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The first glistening, coral-red fillets of California king salmon arrived in Bay Area stores Monday after the commercial season opened this weekend. But windy, choppy weather and regulations limiting where fishing can take place meant the season got off to a slow and expensive start.“It’s decent fishing they’ve been doing,” said Hans Haveman, a fisherman and co-owner of H&H Fresh Fish in Santa Cruz Harbor, where he purchases salmon from fishermen and then sells it at a retail store and Bay Area farmers’ markets. But with winds at 30 or 40 knots, he said, “It’s been pushing people off the water.”
Right now, commercial fishing boats may only fish south from Pigeon Point on the San Mateo coast, instead of in the typical area open all the way to Mendocino County this time of year. Strict limits on this year’s salmon season were set by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council in consideration of what’s expected to be a smaller population of adult king, or chinook, salmon in the ocean this year.
The geographic limitations and conditions are keeping local fishing boats in Monterey Bay for now, but some of the fish are making their way to the Bay Area.
Supermarkets and many specialty stores that normally carry local seafood didn’t yet have the salmon on Monday morning, but a few retailers that buy directly from fishermen did, such as Fish, a restaurant and store in Sausalito, and Water2Table, a seafood delivery company where it costs $37 a pound.
Haveman said he will offer the fish to home delivery customers this week and from his stands at several Bay Area farmers’ markets this weekend. Relatively high dock prices and low supply will keep prices high for a while, at about $25 to $30 a pound, he estimates.
“We’re still trying to work it out. In a restaurant, you can put a 6-ounce piece on a plate and charge $40, but it’s harder in a retail situation if it’s a $40 piece of fish,” Haveman said.
California fishing boats will be able to fish in the current region on and off until mid-June, when the territory will open as far north as Point Arena (Mendocino County) through September. A limited area within that zone will also open for a few weeks in October until the season ends Oct. 15.
Commercial fishing also will be allowed north of Point Arena in August and September, but none in what’s known as the Klamath Management Zone in the northern tip of the state. Throughout the season, there will be breaks of a week or two each month, time off fishery managers imposed to further limit the total number of fish caught.
The reason for the limitations is that the number of adult king salmon from the Sacramento River fall run is projected to be 271,000 this spring and summer, compared with last year’s estimate of 473,200. California coastal king salmon is considered a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, and each fishing season is designed to make sure enough of the adults make it back to spawn in their native rivers. Dams that cut the fish off from historic spawning grounds and diversions of water to agriculture are among the reasons the fish are threatened.
That’s all the more true during a drought. This year, federal and state wildlife agencies will truck millions of baby chinook salmon born in inland hatcheries to San Francisco Bay and other spots on the coast because the rivers they normally travel down are too low or too warm. On Monday night, federal wildlife officials were due to drop off 3-inch smolts near San Quentin in Marin County. Those fish will become adults in three years and then part of the sport and commercial fishery.
This weekend, Sarah Bates came down to Monterey Bay from San Francisco with a crew member on her boat, the Bounty.
“Everybody is in the bay because it’s the only place to hide from the afternoon wind,” Bates said. “It’s calm in the morning. By noon or 2 the wind whips everything up into a mess.”
The limited season means they don’t have much of a choice, Bates said.
“We feel pressure to fish in bad weather where there’s so few days,” she said. “We’re pretty much going to go fishing no matter what.”
To add to their challenges, there was a high swell, and then water temperature dropped 3 degrees Sunday night, said John Koeppen, captain of the Lulu out of Santa Cruz. That scared away the salmon’s main food source, anchovies, which in turn caused the salmon to disappear.
“The anchovies are really fragile, and they can’t take that kind of temperature shock. Now everybody’s looking for the anchovies,” he said, laughing. “I need a fish-sniffing dog.”
The weather is supposed to improve, however, and there should be more fish this weekend in time for Mother’s Day, said Koeppen, who is also on the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s salmon advisory subpanel.
Haveman said it’s too bad salmon has become such a luxury item, similar to crab in that it’s something you might eat a few times a year rather than every summer weekend.
“It’s kind of sad,” he said. “Salmon has turned from a barbecue fish to a birthday fish.”
Tara Duggan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @taraduggan
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