Tribal 2014 Fall Salmon Quotas Set

The Trinity River, shown here, will have a much smaller run of adult Chinook Salmon this year., with estimates placing it at just over a quarter of the run last year./Photo by Kristan Korns, Two Rivers Tribune

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

The Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) released their official 2014 fall run Chinook harvest guidelines last week, with 27,300 adult fall Chinook slated for tribal harvest on the Klamath and Trinity Rivers.

This year’s tribal fishing allocation is around 24 percent of last year’s quota of 113,000.

Robert Franklin, senior hydrologist with Hoopa Valley Tribal Fisheries, said the tribal allocation is divided between the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes. “They’re the only tribes that have federally-recognized fishing rights in the area.”

PFMC coordinates guidelines for fish harvests all along the West Coast. The goal is to ensure fish are not over-harvested or under-harvested.

An estimated 40,700 spawners are needed for conservation this year. The rest of the year’s estimated run is split between sport fisherman, commercial ocean fishing, and tribal fisheries.

George Kautsky, deputy director of Hoopa Tribal Fisheries, said, “Under their guidelines, 50 percent of the harvestable surplus must be reserved for tribal fisheries; the Hoopa Valley and Yurok tribal fisheries combined.”

“What the Yurok typically claim is 80 percent of the tribal harvest. This year, that would leave 5,460 adult fall Chinook for the Hoopa,” Kautsky said.

Ocean trawlers are allocated 19,648 of the non-tribal half of 2014’s harvestable surplus, with 3,521 set aside for ocean recreational fishing and 4,128 for in-river sport fishing.

Determining each year’s estimated run size requires multiple calculations and estimates based on other estimates, with a margin for error on each one.

“There’s a lot of estimation in this whole thing, we’re lucky to be within 200 to 300 percent of the truth,” Kautsky said.

They start by using the best available science to determine how many two, three, and four-year-old fall Chinook salmon survived in the ocean based on their siblings from the year before.

Next, they determine how many will be needed to sustain the fish population in the Klamath-Trinity Basin and then they work to estimate how many of the salmon in the ocean will return to the basin this year and what percentage of them are expected to be harvested by the ocean fishing fleet.

“The complexities of that fishery change every year,” Kautsky said. “What might happen is there’s a storm up north, and instead of 500 vessels in one area, you have 1,000.”

Natural changes in ocean conditions can play a big part in how close or far off the estimates are in any given year.

In 2012, for example, the preseason forecast for ocean abundance of adult Klamath River fall Chinook was 1,651,800. The postseason estimate was only a little over half of that at 890,447 – but nearly three times the numbers from the year before.

Overestimates of the harvestable surplus have a potentially greater impact on Hoopa fishermen, because the fish must pass through the length of the Yurok Reservation – where they are geared up to harvest 80 percent of the estimates – before the salmon enter the Trinity.

Hoopa’s 2014 harvest guidelines are in the same general range as last decade’s harvests, with an allotment of 6,800 in 2010 and 6,200 in 2011.

The numbers surged in 2012 when Chinook born in 2009 began returning from the ocean to spawn, which led to record and near-record returns to the rivers. Quotas in 2012 and 2013 were 32,000 and 23,000 adult fall Chinook.

The salmon usually spend between two and four years of their lives in the ocean, with around 50 percent dying in their first year there. With favorable wind and wave conditions, deep, cool, and nutrient-rich water is brought to the surface along the coast, and more fish live.

Rivers throughout the region, including the Rogue and the Sacramento, all saw a huge surge in the numbers of returning Chinook salmon when the 2009 brood year hit adulthood.

“The 2009 brood year was the best we’ve seen on record since contemporary recordkeeping was started in 1978,” Kautsky said. “A strong contributor was favorable ocean currents.”

Despite the increased fish runs in 2012 and 2013, the numbers of adult fall Chinook actually harvested in the Hoopa Valley have remained in the 3,000 to 5,000 range with an average of 3,925 over the last four years.

Kautsky said warm water and low water caused by ongoing drought conditions and toxic mats of blue-green algae brought on by dams on the river, make the journey upriver hazardous for the fish and on fishermen.

“We have an uphill battle here with algae that foul the nets,” Kautsky said. “I think the Council is working on ideas to more fully utilize the harvest guidelines.”

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