SANTA CRUZ – Schools of salmon jam-packed at the back of the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor have caused a ripple of fishing excitement in recent years.
With the influx of people and fish, however, have come some problems that Santa Cruz Port District officials say are not worth the benefits.
The Santa Cruz Port Commission is considering ending the fishing, which was an exception to sitting district laws, except under limited exceptions. On Tuesday, the commission refined the language for a proposed update to the district’s already on-the-books harbor fishing ban, with a formal vote planned for late next month.
“Too many salmon should not be a problem. There should be a reasonable solution. We’re trying to figure out a win-win situation.”
Comments at several recent public meetings on the issue have ranged from anger at problems caused by fishers drawn to the harbor to pleas for harbor officials to reconsider.
Long-time fisher Nell Newman said she felt some of the conflicts that have cropped up around the in-harbor fishing come from the small shore space set aside for fishing. The salmon influx seemed to positively diversify the “face” of the harbor’s occupants for a time, she said.
“It was a really mixed group of riffraff, fishermen and children and I think the harbor just didn’t know what to do,” said Newman, who offered at a Port District meeting Tuesday to fund a study to find a harbor fishing compromise. “Most of the people who stood up (Tuesday) said this is a tremendous resource that we have and can’t we have a way to work this out.”
The proposed ordinance amendment would allow exceptions to the no-fishing rule on the harbor’s jetties and for special permitted events, said Port Director Lisa Ekers.
Ekers said the issue has come to a head in recent years because large amounts of mature hatchery salmon have returned to the harbor in an attempt to spawn. However, they end up milling about at the back of the harbor, unable to reach needed freshwater conditions.
For the last two years, specially designated shore space was approved for fishing, a “spontaneous reaction” to the unexpected occurrence, Ekers said.
“Here was an opportunity that showed up when the fish swam in,” Ekers said. “The staff wanted to be as permissive as we could and allow people to fish for them then it became too much of impact on the tenants and liveaboards.”
Concerns raised by harbor tenants have included visiting fishers parking illegally, trespassing, increased crime and safety issues associated with cast fishhooks. Positives of the program raised have included introducing youth to fishing, providing a food supply for those who may not be able to afford to fish traditionally, and making use of an available resource.
“While it may not be the most popular solution, it’s the one that’s the most considerate to everyone,” Ekers said of plans to restrict harbor fishing.
Mat Rowley, board chairman for the Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project, which runs the hatchery and salmon release program, said the group has been working with harbor officials. The plan to enforce no-fishing restrictions, he said, is likely to meet “quite a lot of opposition.”
“It’s kind of a management issue for Santa Cruz harbor because they’re not used to having so many people show up in the upper harbor,” Rowley said. “Too many salmon should not be a problem. There should be a reasonable solution. We’re trying to figure out a win-win situation.
The Port Commission is scheduled to meet and vote on the issue at its 7 p.m. July 22 meeting.