It’s been three days since Half Moon Bay’s commercial fishermen greeted their first real salmon season in three years.
May 1st marked the official opening as determined by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which adopted a set of ocean salmon seasons last month that provides both recreational and commercial opportunities coastwide.
Yet the catch for sport and commercial fishermen has been spotty.
“The weather has been wonderful, but the fishing is not good,” said Peggy Beckett, owner of the Huck Finn Sportfishing Center at Princeton's Pillar Point Harbor just outside Half Moon Bay. Beckett has been running charter boats for sport fishermen since the season opened for April 2.
Mid-day yesterday, market manager Randy Haake was still waiting for his first delivery of salmon.
“I received a call from a commercial fisherman offering 50 pounds, the first delivery of the season,” said Haake. “It’s off to a slow start but promises to pick up as the season continues. It’s exciting the season is open because we’ve been without it for a few years,” he adds.
Haake is hoping for more salmon today. By closing time yesterday, he ended up selling at $12.50 a pound the four out of the five salmons that came in.
Captain of the Genesis, Larry Andre, said he hasn’t heard of anyone really catching much over the past few days.
Andre, who fishes for Dungeness crab and albacore, will resume his place among the fleet of salmon trollers this year, but because of the conditions, “I’m going to wait and see before I head out,” said Andre, member of the Santa Cruz Commercial Fishermen’s Association and supporter of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
Indeed, the weather has been nice, but the conditions out at sea are not so favorable, he says.
“Most of the guys are back in here and not banging around in choppy seas with the small craft advisory yesterday, so I don’t think anyone caught a whole lot of fish yet,” said Andre, who is also deterred by the high price of fuel, which could chew into his profit especially if the fish are hard to pin down.
“Things can start to add up when it gets rough out there this time of year because you’ll probably have to go out 20 to 25 miles offshore to find any fish,” he said. “You’re looking for water temperature, too, and bait, so you can waste a lot of fuel trolling around. Generally speaking, as the season progresses many times the salmon moves closer to the shore. It really depends on the water temperature because they like 55 degree water.”
Another consideration for commercial salmon fishermen this early on in the season is that it’s still crab fishing season so “you need to be smart and watch it especially in choppy conditions or it can cost you a whole lot of money if the weather comes up and when it’s hard to spot lost crab pots, your gear can get tangled up into those. It can cost you a lot of money.”
The past three years have been tough for the state’s fishermen, as well as for harbors, marine supply shops and other fishery-related businesses. Two years ago, the season was canceled entirely, and, in 2010, it lasted only a few days.
The loss cost the industry at least $3 billion and more than 23,000 jobs, according to the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
“Everyone is just so excited that salmon season has opened, especially some of the fellows who only have a salmon permit; they’ve been in dire straits more than anyone,” said Andre.
In the area from Point Arena to Point Sur (Monterey), the season will be open May 1-31; June 25-July 5; July 9-27 (Saturday to Wednesday); July 29-August 29; and during the entire month of September. From Point Sur to the Mexico border, the Chinook season will be open as above, plus June 1-24 but closed in September. There will also be a season from Point Reyes to Point San Pedro, open Monday to Friday October 3-14.
“There’s quite a bit of season open this year, so I’m one to watch the situation and wait before going out,” said Andre, “otherwise it’ll cost you money instead of making you money.”
Don't know how to cook fresh salmon? Learn how from Half Moon Bay Patch contributor Amy Fothergill, who shared her tips and recipes in honor of the commercial season's opening day.