The San Francisco Community Fishing Association, founded in 2011 by NF Highliner Larry Collins, offers something in between direct marketing and selling to the large processors. The association makes ice, offloads boats and sells the catch to wholesale outlets — while offering its members a fair price. Members get dock price with the bonus of profit-sharing. “We distributed quite a bit of money at the end of [last] year after expenses,” said Collins. The membership consists of 20 small, family-owned fishing boats based out of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
Collins was hoping they’d have settled on a price by the end of opening day for the Bay Area’s summer salmon season. “But most of my boats are trip boats. Most of my guys will be delivering Monday morning,” Collins said on Thursday, May 1. “They’re all out of cell phone range, so I have no idea how they’re doing.”
At the stroke of midnight on May 1, San Francisco Bay Area salmon fishermen were ready to wet their gear for the opening of the summer season. Despite the recent focus on the California drought, which will affect future runs, this year salmon fishermen look to reap the benefits of a predicted abundance of returns from a wet 2011.
Just a few years ago, the returns were so low that the season closed entirely for 2008 and 2009. The fishery limped its way back to full openings in 2011 through last year. The projection for 2013 was about 860,000 fish, and it was indeed a great year with strong dock prices.
This year, the estimate is about 630,000 fish. While it’s still a strong number, fishermen are worried about what’s to come. The entire industry is concerned enough to commit to moving salmon fry downstream by truck to aid them on their journey to the sea, bypassing riverbeds too dry to support the run. “We’re really worried about the drought,” Collins said. But for the first time in its history, the Coleman National Hatchery agreed to truck its fry to the bay. “That’s gonna really help,” Collins adds.
I for one have had enough freezer-stocked salmon for the winter. I’m ready for the fresh stuff (or as close as I can get to fresh wild salmon on the East Coast). But I’m not the only one hungry for the red-fleshed fish. Many West Coast salmon fishermen have had an easy time selling their catch directly to their customers right off the boat, and they get a good price for it. And word on the docks is that there are a lot of sea lions in the water.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed and my grill hot in hopes that some of those kings find their way to my local fish markets, no matter which route they take to get here.
Photo: NF Highliner Larry Collins; SalmonWaterNow.org