OLYMPIA - Forecasts for solid returns of chinook and coho salmon to the Columbia River, and predictions for improved coho returns to coastal and Puget Sound streams, could translate into another good year of salmon fishing in Washington state.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has released its preseason chinook and coho salmon forecasts for Washington's marine waters. The forecasts are the starting point for developing 2003 salmon fishing seasons throughout the state.
WDFW maintains a website highlighting the preseason salmon-planning process, at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/ on the Internet. Preseason forecasts will be posted on the website by March 11.
Hatchery coho salmon from the Columbia River are expected to be nearly three times as abundant as in 2002, giving rise to expectations for excellent fishing opportunities along the coast and in the river, said WDFW Salmon Policy Coordinator Pat Pattillo.
The forecast for Columbia River hatchery fall chinook is down about 25 percent from what was forecast to return in 2002. However, they are still forecast to return in significantly higher numbers than those runs throughout the mid- to late-1990s, and should be strong enough to support good fishing opportunities, Pattillo said. Wild upriver bright stocks and the lower river wild fall chinook stocks both look healthy, he added.
"The upriver stocks constitute the backbone of Washington's coastal chinook fisheries, and it looks like we will be in for another great season of ocean and river chinook fishing," Pattillo said.
Coastal and Puget Sound chinook stocks are generally forecast to be at about the same level as in 2002.
One fishing opportunity that will be available this year that wasn't available in 2002 is pink salmon. The smallest of the Pacific salmon species, pink salmon return to Washington's waters only in odd-numbered years, and the 2001 pink return was one of the largest on record. Pattillo said anglers should look forward to another strong return of pink salmon, although the run won't likely be as large as the 3 ½ million-fish return of 2001.
The forecast for returning numbers of Lake Washington sockeye salmon doesn't hold much promise for a recreational fishery this summer. However, fisheries managers made a similar prediction in 2002, and a surprisingly robust sockeye run into the lake led to a three-day recreational fishery in which a record 36,000 fish were taken.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) is meeting March 10-14 in Sacramento to establish a range of fisheries options for chinook and coho salmon fisheries coastal waters 3-200 miles offshore. The federal panel is expected adopt a final fishing package at its April 7-11 meeting in Vancouver, Wash.
WDFW has scheduled a series of regional public meetings to discuss fisheries management issues. Meetings are set for March 11 at Montesano High School, 303 N. Church St.; March 13 at WDFW's Mill Creek office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd.; and March 18 at the Columbia River Double Tree Inn, Portland. Each meeting is set for 7-9 p.m.
WDFW and its fisheries co-managers, the western Washington treaty Indian tribes, have scheduled two public meetings, March 20 in Olympia and April 2 in SeaTac, to develop a comprehensive fisheries package for nearshore and Puget Sound waters.