Fishing for Recovery in Monterey Bay – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Racers pass by squid boats anchored near the end of Capitola Pier. Squid fishing has a long tradition in Monterey Bay, and the season is currently in full swing. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website, “Every spring, squid emerge in large schools along the Central Coast to spawn. Squid mature quickly and live short lives—shortly after laying eggs, the squid will die. Fishermen take advantage of squid’s lifestyle” Fisheries target aggregations The large ones are squid that lay eggs, and it is best to catch them after they lay their eggs. Squid boats shine bright lights at night – often visible from shore – to attract squid towards their purse strings. The abundance of squid varies from year to year. to year, often in response to water temperature and available food supply. El Niño years, when the water temperature is warmer, are especially bad for squid fishermen. In other years, high bottom water in Monterey Bay provides the perfect mix of cool water and abundant water. Krill and other prey that squid need.” (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

It was the Monterey Bay fishing industry that defined our stretch of Central Coast.

Today, from the ports of Santa Cruz, Moss Landing and Monterey, fishermen and women still ply their trade, but in increasingly difficult environments and under regulations aimed at protecting dwindling fish populations — especially salmon.

That’s where two local groups come in: the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust and the Monterey Bay Trout and Salmon Project.

The trust, Executive Director Melissa Mahoney told the Sentinel editorial board last week, is about helping to sustain the Gulf’s fishing industry, as well as increasing community access to local, sustainably caught seafood.

But with the closure of the latest salmon season, after two years of closure due to the Corona virus, the local industry is at risk. Mahoney said the economic impacts of closing salmon fishing are “huge,” not just on fishermen and women, but on all the local businesses that meet their needs.

An industry group, the Golden State Salmon Association, reports that the state’s commercial and recreational salmon fisheries account for $1.4 billion in economic activity and include fishermen and women, fish processors, marinas, equipment manufacturers, Native American tribes and people in hotels and resorts. Food industries, among others.

At the same time, the Foundation works with the region’s fishermen in managing the demersal fishery, ensuring currently healthy populations of rockfish in the future.

Recreational and commercial fishing occurs within state limits: state supervision is 3 miles offshore; Federal waters then extend 200 miles offshore.

But the decline in salmon numbers, which prompted another shutdown of the state’s salmon fishery last season, is primarily related to the health of rivers and dams.

Salmon fisheries, even with the closures, “are not where we want them to be,” Ben Harris, executive director of the Monterey Bay Trout and Salmon Project (MBSTP), told the editorial board.

The MBSTP project, which aims to restore salmon and steelhead, releases about 35,000 locally adapted, hatchery-raised coho salmon annually. The hatchery operated by MBSTP is located in Scott Creek along the north coast of Santa Cruz County.

Coho trees are an endangered species and their recovery appears to depend on fish released from hatcheries.

Chinook salmon, which fetch a higher price, are equally at risk, as three years of drought, low river levels and hot, dry conditions have completely shut down the state’s salmon season. The closure came as the numbers of fish spawning into the Sacramento River, the state’s main salmon producer, dropped to record levels. Last year just 62,000 adult Chinook returned to the Sacramento River to spawn, the third-lowest return on record and just half the fishery’s minimum target. Only in the previous two years – 2008 and 2009 – had California’s salmon season been completely closed.

This year’s closure was another huge blow to fishermen and women in the region.

The foundation’s Mahoney told us she’s concerned that California will lose its entire wild salmon population within the next 20 years, leaving only hatchery fish left.

Harris said dams along Central Valley rivers make it unlikely the Chinook runs will ever recover.

As salmon numbers shrink, California’s fishing fleet shrinks as well. Nearly 5,000 commercial boats chased California salmon in the early 1980s. Now, there are only 464 active boats fishing commercially, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Harris and Mahoney said there are perhaps only 20 active commercial fishing boats operating out of Santa Cruz Harbor today.

Most dams are unlikely to fail, so the future of salmon and any other endangered fish will require greater conservation efforts, along with catch limits and more investments in fish hatcheries, fish-friendly infrastructure, and habitat restoration.

And help the beleaguered fishing industry.

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