OLYMPIA – Prospects for salmon fishing are down this year with fewer chinook and coho expected to return to most rivers in the region, according to preseason forecasts developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty tribes.
Anglers can look forward to strong returns of pink salmon to Puget Sound this summer, but sockeye returns to Lake Washington are not expected to be sufficient to allow a fishery.
Forecasts released today for chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon mark the starting point for developing 2007 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through March before finalizing fishing seasons in early April.
Lower chinook and coho returns will require additional restrictions for anglers this year throughout most of the region, said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. The low salmon returns are due to several factors, including poor ocean survival, he said.
“Conservation is key in developing these fisheries, especially in a year when chinook and coho runs are down in a number of areas,” Koenings said. “Fisheries must be selective and focused on hatchery-origin salmon to allow wild fish onto the spawning grounds, where they can take advantage of habitat improvements.”
Meanwhile, WDFW continues to reform hatchery and harvest management operations aimed at restoring wild salmon populations, Koenings said.
Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for WDFW, said the department will propose an expansion of mark-selective fisheries, which require anglers to safely release any wild fish they intercept while targeting and keeping hatchery salmon.
“Selective fisheries have been successful in protecting depressed stocks while maintaining sustainable fisheries on abundant salmon populations,” Pattillo said. “A year like this highlights our need to establish more selective fisheries.”
Salmon populations listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) will continue to restrict many fisheries throughout the region, Pattillo said.
In Washington’s ocean areas, anglers will see constraints again this year because of the ESA listing of lower Columbia River coho and chinook, he said.
The forecast for Columbia River chinook is about 337,000 salmon, down nearly 128,000 from last year’s forecast. Fall upriver “bright” chinook returns, a component of the total run, also are expected to be down this year.
In Puget Sound, the forecast for chinook, including ESA-protected salmon, is similar to last year at about 238,000 fish. Puget Sound coho returns should drop this year to about 630,000 fish, nearly 343,000 less coho than the 2006 forecast.
While forecasts for chinook and coho are generally down throughout the region, fishery managers are expecting good returns of other salmon species.
About 3.3 million pink salmon are expected to come back to Puget Sound streams this summer, nearly 1.3 million more fish than forecasted in 2005. The smallest of the Pacific salmon species, pink salmon return to Washington’s waters only in odd-numbered years.
The forecast for the Green River this year is 1.3 million pink salmon, while about 800,000 pinks are expected to return to the Snohomish River and 780,000 to the Puyallup River. However, a fishery for pink salmon in the Skagit River is unlikely because the forecast of 90,000 fish is far below the minimum return of 330,000 salmon necessary to consider a recreational fishery.
Another bright spot is chum salmon, which are once again expected to return in strong numbers to Hood Canal and other areas of Puget Sound.
But the prospects for a Lake Washington sockeye fishery are not good this year, Pattillo said. The sockeye forecast is about 124,000, well below the minimum return of 350,000 sockeye needed to consider opening a recreational fishery in the lake.
State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 5-9 in Sacramento, Calif., with the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) to develop options for this year’s commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries. The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters off the Pacific Coast.
Five additional public meetings have been scheduled in March to discuss regional fisheries issues. Input from these regional discussions will be considered as the season-setting process moves into the “North of Falcon” and PFMC meetings, which will determine the final 2007 salmon seasons. The meetings are set for:
- March 7 – Puget Sound fisheries discussion, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.
- March 12 – Columbia River fisheries discussion, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, 4600 S.E. Columbia Way, Vancouver, Wash.
- March 19 – Grays Harbor fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main Street, Montesano.
- March 21 – Willapa Bay fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Willapa Harbor Chamber of Commerce Community Center, 916 West 1st Street, South Bend.
- March 26 – Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor fisheries meeting, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington Street S.E., in Olympia.
Two public North of Falcon meetings, which involve planning for the numerous fishing seasons on Washington’s waters, including Puget Sound, also will take place in March. The first meeting is scheduled March 13 at the Community Center in Lacey; and the second meeting is scheduled March 27 at the Lynwood Embassy Suites. Both meetings will begin at 9 a.m.
The PFMC is expected to adopt the final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 2-6 meeting in SeaTac. The 2007 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters will be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.
Preseason salmon forecasts, proposed fishing options and details on upcoming meetings will be posted as they become available on WDFW’s North of Falcon website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/