OLYMPIA - Salmon anglers throughout Washington state could see another great year of chinook and coho salmon fishing opportunities, according to new forecasts released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
The salmon forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye and chum salmon are the starting point for developing 2004 salmon fishing seasons for Washington's marine waters.
Forecasts are available at WDFW's preseason salmon planning website on the Internet.
State, tribal and federal fisheries managers will meet March 8-12 in Tacoma with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to develop a range of options for this year's commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries.
Forecasts for Columbia River upriver chinook salmon stocks, which are the backbone of coastal and lower river chinook fisheries, appear to be much stronger than in 2003, said Pat Pattillo, WDFW salmon policy coordinator. Returns of lower Columbia River hatchery fall chinook, while below the 2003 forecast, are still expected to be strong enough to provide harvestable numbers of fish for coastal and in-river fisheries, he said.
Puget Sound chinook populations, which have protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) are improving in a number of rivers. For instance, Pattillo said a large increase in Snohomish River summer/fall chinook salmon abundance is forecast this year compared to the 2003 forecast.
But despite this optimistic forecast, fishing opportunities - particularly in areas where stocks are mixed - will likely be more restrictive this summer, Pattillo said.
"Our management challenge is to account for fisheries on ESA-listed stocks outside of our management authority," he said. "Canadian catches of Washington-origin chinook increased dramatically in 2003 from previous years, and high catch levels are expected again in 2004."
Pattillo said state and tribal fisheries will both likely bear the brunt of the anticipated increase in Canadian interceptions of Puget Sound chinook.
The overall coho salmon forecast for the state this year is for more than 2.1 million fish, down about 100,000 salmon from the 2003 forecast. Specific stocks that appear to be stronger in 2004 than in 2003 include the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Skagit River and Hood Canal. Southern Puget Sound and Columbia River coho stocks are forecast to be lower than in 2003.
The forecast for Lake Washington sockeye salmon gives a strong indication that there will be more than enough fish returning to the big lake to support recreational and treaty Indian fisheries. The preseason forecast calls for a return of about 485,000 sockeye salmon, well above the 350,000-fish threshold that must be attained before state and tribal fisheries could begin.
Sockeye counts will be monitored at the Ballard Locks, and fisheries would be announced once a sufficient number of salmon were counted entering the Lake Washington system. Pattillo said WDFW is seeking public input on daily bag limits, preferences for fishing days and other components of a possible sockeye fishery.
Two public meetings will be sponsored by WDFW following the PFMC meeting to plan salmon fishing seasons for Washington's inside waters, including Puget Sound. These "North of Falcon" meetings are scheduled for March 17 at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites and March 30 at the SeaTac Holiday Inn. Meetings start at 9 a.m.
WDFW has set three additional public meetings in March to discuss regional fisheries issues. Input from these discussions will be considered as the pre-season process moves into the North of Falcon and PFMC meetings to determine final 2004 salmon seasons. The meetings are set for:
- March 9 starting at 7 p.m. at the Willapa Harbor Chamber of Commerce in South Bend for Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay fisheries issues;
- March 11 starting at 7 p.m. at WDFW's Mill Creek office to discuss Puget Sound fisheries issues;
- March 16 starting at 9 a.m. at the Columbia River Double Tree Inn at Jantzen Beach in Portland to discuss Columbia River fisheries issues.
The PFMC is expected to adopt the final ocean fishing harvest levels and seasons at its April 5-9 meeting in Sacramento. The co-managers will complete the 2004 salmon fisheries package for Washington's inside waters by the conclusion of the PFMC's April meeting.
The preseason salmon forecasts, proposed fishing options and details on upcoming public meetings will be posted as they become available on the North of Falcon portion of WDFW's website on the Internet.