MONTESANO – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is warning Hoh River anglers to properly release any wild adult chinook they catch or risk early closure of the summer fishery.
Bill Freymond, WDFW District fish biologist, said the agency has been alerted to a number of cases in recent weeks of anglers holding wild chinook salmon out of the water for photographs before they release them.
"That is not an acceptable way to handle these very sensitive fish before releasing them," Freymond said. "It greatly increases the odds that those fish will die and requires us to consider whether we can continue with the fishery."
State regulations for the Hoh River require that anglers release any wild chinook measuring 24 inches or more. Wild adult chinook are identified as having all of their fins intact. Hatchery chinook are identified by a missing ventral fin near the belly or a missing adipose fin, clipped from the back of the fish near the tail.
"Photography is OK as long as you leave the fish in the water and release it as quickly as possible," said Freymond, noting that guidelines for releasing fish are spelled out in the WDFW Sport Fishing Rules Pamphlet. Those rules direct anglers to:
- Minimize handling. Leave the fish in the water.
- Do not net the fish. If you must, use a cotton mesh, it's less abrasive to the fish's fragile scales.
- Use a hook remover to take out hooks imbedded in the mouth or jaw.
- If a fish has swallowed the hook, cut the leader.
- Keep fingers away from the eyes and gills of the fish.
Freymond said the sport fishing regulations on the Hoh are intended to target hatchery summer steelhead, hatchery spring chinook and chinook jacks under 24 inches.
"We understand that wild chinook salmon are going to be caught incidentally to fishing for other species, but they must be released properly," Freymond said.
The lower river, from the mouth to the Oxbow campground operated by the state Department of Natural Resources, is currently scheduled to be open for the harvest of marked hatchery steelhead, marked hatchery chinook and chinook jacks under 24 inches through August 31.
The upper river, from the Oxbow campground to Morgan's Crossing, is scheduled to remain open to the harvest of marked hatchery steelhead and chinook jacks (under 24 inches) through October 15.
"The continuation of these fisheries is really up to the anglers, themselves," Freymond said. "We don't want to close them down, but we may have no choice if we continue to receive reports of people mishandling wild fish."