SEATTLE– An exceptionally strong run of sockeye salmon returning to Lake Washington will allow a popular recreational sockeye fishery to open July 4 for the first time in four years and only the second time in the last decade, state and tribal fisheries officials announced today.
Believed to be the largest urban sport salmon fishery in the country, the Lake Washington sockeye fishery typically attracts thousands of anglers a day.
The last Lake Washington sockeye fishery took place in 1996, when anglers caught 70,000 fish.
The sockeye fishing opportunity will not affect on-going efforts to recover Puget Sound chinook salmon, under federal protection as a threatened species. Most chinook do not return to the lake until mid-August, so they are not present in lake waters in significant numbers at this time.
"We are extremely pleased to be able to offer this fishing opportunity at a time when it seems good news about salmon is in short supply," said Larry Peck, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) deputy director.
"While this particular fishery gives us reason to celebrate for a brief period, we can't let it distract, or deter us from the efforts now underway in Lake Washington and elsewhere to recover those wild salmon stocks facing extinction," Peck added. "This sockeye fishery should simply serve to remind us of our goal– healthy salmon populations in healthy watersheds throughout Washington state. And we are a long, long way from attaining that goal."
A run of more than 460,000 sockeye is expected to return this year to rivers and streams feeding Lake Washington. The fish are returning to the lake at a rate of 10,000 to 18, 000 per day. Only 350,000 sockeye need to survive to spawn in order for a healthy run size to be maintained, so a sizeable surplus is available for harvest by tribal and state fishers. Biologists with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and WDFW have been stationed at the locks since early June to monitor the returning sockeye run.
Biologists say large numbers of sockeye are returning due to a large escapement of the parent stock in 1996 and improved ocean conditions. Additionally, recent U. S. Army Corps of Engineers' modifications to the locks that have improved fish passage, as well as other efforts to increase the fish run, are believed responsible.
Sockeye fishing will be open only in the daytime, from one hour before official sunrise to one hour after sunset. Fishing is scheduled to remain open daily from July 4 through August 15, or until the non-tribal allocation is reached. To allow the sockeye fishery to take place, fishing for all species, including trout and other game fish, will be closed at night south of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge. There will be temporary daily recreational sockeye closures to allow tribal commercial fishing to take place.
To minimize crowding at boat access areas and on the lake, and avoid interference between recreational and commercial gear, sport fishing will be closed from noon July 10 to noon July 11; and from noon to noon on July 12 and 13; July 17 and 18, and July 19 and 20.
State biologists will be closely monitoring catches throughout the fishery to ensure that conservation and allocation requirements are met.
The open fishing area is south of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (Highway 520), except for the following closed areas:
- Waters within 100 yards of the bridge
- Waters within 100 yards of the I-90 floating bridge
- Waters within a 1,000-foot radius of the mouth of the Cedar River
The daily limit is two sockeye salmon at least 15 inches or longer. Any chinook salmon that are caught must be released. Anglers should consult the WDFW "Fishing In Washington" pamphlet to familiarize themselves with the distinguishing characteristics of chinook and sockeye.
Anglers should check the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's fishing rule change hotline at (360) 902-2500 (press 2 for recreational rules) for the latest information on closures.
For more information about Lake Washington sockeye and angling techniques, and to see the daily counts of fish passing the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard, visit the WDFW Lake Washington Sockeye Website.
A listing of license vendors is available on the WDFW website.