OLYMPIA—The need to continue to rebuild some of Washington's wild salmon runs to harvestable levels and respond to federal protection efforts will shape 1999's fishing seasons.
That was the message today when Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife salmon managers described the year's projected returns throughout the state to sport and commercial fishers and others. While some wild stocks are in trouble, some coho, chum, pink and other stocks are expected to provide good fishing opportunities.
"It is going to be a very challenging year with an anticipated Endangered Species Act listings for Puget Sound chinook," said Jeff Koenings, WDFW's director. He promised the department would attempt to balance salmon conservation with the needs and expectations of people who fish for a living or recreation.
"Carefully balancing the needs of people against the needs of fish is the crux of this difficult process," Koenings said.
Koenings and other managers advised the fishers, meeting at the General Administration Building in Olympia, that the expected listing of Puget Sound chinook and other runs as threatened or endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act this year means that time and area specific conservation is critical.
Phil Anderson, the WDFW official who will represent WDFW in the upcoming Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) and North of Falcon season-setting processes, said he has started working with tribal co-managers to define conservation objectives.
"We will structure fishing seasons against jointly agreed-to conservation objectives," he said.
Bruce Crawford, who runs WDFW's Fish Program, warned that the needs of all fishers would not be met when fishing seasons are set on April 9, especially for chinook salmon. At that time, the PFMC will announce ocean seasons while WDFW, at the conclusion of the North of Falcon process, will detail fishing opportunities for Puget Sound, Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor and state rivers.
Crawford said other key department goals this year include:
- Fair allocation of fish between Indians and non-Indians and among the non- tribal sport and commercial fishers using different gear types
- Innovations in fisheries offered, gear used and fishing methods
- Careful monitoring of fisheries to protect wild stocks
- Strong enforcement to prevent poaching
Overall, WDFW biologists said fishers should expect wild chinook salmon stocks to be fairly similar to last year's.
Anderson warned ocean fishing seasons for chinook probably won't be any more liberal than they have been since 1995 due to the need to protect some Columbia River wild stocks. On a brighter note, however, he said an expected run of 65,000 Spring Creek Hatchery chinook should provide fishing opportunities.
Bruce Sanford, WDFW's chinook manager, predicted enough wild chinook to meet spawning goals in only two Puget Sound rivers would enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca this year.
Sanford attributed the poor runs of wild chinook from other Puget Sound rivers to heavy flooding, poor land use practices, and other man-made changes to western Washington rivers.
In contrast, the forecasts predict several stocks of Puget Sound hatchery chinook will be large enough to provide harvest opportunities. They include hatchery runs returning to the Nooksack and Green rivers, southern Puget Sound and Hood Canal.
Bill Tweit, WDFW's coho salmon manager, said he expects big improvements in Columbia River hatchery coho runs. For example, the Columbia River Early run is expected to have 325,000 fish. The Columbia River Late run is forecasted to have almost 141,000 fish.
But he said some Washington coast wild coho stocks, such as the Queets River, were not doing well due to floods in 1997. He predicted other coho stocks, including Puget Sound's, would return at moderate levels.
He also warned that wild coho run returning to British Columbia's Thompson River also was expected to be very weak this year, prompting Canadian requests for fishing restrictions when the fish are in northern Puget Sound.