Salmon anglers in Washington state could see another good year of salmon fishing opportunities in 2002, according to pre-season forecasts released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
The forecasts are the starting point for developing the 2002 salmon fishing seasons throughout Washington state.
The good – and bad – news for salmon anglers will likely occur on the Columbia River, where biologists are forecasting a bumper-crop of fall chinook salmon that could be one of the largest returns of the past half-century. The forecast for fall chinook returning to the river is 677,000 fish, compared to a return of about 545,000 in 2001.
As bright as the forecast is for Columbia River fall chinook, the picture is not good for Columbia River coho, where this year's forecast is for about 300,000 returning fish – just one-fifth of the 2001 forecast.
"It's difficult to pinpoint the exact cause in the dramatic decline of returning adult coho salmon from one year to the next," said Pat Pattillo, WDFW salmon policy coordinator. "We base our forecasts of returning coho salmon on the previous year's return of juvenile coho, and the 2001 return of jacks was extremely poor."
In fact, Pattillo said, some hatcheries last year didn't see any jack coho salmon in the lower Columbia River.
There should be plenty of salmon fishing opportunities for both chinook and coho in other parts of western Washington. This year's total Puget Sound chinook return is forecast to be about 15 percent higher than the 2001 forecast.
"This leads us to believe that we could see fishing opportunities on identified healthy stocks similar to 2001 fisheries," Pattillo said.
Coho salmon fishing enthusiasts should have another good season of fishing opportunities again in 2002, Pattillo said. The Puget Sound hatchery coho return this year is forecast to be nearly 450,000 fish, compared to the forecast of nearly 336,000 fish in 2001. Wild returns are expected to be about 360,000 coho salmon in 2002, compared to the 2001 forecast of about 366,500.
It should also be another banner year for fall chum salmon. The fish are mainly targeted by commercial fishers, but also provide tremendous recreational fishing opportunities, particularly in terminal areas, such as Hoodsport, Minter Creek and Kennedy Creek. The Puget Sound forecast for chum salmon is about 1.7 million fish, which is significantly higher than the 2001 forecast.
Pattillo said the popular Lake Washington sockeye salmon fishery might not occur in 2002 because of expected low returns. The pre-season forecast is calling for a sockeye run that's similar to the 2001 return, which wasn't strong enough to support fisheries.
"While the pre-season forecast doesn't look favorable for a sockeye fishery in Lake Washington this summer, anglers shouldn't completely lose hope just yet," Pattillo said. "Because we are able to get exact run-size counts of sockeye returning through the Ballard Locks, it's possible that the salmon could return in large enough numbers to support some level of fishing in the lake."
The federal Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC ) will meet March 11-15 and adopt a range of 2002 ocean coho and chinook salmon harvest levels for public review. State and western Washington treaty tribal co-managers meet March 20 and April 2 to analyze and develop "inside" fisheries in concert with the PFMC's ocean harvest options. The co-managers hope to have the major components of the 2002 fisheries package completed when the PFMC adopts an ocean salmon fishing package at its April 8-12 meeting in Portland.
WDFW has a website dedicated to the pre-season salmon management process. The web page includes background information, proposed ocean fishing options, the North of Falcon meeting schedule and an e-mail address for public feedback.