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Wild prices for wild salmon

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Last week I reported that the opening weekend of salmon season in the Pacific off the Sonoma/Marin coast was outstanding, with many anglers catching their limits (two fish). This week, there are lots of salmon still being caught, but not quite as many as last week.

My column motivated at least one of my friends to go to Sonoma Market for fresh-caught salmon. He had assumed that my report of plentiful salmon also applied to commercially caught fish. Therefore, he was shocked when he saw the price of fresh-caught, wild king salmon was $35 per pound.

Unfortunately, the commercial salmon fishermen have been squeezed even harder than the sports fishermen by recently imposed restrictions of the California Department of Fish and Game. In fact, commercial season off our coast doesn’t even open until July 26.

North of us, from Shelter Cove to the state border, commercial salmon season has been open more or less since May 1, but with strict quotas.

These restrictions are deemed necessary because of past drought years and the negative impact they had on salmon spawning in the Klamath River basin and in the Sacramento River. The bottom line is that the commercially caught wild salmon are pretty scarce right now and that’s why they’re so expensive.

Fishermen willing to pay $130 for a day of fishing off Sonoma’s coast right now have the chance to catch up to two wild king salmon, averaging about 20 pounds each, plus a full larder of rock and ling cod. A good day on the water can mean big savings over the price of fresh fish in the market. But then, you do have to put in the time and effort. If you want to book a combo trip for salmon and rockfish, call Capt. Rick Powers at Bodega Bay Sportsfishing, 875-3344.

On the subject of the price of salmon in Sonoma, I found an editorial written by my grandaunt Celeste Murphy on March 2, 1918, in the Index-Tribune. Aunt Celie, who was editor of the I-T at the time, was critical of Col. Weinstock, California’s fish commissioner, for imposing regulations on commercial fishermen that resulted in the price of salmon rising to 25 cents a pound. Here is some of what she had to say about that outrageously high price, equal to about $6 per pound in today’s dollars:

“Had the state administration been honest and chosen a real sound thinking fisherman off the wharf of somewhere in San Francisco to solve the fish-for-everybody problem, we might be enjoying delectable sea food at right prices today…Weinstock is no doubt a well-meaning gentleman but when it comes to fish, he has utterly failed to deliver the goods.”

For several years before she passed away in 1962, I used to bring my grandaunt fresh-caught trout from Sonoma Creek. To her, fresh fish made the best possible meal. I hate to think what she might have written had she been confronted with fresh salmon for $35 per pound in local markets.

Another place to catch your own fresh fish right now is in San Francisco Bay where the halibut and striped bass fishing is the best in several seasons. To book a bay fishing party boat, call Keith Fraser at Loch Lomond Bait Shop in San Rafael at 415-456-0321.