SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS/AP) – Some 163,000 Chinook salmon returned to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta last year, an increase after nearly three years of decline, state officials said Friday.

The Sacramento river run is considered a bellwether for the entire Pacific coast fishery, and fishermen were hoping for a salmon run strong enough for a commercial fishing season in 2011.

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“I try not to get my hopes up this early. And I know from years and years of following this whole process that it’s too early to know,” said Barbara Emley, a fisherman based in San Francisco.

KCBS’ Chris Filippi Reports:

Emley said a key component the California Department of Fish and Game will weigh in determining whether to allow commercial fishing is the number of 2-year-old salmon, often called jacks.

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“The number of 2-year-olds suggests how many there will be in the ocean the next year,” she said.

In recent years, salmon numbers plummeted, leading to canceled or greatly curtailed commercial and recreational salmon fishing seasons.

Emley said many fishermen are struggling to make a living, especially since some who received government aid in 2009 did not for last year’s weak salmon run.

Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association says a more robust season is likely this year, but that more work is needed to return this important fishery back to health.

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