The king salmon fishery, one of the most valuable in California, continues to rebound after suffering through three shortened or canceled seasons between 2008 and 2010. Fishermen and regulators attribute the resurgence in part to favorable river and ocean conditions several years ago when the current generation of adults hatched and made their way out to sea.
"It was a good year," said Larry Collins, president of the San Francisco commercial fisherman's association. "Some guys did really well."
A preliminary estimate from the California Department of Fish and Game shows nearly 267,000 salmon were unloaded through Aug. 29. That would already be the most since 2005, when fishermen brought home roughly 341,000 over a full season. The fishery collapsed in 2006 partly because of environmental pressures, including the degradation of river habitat and Central Valley farmers' heavy demand for the water stored in the Sierra Nevada snowpack.
"It's all about how much water they get for going up and going down the river," Collins said.
The last day of fishing was Tuesday. Boats returned to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco and Pillar Point Harbor near Half Moon Bay after dark and began selling the last catch in the morning.
Brad Wilcox was asking $12 a pound he was selling retail from his boat, Luna Sea, at Pillar Point. The fish were not only abundant this year, he said, but fat and tasty.
"My biggest fish this year was 44 pounds," said Wilcox, "which is about as big as it gets."
Wholesale buyers offered good prices for salmon this year, as high as $9 a pound, said fellow Pillar Point troller Jim Anderson, captain of the Allaine.
"The main thing people were happy about this year was price -- it seemed to hold up the whole season," said Anderson, attributing the steady prices to well-timed closures of the fishery during the summer to prevent the market from becoming glutted. "Everybody's got a few bucks to pay some bills or do some work on the boat."
There appeared to be a large number of young salmon in the ocean this year, according to Collins, which bodes well for 2014. Fishermen note the winter of 2010-11 was wet, providing excellent conditions for juvenile fish.
"We're optimistic for next year," said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, an industry advocate.
The outlook for 2015 is less rosy. The relatively dry winters of 2011-12 and 2012-13 could mean fewer salmon made it from their natal rivers to the Pacific Ocean.