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Sport salmon season opens Saturday

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Long Nguyen, left, holds the boat in place while his fishing partner prepares to pull the boat from the water on an unsuccessful sport 2014 salmon season opener at Santa Cruz harbor. (Jon Weiand — Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

By Samantha Clark, Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ >> The recreational salmon season begins Saturday, and anglers can expect it to be a good one despite the drought, say state and federal fisheries managers.

There are 652,000 fall run chinook salmon that were born in the Sacramento River heading out to sea. That’s 17,000 more fish than last year’s solid numbers.

“Excitement is really high,” said Mike Baxter, a Santa Cruz sport fisher, fishing columnist and host of the Let’s Go Fishing radio show. “People are gearing up their boats. We’re happy and optimistic that there’s a season, but we’re all a little concerned about the warming water trend.”

Fisheries experts warn that the full brunt of the four-year drought should hit next year. While the Sacramento River’s king salmon that are swimming out to the ocean now avoided the dry spell’s impacts, the lack of water on land and warmer ocean temperatures will take their toll on young salmon.

“These fish entered the ocean when conditions were fairly good,” said Jennifer Simon with state Fish and Wildlife Ocean Salmon Project. “It was the first year of our drought in 2012. It’s nothing like the drought that we’ve seen this year or last year.”

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Jim Nurse pulls a freshly caught and filleted salmon from his boat on the 2014 sport salmon season opening day at the Santa Cruz harbor. (Jon Weiand — Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

If the lack of rainfall and failure to replenish the rivers continues, the salmon born during the drought could have a real problem if they can’t return to spawn.

Because of the dire conditions, the salmon season might get cut short. Right now, it’s only set to run through April 30. In mid-April, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets ocean salmon fishing policy in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, will establish regulations for May 1 and after aimed at preserving future salmon stocks by restricting who can fish when, where and for what size salmon.

For the opening weekend, the weather outlook is shaping up to be windy with strong swells.

Baxter expects that the salmon will flock to deeper water that’s colder, at the deep canyon edges and in front of Moss Landing. The ocean is currently 2 to 5 degrees warmer than average, according to climatologists.

“There’s squid near Monterey and anchovy schools in Moss landing,” he said. “You need those little feed fish for salmon.”

Monterey Bay fishermen have a daily bag limit of two salmon that are at least 24 inches long.

Because of the bustle and excitement of start of salmon season, wildlife experts are asking anglers and other boaters to exercise extra care for wildlife. “The proximity of these animals to human activities can put them in harm’s way,” said Andrew Johnson, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program manager, “and at least a few otters die from boat strikes each year.”

The sport season also is important to commercial fishers, as they gauge the outlook of their season, which will likely begin May 1.

“If these guys are catching them, we’re going to catch them,” said Hans Haveman of H & H Fresh Fish, a local seafood supplier. “The recreational season is our only real way to judge.”

Salmon Season

Sport salmon season begins Saturday. Commercial salmon season is expected to begin May 1.

Daily limit: Two salmon of any species except coho.

Minimum size: 24 inches total length.

Link to original article: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/sports/20150402/sport-salmon-season-opens-saturday

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