OLYMPIA – To reduce illegal snagging of Cowlitz River coho salmon, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is reinstituting two fishing regulations that expired for a fishery below the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery.
From Nov. 6 through Dec. 31, a non-buoyant lure restriction and night closure will be in effect on the section of the Cowlitz River between 100 feet and 400 feet downstream from the barrier dam below the hatchery.
The department recently opened those waters to anglers to expand fishing opportunities for large numbers of coho salmon returning to the hatchery. Since then, WDFW enforcement officers have reported an increase in snagging activity below the dam where migrating coho salmon are now congregating, said Craig Burley, WDFW regional fish manager.
“These regulations are being reinstituted to promote an orderly fishery,” Burley said. “We encourage anglers to take advantage of the large return of hatchery coho to the Cowlitz River, but it’s important that everyone plays by the rules.”
Under statewide fishing rules, it is illegal to fish using techniques where the fish does not voluntarily take the hook in its mouth.
WDFW estimates that 50,000 to 60,000 adult coho will return to the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery this fall, and similarly large returns are anticipated at other southwest Washington hatcheries.
Besides opening the fishery below the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery, the department recently increased the daily limit on adult coho from two to four fish per day for anglers fishing from the Cowlitz River mouth to Mayfield Dam through Dec. 31. It also arranged with Tacoma Power, which owns the Cowlitz hatchery, to recycle some coho presently in hatchery ponds to Riffe Lake to provide additional recreational fishing opportunities.
The large coho return is due primarily to new recreational and commercial fishing constraints implemented for the first time in the lower Columbia River to protect naturally produced coho recently listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Burley noted that a new management plan for fisheries and hatcheries on the Cowlitz River also includes provisions for boosting naturally spawning coho populations in the upper Cowlitz River. Parties involved in developing the new management plan for the Cowlitz River include WDFW, the Washington Department of Ecology, Tacoma Power, the Yakama Nation, NOAA-Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and American Rivers/Trout Unlimited.
One provision of that plan calls for moving from a policy of passing 10 hatchery coho to every one naturally produced coho upriver to a goal of passing one hatchery coho for every naturally produced coho moved upstream. Naturally produced coho are the offspring of fish that spawned in the upper river.
However, Burley said recent analysis of out-migration data indicates that the fish-collection facility below Cowlitz Dam does not currently capture enough naturally produced juvenile coho to support moving to a one-to-one ratio this year.
As a result, parties to the management plan recently agreed that this year’s goal should be to move approximately 35,000 coho upriver, including a combination of naturally produced and hatchery-reared fish. That represents a ratio of approximately five adult hatchery coho for every natural coho passed upstream, Burley said.
“While we support the goal of being more selective with the fish passed upriver, it’s critical that we move enough fish into the upper river to support the long-term sustainability of the run,” Burley said. “Once the trapping efficiency of the collection facility is improved, we can begin moving toward the one-to-one ratio referenced in the plan.”