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


October 25, 1996
Contact: Jeff Weathersby 360-902-2256

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Department reacts to federal ESA decisions for Oregon and California coho salmon

OLYMPIA The National Marine Fisheries Service's decision to postpone for six months a decision on listing Oregon coastal coho salmon as a threatened or endangered species will bring more uncertainty to Washington's 1997 salmon fishing season-setting process.

Some Oregon-produced coho are caught each year in Washington's southern coastal waters.

Bern Shanks, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Oregon's decision to mark all its hatchery coho this year could be a factor in avoiding a federal Endangered Species Act listing for the fish next April.

Marking hatchery coho by clipping fins is expected to become a major tool used by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and other west coast fish managers in the struggle to save wild salmon.

Shanks said fin clipping is an essential tool for preserving wild coho because it allows fishers to identify and release wild salmon while keeping hatchery fish. Shanks warned Washington's salmon management could be federalized under the Endangered Species Act if the marking program does not proceed.

While Oregon has clipped the fins on its coho, a federal court in Seattle has ordered the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to cease clipping adipose fins from coho produced at its Puget Sound and north coastal hatcheries. Washington hopes to continue clipping fins from coho produced at its Columbia River and south coastal hatcheries.

The marking program, however, will not affect Washington or Oregon fisheries until 1998 when fish marked in 1996 return from the ocean as adults.

This spring, fish managers will have to contend with the possible ESA listing of Oregon wild coho when they develop fishing season plans.

In Washington, recreational, non-Indian commercial and tribal seasons each year are determined by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (for most ocean waters) and the so-called "North of Falcon" process (for waters under state and tribal jurisdiction). Both public season-setting processes begin in February and continue through April.

A central goal of the PFMC and North of Falcon processes is to shape fishing seasons that allow the maximum salmon harvest compatible with protecting low wild fish runs. In recent years, the need to protect low coho runs in Hood Canal and Strait of Juan de Fuca rivers and the Skagit River has produced restrictive fishing seasons in Washington's marine waters.

The need to protect wild Oregon coho also reduced salmon fishing opportunities on the Washington coast this year.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has determined that Washington's coastal coho stocks are healthy but continues its review of the condition of other salmon and steelhead runs in the state, including Puget Sound coho. The NMFS review could result in some Endangered Species Act listings in this state.

In determining which runs are proposed for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife supports the consistent application of the best scientific criteria available for all species under consideration.