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WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE     Print Version
NEWS RELEASE
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091


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March 14, 1998
Contact: Jeff Weathersby, (360) 902-2256

Coast may offer chinook and coho fishing this summer

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- The Washington coast may offer limited chinook and coho salmon fisheries this summer.

Two of three options approved by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council today include limited chinook fisheries. The third option is for no salmon fishing off the Washington coast this year.

"I'm pleased that options to allow some ocean salmon fishing will be available for public review and council consideration. First we must do what we can to protect every wild chinook we have," said Bern Shanks, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"We used to have chinook from Oregon hatcheries off the Washington coast. Oregon has drastically reduced its production of hatchery chinook in response to federal budget cuts and that means fewer harvestable salmon for Ilwaco, Westport and the other ocean towns in Washington," he said.

Shanks' comments came today after the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) today voted to place the three ocean fishing options before the public for review before a final vote is taken in April. The PFMC, representing the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, sets fishing seasons in the ocean.

Those seasons are coordinated with the North of Falcon process, conducted by WDFW and treaty tribes, which set seasons in Puget Sound and other state waters. Salmon fishing seasons in the state waters also will be set in April.

The PFMC ocean options are:

  • No salmon fishing
  • 16,000 coho and 8,000 chinook, of which sport fishers may harvest all the coho and 3,000 chinook while commercial fishers may catch 5,000 chinook.
  • 25,000 coho and 12,000 chinook of which sport fishers may harvest 18,750 coho and 6,000 chinook while commercial fishers may take 6,250 coho and 6,000 chinook.
Shanks said the poor condition of a number of Washington wild coho runs was a major factor in offering zero or very limited ocean coho fisheries.

"Wild fish from stocks in trouble mix with healthy native and hatchery stocks in the ocean and northern Puget Sound," Shanks explained. "Protecting those wild stocks approaching extinction means severe fishing restrictions."

He added that increasing numbers of hatchery coho are being marked by Washington, Oregon and British Columbia which will gradually allow managers to set more generous seasons. Marking hatchery fish, by clipping their adipose fins, enables fishers to target artificially-raised salmon. The first WDFW-marked coho are scheduled to return to Washington this year. Unfortunately, even hatchery salmon returns to the Columbia River are expected to be very low.

Preseason forecasts also predict significant reductions in coho returns to rivers on the Washington coast. For example, Willapa hatchery coho are expected to drop from 72,500 predicted in 1997 to about 29,000 this year. The preseason hatchery run forecast for the Queets River dropped from 16,100 last year to less than 5,000 this year.

WDFW biologists said warm El Nino currents meant poor ocean survival for most of the coho from the coastal rivers and Columbia River. They are not sure yet how El Nino affected coho stocks from Puget Sound rivers and hatcheries. The news may not be good because coho returning to Puget Sound last year were small, normally a sign that salmon were not thriving in the ocean.

"We are caught in a very difficult position," Shanks said. "We know many Washington families depend upon recreational and commercial fishing for their livelihoods and that crafting whatever fishing opportunities we can is important. We also are legally and morally-bound to be responsible stewards of these noble fish, especially as increasing numbers of the wild stocks face listings as threatened or endangered species" under federal law.

The public has the opportunity to review and comment on PFMC ocean fishing options until early April. The PFMC is scheduled to meet from April 6 through 10 at the Columbia River Doubletree Hotel, 1401 N. Hayden Island Dr., Portland. The season- setting vote is set for April 10.

The public North of Falcon process for setting salmon seasons in Puget Sound and other state waters has scheduled the following meetings:

  • March 18 and 19, Sheraton Motel, 8235 NE Airport Way, Portland
  • April 1 and 2, Seattle Airport Hilton, 17620 Pacific Highway S., Seattle
  • April 6 - 10 WDFW and treaty tribes will negotiate seasons for salmon fishing in state waters for the Washington and Fish and Wildlife Commission's review at the PFMC's meeting in Portland