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August 12, 2018    Headlines

Salmon LIMITS!!!
Rockfish and Lings at the Islands


Salmon counts were all over the board on Sunday 8-12. Some boats did great with near limits while others never good dial in. The fleet has been working a wide area of the lower Marin coast the past few weeks with most trolling from the Channel Buoys to the Middle Grounds and up to Duxbury. Out of Emeryville the C Gull was the highliners with 22 salmon to 20 pounds for 13 anglers. The MoMo had 3 salmon for 4 anglers while the Sundance had a fish per rod for their group of 6 anglers to 24 pounds. The Dragon had 3 salmon for 5 anglers and the Pacific Pearl did well with 21 salmon for 15 anglers to 15 pounds.
The rockfish bite has been solid at the Islands and the the Marin Coast. The Sea Wolf had 23 limits of lings and 173 rockfish while the Tigerfish had 37 limits of rockfish and 20 lings to 15 pounds.
On Saturday 8-11 the Soleman out of Fisherman's wharf worked the shallow reefs off the Towers for 4 limits of quality browns and blacks adding three lings to 11 pounds. Captain Don said they metered big schools for rockfish from Duxbury to Double Point. 

The salmon bite has picked back up after a few days early this week of slower action. Funny how quickly we all become spoiled after a few weeks of lights out action. On Friday 8-10 the party boats fleet was working the Marin coast and Channel buoys. Most boats saw limits while a few despite their best efforts came up with just a fish per ord. It's that time of year when the bigger spawners are moving through and boats have seen lots of quality the past few days. Out of Emeryville the C Gull had 16 limits, the Dragon had a fish per rod for 5 anglers, The Pacific Pearl reported 24 salmon for 14 anglers to 14 pounds. The Sundance had 10 5 limits to 24 pounds and the Tigerfish had 12 limits.
Out of Sausalito Jared n the Salty Lady reported 10 fish for their 15 man charter with fish to 25 pounds. Jared said they had trouble hanging onto some big fish. They have room Tuesday and Wednesday of the coming week.
The rockfish and ling action has been good both at the Islands and the Middle Marin coast. The Sea Wolf had 27 LIMITS of lings adding limits of rockfish and a wolf eel. The Emeryville Sport Center has room for both salmon and rockfish this week.


After a slow salmon day on Wednesday, the fish were willing to bite on Thursday 8-9 with Captain Jerad Davis of the Salty Lady getting located at the end of the day for 11 salmon to 23 pounds for 23 anglers with the majority of the fish in the 15- to 18-pound range. He knows where he will start on Friday morning.

 Out of Fish Emeryville, the C Gull II came back with near limits at 27 salmon to 12 pounds for 14 anglers, the Tigerfish with 15 limits to 15 pounds while the Sundance posted 6 limits of big fish. The Pacific Pearl was out with 15 anglers for 13 salmon, and all of the boats were trolling. The fish were a mix of over half being 12 to 25 pounds and the others next years bounty running 4 to 7 pounds.

Captain Craig Hanson of Argo Sport Fishing had a great day on Thursday with limits on his six-pack out of San Francisco.

The fish are close, the weather is good, scores are ranging from decent to great and there are lots of big fish showing in the catches. The party boats fleet has been working the Main Ship Channel, Middle Grounds and just outside the Gate the past few days. Party boat scores are ranging from a fish per rod to limits with some a good showing of larger fish in the mix on Tuesday 8-7. Out of Emeryville the Dragon was the highliners with 6 limits to 27 pounds. The Pacific Pearl had 11 for 7 anglers to 25 pounds. RJ on the Sundance was one shy of limits for 6 anglers with fish to 25 pounds and the C Gull had a very respectable 16 kings to 22 pounds for 9 anglers or just two shy of limits. All boats were trolling. Emeryville has some limited room this week while Jared on the Salty Lady is full this week with much more room next.
Up the coast there are fish pushing down the Sonoma coastline and from commercial anglers we are hearing about good scores and some big fish off Point Arena. Scores off Bodega Bay have been good for the few boats able to get out in the past week of windy weather.

