacific halibut fishery is unaffected by the Commission’s action; the daily bag and possession limit for Pacific halibut remains one fish with no size limit.”

During the same meeting, the Commission acted unanimously to enact a full closure of California’s recreational salmon fishing season in the Klamath River Basin and Central Valley rivers through its annual process for adjusting seasons and bag limits.

In a separate emergency action, the Commission voted to close recreational salmon fisheries in the Smith River and Eel River, and the summer season in the Klamath and Trinity rivers.

“Additionally, in the same emergency action, the Commission voted to allow federally recognized tribes that currently or historically used the river segments affected by the recreational fishing closures, to continue fishing under existing inland sport fishing regulations,” the CDFW stated.

These regulations are expected to take effect no later than July 1, 2023, following approval by the Office of Administrative Law.

The Commission’s actions on salmon follow the recommended closure of both commercial and recreational ocean salmon fisheries off the California coast by the Pacific Fishery Management Council due to projections showing Chinook salmon abundance at historic lows.

Governor Gavin Newsom last month submitted a request to the U. S. Secretary of Commerce asking for a Federal Fishery Disaster Declaration. If approved, the declaration would begin the process of providing needed relief to businesses and fishing communities financially impacted by the salmon fishing closure.

“This decision, while difficult, is intended to allow salmon to recover in order to provide future fishing opportunities,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham. “Salmon are an iconic species in California. We treasure them for their intrinsic, cultural, recreational and commercial values. The state is committed to ensuring long-term survival of our salmon runs and supporting our struggling fishing communities.”

The CDFW claimed that “prolonged drought, severe wildfires and associated impacts to spawning and rearing habitat, harmful algal blooms and ocean forage shifts have combined to result in some of the lowest stock abundance forecasts on record for California’s Chinook salmon.”

However, anglers, scientists and fish advocates disagreed, pointing out that the salmon closure this year was largely the result of poor water and fishery management by the state and federal governments during a major drought.

“This latest closure of our inland waters salmon fishing is a devastating reminder that California’s poor water policy impacts real people, real families, real businesses, real communities, and a keystone species people and wildlife rely on,” said Scott Artis, executive director of the Golden State Salmon Association (GSSA). “And it’s not going away until we enact real solutions. In response to the 2023 salmon season closure, GSSA has developed and released recommendations for action at the state level, which are focused on the cause of the current salmon collapse – lethally low river flows and high water temperatures.”

“Over the long-term, other actions will be required to restore fully healthy salmon runs. And to complement our state actions, we are also working on federal and hatchery recommendations to aid salmon recovery. In the short-term, however, we must stop killing salmon in Central Valley rivers through inadequate flow and temperature conditions,” Artis stated.

He noted that droughts have always caused some impacts on California salmon runs. However, salmon have survived droughts for millennia and remained abundant.

“The core of the crisis Central Valley salmon and the fishing economy face today is how we manage our water resources. This mismanagement has turned our rivers into death traps for salmon,” he concluded.

The low ocean abundance forecasts, coupled with low 2022 returns, led the Commission to recommend closure of California’s in-river recreational salmon fisheries, including the Klamath and Trinity rivers within the Klamath Basin, the Sacramento, Feather, American and Mokelumne rivers in the Central Valley, the Smith River and the Eel River.

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This article originally appeared on The Record: Emergency California halibut regulations, river salmon season closure adopted