On May 20, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced its Ocean Salmon Monitoring Program was underway.
Each year, CDFW staff and affiliated contracted employees monitor marine docks and launch ramps to observe and sample salmon brought ashore by private recreational boats and charter vessels. In addition, the samplers are assigned to track salmon catch, gather effort information about the fishing trip, and collect biological samples from tagged salmon.
Anglers are encouraged to help the CDFW employees and agents who inquire about their trip or request to examine their catches. The data collected is essential to the science needed to support continued ocean salmon fishing opportunities in future years.
Angler participation in the ocean salmon sampling program is important to fishery managers and biologists, given the job of ensuring the future use and conservation of this species. In addition, the data is used to make stock abundance forecasts, which inform the development of annual fishing regulations that allow for the harvest of more abundant stocks and meet conservation objectives designed to protect stocks that are a concern. Anglers must be aware that they are required by law to relinquish the head of any adipose fin-clipped salmon.
Approximately 40 million fall-run Chinook salmon are produced at California hatcheries each year. A minimum of 25 percent of those juvenile salmon are implanted with a Coded Wire Tag (CWT) in their snout before being released into California’s rivers, bays, and estuaries. CWTs are small metal tags, less than or equal to 1 millimeter, with a laser-engraved code corresponding to a specific release group of hatchery salmon. Every code gives biologists information about that fish, such as which hatchery they came from, brood year, run type, release date, release location, and the number of tagged and untagged salmon in that release group. In addition, each salmon containing a CWT is also externally marked with a clipped adipose fin – the small, fleshy fin between the dorsal and caudal fin – to allow for easy visual identification in the field.
When a sampler identifies an adipose fin-clipped salmon on the docks, they will measure the length of the fish and remove the head for recovery of the CWT. The heads are then transported back to the CDFW lab, where the CWT will be removed and decoded under a microscope.
Survey participants who have their salmon heads collected have the choice to receive the CWT information obtained from their fish after it is processed at the lab. On rare occasions, salmon raised in Alaska or British Columbia hatcheries make a long journey to waters off California and are taken in the CDFW ocean salmon fishery. If requested, the CDFW Ocean Salmon Project will provide anglers with the biological information for their tagged salmon, including the age, hatchery of origin, and release information.
As usual, anglers are prompted to check for current information when planning a salmon fishing trip. Season dates, bag/possession limit information, and gear restrictions are posted on CDFW’s ocean salmon webpage and are also available by calling the CDFW ocean salmon regulations hotline at (707) 576-3429. The service ocean salmon hotline is (800) 662-9825.