The salmon bite remains solid for the Golden Gate fleet. While it's not wide open limits, home by lunch, in bed by 8:PM fishing, it's still solid with scores of a fish and a half per rod to limits. On Sunday 8-5 the fleet was back out along the Marin coast after spending a few fruitful days inside Pt Bonita. Out of Emeryville the Sundance had 4 limits to 18 pounds. The C Gull was three fish sky of 13 limits to 22 pounds with many others lost for 13 anglers. The Pacific Pearl reported 19 kings to 25 pounds for their 15 anglers. The majority of the action was in the Middle Grounds and Marin Coast but this writer expects the South Side to break open again very soon. Emeryville also had boats out at the Islands with the Tigerfish reporting 36 limits of rockfish and 5 lings and the New Huck Finn had both limits of lings and rockfish for 22 anglers. The weather was decent today with 10 to 15 knots of breeze over a small swell. Emeryville has space available this week as does the Salty Lady in Sausalito.

After two months on nearly uninterrupted easy limits of salmon party boat captains have found themselves working for their catch instead of the fish just jumping in the boat. On Wednesday 8-1 party boats reported scores of a half fish to limits. Out of Emeryville the Pacific Pearl had 10 salmon to 8 pounds for 15 anglers. The MoMO was one shy of limits for 4 anglers with fish to 11 pounds. The Tigerfish found limits for their group of 6 anglers to 22 pounds with a bonus halibut. The C Gull had 8 salmon for 13 anglers. The Huck Finn chased rockfish taking limits for 11 anglers plus full limits of lings.
Jared on the Salty Lady posted a top score with 34 salmon to 14 pounds for their 20 clients. Jared reports the best action was found close to home due to the winds outside. They were trolling from Pt Bonita to Yellow Bluff and while many were smaller fish they had several in the 12 to 14 pound class. It's good to see the deck reshuffled. We have been seeing some wind the past three days and the fish were due to take a day or three off. I fully expect the bite to turn back on as fresh fish push from all both north and south heads towards the Golden Gate on their way to the CV rivers. 

The hot action continues for the party boat fleet out of the Golden Gate. Many six packs are fishing an hour or less while some party boats who are on the fish and able to hold onto them are reporting 25 limits in under two hours time. Out of Emeryville on Sunday 7-29 they had six boats salmon fishing who all reported up to 25 limits with fish to 22 pounds. The majority of the fleet has been working the North Side from Muir beach to Duxbury and out along the edge of the bar. The grade has been a bit smaller the past two days but there are still lots of 12 to 20 plus pound fish in the mix. The weather has been calm and foggy along the Marin coast with breezier conditions offshore. Our party boats sponsors have LIMITED room available and advance planning is a must.

California's salmon industry fears it will be wiped out by Trump

Heather Sears has been fishing for salmon out of this unassuming coastal community for nearly two decades. This year, for the first time since she arrived in 1999, she won’t be going out to sea.
“I just didn’t think we’d have much fish this year,” she was telling me in a chilly backroom of her newly opened fish market on the Noyo River, Fort Bragg’s marine thoroughfare. As she spoke, she expertly sliced into triangular fillets ideal for sashimi a 90-pound albacore that a tuna boat had caught off Hawaii and delivered to her fish market. But what was on her mind was the threat to the industry she had grown up in.

The state’s designated commercial salmon season, which normally runs from May 1 to Sept. 30, had been reduced to a wan shadow. This year it opened only on July 27, leaving scarcely enough time for California’s ocean-going boats to turn a profit. Some have ranged beyond the state’s waters, to Oregon, Washington or Alaska; others in the fishery shifted to crabbing. And others, like Sears, have tried to expand into other businesses, such as the fish market she launched on May 5 to backstop her fishing career.

