LACEY–Sport salmon anglers will have to be nimble this year to take advantage of fishing opportunities that open amid conservation efforts to rebuild wild runs on the Columbia River, Washington coast and in Puget Sound.
That's the message delivered by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists at a public meeting today at the Lacey Community Center.
"Fisheries in all regions of the state will need to be limited to address a number of depressed chinook and coho stocks located throughout Washington," said Phil Anderson, who heads WDFW's Intergovernmental Policy Program.
Anderson added, "Generally speaking, there will be fewer salmon this year, compared to last year. That means fishing opportunities will be more constrained."
WDFW biologists said they expected some bright spots in the upcoming season.
For example, the forecast for Columbia River coho is 604,000 fish, the largest return since 1991, according to Cindy LeFleur, a WDFW biologist from Vancouver. She added that almost all hatchery salmon returning to the Columbia will be marked this year, allowing anglers in the ocean and in the river to identify and release wild fish. Fishing seasons can remain open longer where anglers can target hatchery stocks.
Many of the salmon caught in the ocean off ports such as Ilwaco and Westport originated in the Columbia.
However, while the Columbia River coho outlook is strong, the chinook forecast is significantly lower than last year's.
For example, WDFW projects only 23,700 hatchery chinook–a record low return-- from lower Columbia River hatcheries will appear this year. The forecast of 21,900 Bonneville pool hatchery fish is less than half of the 1999 return.
Hatchery production of chinook in Columbia River hatcheries has dropped from almost 60 million in 1990 to less than 20.5 million in 1998 due primarily to reductions in the federal budget that supports Columbia River hatcheries.
On the other hand, some 171,100 wild chinook from the Hanford Reach and other upriver areas of the Columbia are forecast to return. That is slightly higher than the 1999 return.
While Columbia River coho appear strong, wild coho run forecasts for the Olympic Peninsula's rivers are significantly lower than 1999 forecasts and spawning goals may not be achieved.
Wild and hatchery coho salmon returning to southern Puget Sound have been declining since the 1980s and 1999 return rates were the lowest on record. The 2000 forecast for all Puget Sound stocks is just 45 percent of the 1999 pre-season prediction.
All wild coho runs, including the Skagit, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Stillaguamish and Hood Canal are expected to return at levels below spawning goals.
Pat Pattillo, of WDFW's Intergovernmental Policy Program, said anglers may have to choose between two options: a longer Puget Sound coho fishing season focusing on adipose fin-clipped hatchery fish or a much shorter one that targets places and times when most of the coho are from hatcheries.
For the first time, the National Marine Fisheries Service will have a major role in deciding what chinook fisheries will occur in Puget Sound. Puget Sound chinook this year are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and the federal agency will have to approve fisheries conducted in state waters. A federal decision on what Puget Sound chinook fisheries will be permitted is not expected until April.
Most Puget Sound wild chinook returns are expected to be poor again in 2000. For example, the spawning goal for wild Skagit River fall chinook is 14,900 fish while the predicted return is only 7,300. The 1999 spawning level was only 4,900 fish. Only 300 Lake Washington chinook are expected to return with a spawning goal of 1,500 fish.
Green River chinook may be sufficiently abundant to offer a short season in Elliott Bay. The total amount of sport opportunity will depend upon test fisheries to determine the strength of the run as the chinook arrive in July.
WDFW last year used a variety of methods, including time and place closures as well as gear limitations, to protect wild chinook while allowing fishing for hatchery chinook and other salmon species.
Today's forecast meeting was the first in the North of Falcon and Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) season-setting processes.
The PFMC will meet March 6-10 at the Region Lion Inn in Sacramento, Calif., March 6-10 to develop salmon fishing options off the Washington coast.
The first North of Falcon meeting will be held March 15 and 16 at the Sheraton Hotel Portland Airport. Salmon fishing seasons in state waters are developed in the North of Falcon process.
The second North of Falcon meeting is scheduled for March 29 and 30 at the Doubletree Inn at Southcenter in Tukwila.
Final sport, commercial and tribal fishing seasons in Puget Sound and other state waters as well as in the ocean will be set April 3-7 at the Columbia River Doubletree in Portland.