OLYMPIA - Washington salmon-fishing enthusiasts will get an early look at preseason forecasts of expected salmon returns to the state's waters during the year ahead at a March 3 meeting in Olympia, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
The meeting is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the auditorium of the General Administration Building at 11th and Columbia Street on the capitol campus in Olympia.
WDFW staff will provide an overview of expected 2003 abundances for various salmon species throughout the state.
The meeting will also feature fishery work sessions focusing on key issues for specific regions and to gather public input on fishing opportunities in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. WDFW staff will discuss fishing regulations that are necessary to meet conservation objectives and tribal co-manager allocation requirements.
This year's most productive fisheries are expected to take place on marked hatchery coho and chinook salmon. These fish, as well as some wild stocks, have benefited in recent years from improved ocean survival conditions, said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings.
"These ocean conditions appear to have given us the opportunity to have good sustainable fisheries," Koenings said. "But we should also view this as a critical opportunity to move forward with our work to rebuild weak wild stocks. Good ocean conditions can jump-start our efforts to put more wild fish on the spawning grounds and eventually meet our recovery goals."
WDFW Salmon Policy Coordinator Pat Pattillo said salmon numbers in general look good and indicate 2003 will be another good year of salmon-fishing opportunities in both ocean and inside fisheries, within the harvest constraints for chinook and chum salmon from the Columbia River and Puget sound regions as required by the Endangered Species Act.
Pattillo said the forecast for 2003 Columbia River hatchery coho salmon returns appear to be much greater than the 2002 forecast, which could result in an increase in ocean fishing quotas. Forecasts of Columbia River fall chinook continue to be strong, Pattillo said, including upriver bright and lower river hatchery stocks, which are the backbone of Washington's coastal chinook fisheries.
One fishery available this year that wasn't available in 2002 is pink salmon, which return only in odd-numbered years. The 2001 run of pink salmon to Puget Sound streams was one of the largest on record and provided significant fishing opportunities in both saltwater and freshwater areas. In fact, an all-tackle world-record pink salmon was caught in September 2001 on the Skykomish River.
"The pink salmon returning this year are the offspring of an exceptionally strong run in 2001, and we are anticipating another great year of fishing opportunity for these fish," Pattillo said.
Additional preseason forecast details will be available at the March 3 meeting.
Fisheries managers are also exploring the possibility of having a pilot mark-selective fishery this summer limited to marked hatchery chinook salmon in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
This fishery would allow recreational anglers to retain adipose fin-clipped marked fish in a portion of the western Strait of Juan de Fuca, while unmarked fish would have to be released unharmed.
The adipose fin, on a fish's back near its tail, is clipped off juvenile salmon before their release from hatcheries. WDFW has been clipping the adipose fins from all of its hatchery-reared chinook salmon in Puget Sound for the past five years.
"We have had great success in our mark-selective fisheries for chinook salmon in the Columbia River," Pattillo said. "Now we have the opportunity to bring a similar-styled fishery to the Sekiu-Port Angeles areas of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, an area that has been hit hard by fishing closures for chinook salmon conservation," Pattillo said.
Details of the proposed fishery have not been fully developed, and discussions with fisheries co-managers on this and other proposed fisheries are expected to continue into early April.
"If we can develop this proposal into a reality, the success of the fishery will depend upon angler cooperation," Pattillo said. "Mark-selective fisheries can only work if anglers follow all the rules about taking only targeted fish with a missing adipose fin and safely releasing non-targeted fish."
There are a number of public meetings scheduled in March and April as part of the salmon season-setting process.
The federal Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) meets March 10-14 to adopt a range of ocean coho and chinook salmon harvest levels for waters 3 to 250 miles offshore for public review.
Additional public North of Falcon meetings are set for March 20 in Olympia and April 2 in Sea-Tac to analyze and develop salmon fisheries for waters within three miles of the coast in concert with the PFMC's ocean harvest options. WDFW will also conduct public meetings to discuss possible fishing season options and to gather public input in Montesano, Mill Creek and Portland.
The co-managers hope to have the 2003 fisheries package completed when PFMC adopts an ocean salmon fishing plan at its April 7-11 meeting in Vancouver, Wash.
WDFW has a web page dedicated to the salmon season-setting process. The web page contains detailed preseason salmon forecast information, proposed fishing options and details on upcoming public meetings as information becomes available.