As commercial fishermen, we’re not asking for all the water, but just as much as we need to keep our businesses viable and our communities strong.

There’s no question that the California salmon fishery is in a bad way. Stocks had barely recovered from the drought of 2007-2009, which destroyed the state’s inland spawning grounds and forced a total ban on commercial salmon fishing in 2008 and 2009, before a second drought struck. But a greater threat may be political, and man-made.


Heather Sears has seen her catch dwindle as water is diverted to agriculture from rivers where salmon spawn.

Agribusinesses in the Central Valley are demanding that more water be pumped out of the Sacramento-San Francisco Bay Delta to feed their farms. They’re getting a friendly hearing from the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress, who recognize that the valley is perhaps the only strongly Republican part of California. That water, allowed to follow its course through the state’s rivers and out to sea, is the lifeblood of the salmon fishery.

Salmon spawn and hatch in fresh waters inland, then migrate to sea within their first year. They spend their next few years offshore, where they become the commercial boats’ quarry, until the survivors migrate back upstream and start the cycle again. It’s the portion of their lifespans spent in fresh water, and therefore the health of the inland ecosystem, that determines the strength of the salmon fishery. In recent years, the ecosystem has come under stress from drought and diversions.


To Sears, 38, fishing is a lifestyle, not just a job choice. “All I know how to do is catch salmon,” she said.

Sears’ parents fished commercially out of Morro Bay, and first brought her along at the age of 8. She bought her first boat at 19, a 1928-vintage troller she acquired for $4,000. Her current vessel, the Princess, which she operates with an all-woman crew, is a 42-foot troller she acquired in Canada in 2008, when that country’s salmon industry underwent a shift from ocean fishing to salmon farming. (The boat was given its name by its previous owner.) It’s equipped with a blast freezer that can flash-freeze her wares to minus-40 degrees at sea, allowing her to stay out for a couple of weeks at a time and return with a larger catch. In a good year, she can earn $100,000, net of expenses.

“Salmon have lived through lots of droughts,” Sears said. “But they haven’t lived through droughts and the complete degradation of their ecosystem and the over-allocation of their water to Central Valley farmers. As commercial fishermen, we’re not asking for all the water, but just as much as we need to keep our businesses viable and our communities strong. We’re asking that we all take the same amount of cuts instead of us losing our entire seasons and them planting more almonds or whatever they do. I feel like we take the brunt.”

She’s right. Advocates of increased pumping for Central Valley farms typically talk as though the choice is between serving agriculture or allowing water to flow wastefully to sea to satisfy environmentalists. The interests of the commercial fishery are almost never mentioned. But it’s a big business too. A 2006 economic study valued the impact of the state’s salmon fishery at $1.4 billion in annual sales and 23,000 jobs. That was at a low ebb for the industry; if salmon could be restored to their full potential, the economists said, both figures would quintuple.


Instead, the fishery has deteriorated. Only 42,000 Chinook salmon — the California species marketed as king salmon — were landed at the state’s coastal ports in 2017, according to the Pacific Fishery Management Council. As recently as 2013, the figure was 298,000. The value of the catch has been falling, dipping to $4.9 million last year, 9% below the previous year and 43% below 2015.

President Trump made no secret during his campaign of his affinity for the growers. At an appearance in the Central Valley, he ignorantly parroted their viewpoint nearly verbatim. “You have a water problem that is so insane, it is so ridiculous, where they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea,” he said. “They have farms up here, and they don’t get water. I said, ‘Oh, that’s too bad. Is it a drought?’ ‘No, we have plenty of water. … We shove it out to sea.’ … The environmentalists are trying to protect a certain kind of three-inch fish,” he said, referring to the delta smelt, which is typically treated as a species not worth preserving. (The smelt doesn’t occupy an especially important position in the delta food chain, but its health is an indicator of the overall health of the ecosystem.)

