Season dates further south are likewise designed to minimize impacts on the endangered Sacramento winter run, whose spawning numbers plunged to about 1,500 last year.
Under fishery council proposals, commercial fishing in the zone from southern Humboldt County to Point Arena in Mendocino County would be open only in September. From Point Arena to Pigeon Point, on the San Mateo Coast, fishing would open between Aug. 1 and the end of September. From Pigeon Point south to the Mexican border, commercial fishing would open only in May and June.
For comparison's sake, fishing along most of the coast south of Humboldt County was open for three to four months in 2014 and 2015 -- both years marked by forecasts of a robust population of the commercially important Sacramento River fall run.
"It's a pretty pathetic scrap of a season," Dave Bitts, a commercial fisherman from Humboldt County, said in describing the 2017 season. "But if there's fish there when it's open, hopefully some people will turn it to advantage. Otherwise, I suspect a lot of people will be looking for something else to do this summer."
Bitts, who serves on a PFMC salmon advisory panel, said he's getting ready to work on retrieving crab traps in the waters off Eureka that were buried during this winter's storms. He said he expected other fishermen to keep fishing crab this year -- the state's season runs to June 30 south of Mendocino County and to July 15 from Mendocino north -- "as long as they can make a dollar at it."
But Bitts said that those who depend on salmon for a living don't have a lot of choices.
"Some people are going to hope tuna show up," Bitts said. "In our part of the world, there's not a lot else. ... There really is not a fishery or even a complex of fisheries in the summertime that will replace salmon when salmon fall short like this. It makes things bleak."
The proposals for recreational fishing also sharply limit the season available to anglers. In the area from the San Mateo coast through Monterey Bay, anglers will get to fish only from April 1 through July 15. The season typically lasts until the end of October.
The only region with a substantially intact recreational fishing season is the one stretching from Point Arena to San Mateo County's Pigeon Point. Those waters would be open for all but two weeks of the season from April 1 through Oct. 31.
"The reason the season in Monterey are so short is they have the highest contact with the winter chinook," said Marc Gorelnik, a PFMC member and chairman of the Bay Area's Coastside Fishing Club. "San Francisco does not have anywhere near the winter-run impact."
Gorelnik added that managers are trying to strike a balance for recreational fishing -- giving the maximum number of anglers the opportunity to fish chinook while doing the least harm to stressed fisheries.
But it's not just the most seriously troubled chinook runs that are casting a shadow on this year's salmon season. Bitts, the Humboldt County fisherman, pointed to the modest estimates for this year's Sacramento River fall run chinook as another reason for concern.
The fall run is heavily bolstered by state and federal hatcheries and has produced fabulous-sounding numbers -- about 1.5 million adult chinook in 2003 and 868,000 as recently as 2013.
The Sacramento fall chinook also crashed to just 40,000 in 2009, and its numbers have been declining since that 2013 spike. This year's forecast, derived largely from the number of 2-year-old fish that returned to spawn last year, is 230,700.