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WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE     Print Version
NEWS RELEASE
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091


February 27, 1998
Contact: Jeff Weathersby (360) 902-2256

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Forecasts show poor salmon returns to Washington in 1998

OLYMPIA -- Most salmon runs returning to Washington this year will be in poor shape and provide only limited fisheries.

That was the message from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fish managers today when they presented their preseason forecasts to sport and commercial fishers, conservationists, business people and others.

Their reports indicated the El Nino ocean conditions as well as continuing degradation of the rivers and streams in which salmon hatch and spawn are the primary causes of the declining runs. El Nino currents disrupt the ocean food chain and bring warmwater predators, such as mackerel, that feed on young salmon.

"We've been reducing salmon harvests for years but it hasn't been enough," said Bruce Crawford, who heads the department's Fish Management Program. "The salmon habitat problems have to be addressed by state, local and tribal governments as well as everyone from the big corporations right down to the fisher on the river or there is no future for this Northwest totem."

"We are at a crossroads," Crawford said.

Today's preseason forecast came a day after the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed Puget Sound chinook and other salmon stocks for the federal Endangered Species List.

Gov. Gary Locke yesterday warned: "It isn't just our salmon that are in trouble-- it's our Northwest quality of life that is in trouble. We're all connected by our land and water. When rivers flood and our lakes are polluted, people and fish are hurt."

At today's forecast meeting, Carol Smith, WDFW's chinook program manager, said Puget Sound chinook stocks, except for the Nisqually and Green river runs, have been in decline for three decades. She said only one Columbia River chinook stock, the so-called upper river brights--are expected to return in relatively healthy numbers. She attributed their success to the facts that they spawn in the Hanford Reach, the only free-flowing portion of the Columbia and that they forage in Alaskan waters, where warm El Nino currents do not reach.

Bill Tweit, WDFW's coho manager, said large numbers of wild and hatchery smolts went to sea in 1997 but it appears ocean survival for coastal and Columbia River stocks was very poor. He said it was unclear what effect El Nino currents had on Puget Sound stocks but warned that coho returning last year were unusually small--a potentially bad sign to fish biologists.

Early runs of Columbia River coho should provide some fishing opportunities but late runs are expected to be very poor.

Crawford said he expected the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets ocean fishing seasons, to propose options that range from no fishing to limited opportunities for hatchery fish at coastal areas such as Ilwaco and Westport.

He said he hoped hatchery stocks would provide some fishing in Puget Sound.

"We'll try to provide fishing benefits where we can without harming wild stocks," Crawford said.

Washington salmon seasons will be set in April at the culmination of a public process known as North of Falcon.

Today's forecast meeting marks the opening of the North of Falcon and Pacific Fishery Management Council's public processes for setting 1998 salmon fishing seasons for sport, commercial and tribal fishers.

The PFMC will meet from March 9 to 13 at the Clarion Hotel, 401 E. Millbrae Ave, Millbrae, Calif., to begin setting ocean fishing seasons along the coast from California to the Canadian border.

Its decision-making meeting will occur from April 6 to 10. at the Columbia River Doubletree Hotel, 1401 N. Hayden Island Dr., Portland.

The first North of Falcon meeting is scheduled for March 18 and 19 at the Sheraton Motel, 8235 NE Airport Way, Portland.

The second North of Falcon meeting is scheduled for April 1 and 2 at the Seattle Airport Hilton, 17620 Pacific Highway S., Seattle.

In order to coordinate state, tribal and federal fishing seasons, Washington fish managers will negotiate final salmon fishing seasons from April 6 to 10 at the PFMC meeting in Portland.