Once in office, Trump fulfilled the deepest desires of agribusiness by installing as the No. 2 official at the Department of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the Westlands Water District, which depends on water from the Central Valley Project.

More than the health of the salmon industry is at stake in the conflict between the state and the Trump administration. Also affected are efforts by state officials to reconcile the water interests of farmers, urban dwellers, fishermen and others — a struggle over a scarce resource that has afflicted California politics for more than a century.


Water administrators and environmental experts say they have noticed a stark change in the federal government’s approach to water allocations since Trump’s inauguration. The spirit of collaboration that — with few and brief exceptions — kept the federal Bureau of Reclamation and its Fish and Wildlife Service on the same page as the state Water Resources Board and other state agencies has vanished. It’s been replaced by policies through which the administration aims to deliver more water to politically friendly growers in the strongly Republican Central Valley, especially at the expense of fish and the people who depend on them for their livelihoods.

That’s important because California’s State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project both draw water from the northern part of the state and serve overlapping interests in Central, Southern and coastal California. Their mutual goal long has been to coordinate the projects to balance the needs of growers, urban users and fish and wildlife.

After the severe drought of 2007-2009, it became clear that even draconian cutbacks in water pumping to farms had done little to protect fish such as Chinook salmon, steelhead, smelt and sturgeon. In 2016, the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages federally funded dams and reservoirs, launched a round of consultations with state agencies over biological opinions that designated those species as endangered. The goal was to strengthen environmental protections for the fish.

“Those species were continuing to decline,” said Kate Poole, who has had a front-row seat at the discussions as a counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Reclamation “recognized that the protections put in place in 2008 and 2009 weren’t working and if they weren’t improved those species were going to go extinct.”

Under Trump, however, “the Bureau of Reclamation has turned that on its head, saying they’re going to use it as an excuse to increase pumping and weaken protections for fish.”

Among other steps, the bureau has proposed changes in both the state and federal projects to “maximize water deliveries” to non-environmental users and consider “modifications to regulatory requirements” established by the biological opinions. Meanwhile, the Interior and Commerce departments have jointly proposed changes in the federal Endangered Species Actthat would shrink the roster of species granted legal protections and loosen the rules protecting those that remain on the list.

Not a good trend: The value of salmon landings has varied erratically, but the recent trend is down. (Pacific Fishery Management Council)

California has been pushing back. The Legislature is considering a bill that would install pre-Trump environmental regulations as requirements of California law if the administration tries to roll them back. (One legislative aide calls the measure, SB 49, “Trump insurance.”) Last month, the state Water Resources Control Board proposed increasing the required water flows into the Sacramento-San Francisco Bay Delta and the San Joaquin River to protect what the board calls “an ecosystem in crisis.”

The administration responded with particular vehemence to the board’s initiative. In a July 27 letter to board Chair Felicia Marcus, the Interior Department threatened to sue the state over the proposed increases, arguing that the state was illegally trying to “co-opt” control of a federal project. That was a remarkable opening volley for a process requiring mutual consultation between two government authorities. “They’re certainly taking a far more confrontational approach than any previous administration of either party,” observed Richard M. Frank, an expert in environmental law at UC Davis.

The letter asserted that, contrary to the water board’s position, federal law prioritized irrigation over protections for fish. Experts say that’s flatly untrue, because the Central Valley Project Improvement Act of 1992 explicitly gave fish and wildlife protection equal standing. The state’s right to dictate the allocation of water even from a federal project, moreover, was validated by the Supreme Court in a landmark 1978 decision saying, in effect, that federal water projects have to comply with state regulations. “On water law, we have a ton of our own authority,” Marcus told me.

But the fishing industry can’t help but be fearful about how it will fare if the state and the Trump administration continue to wage war over water. “Structurally, we don’t have the protections we need,” said John McManus, head of the Golden Gate Salmon Assn. “Next time we go back into drought, it’s going to be as bad or worse than the last time.

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