SEATAC - With low returns of coho and wild chinook salmon expected back to several rivers in Washington, salmon fisheries approved today include increased restrictions this year for anglers in the ocean, Puget Sound, and the Columbia River.
"Many salmon runs on the west coast are alarmingly low this year," said Jeff Koenings, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "It's more important than ever that we take a cautious and conservative approach to salmon fisheries in Washington's waters to protect wild salmon populations."
Salmon returns to California and Oregon this year have diminished to the point they can't support fisheries, and chinook harvest quotas in southeast Alaska are half what they were last year, Koenings said.
"The precipitous declines in other states are a wake-up call," said Koenings. "They could signal the future for the Washington coast and Puget Sound as well, unless we restore habitat, carefully manage harvest and retool hatcheries. We need to do all we can to ensure these severe fish declines don't become Washington's future as well."
This year's fishing package meets important conservation objectives for wild salmon while still providing sustainable fishing opportunities, Koenings said.
The most severe constraints will be in Washington's ocean fisheries, which are limited this year because of a significantly reduced return of Columbia River coho and tighter restrictions needed to protect salmon populations listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
This year's Columbia River coho run - a major contributor to the ocean fishery - is expected to total about 196,000 fish, nearly 266,000 fewer salmon than last year's return.
As a result of the low Columbia River coho return and tighter federal restrictions, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) adopted a recreational ocean quota this year of 20,350 coho during it's meeting today in SeaTac. That's about 97,000 fewer fish than last year's ocean coho quota and the lowest in about a decade, said Phil Anderson, deputy director of WDFW.
The PFMC, which establishes fishing seasons in ocean water three to 200 miles off the Pacific Coast, also set a recreational chinook harvest guideline of 20,000 fish. Although slightly higher than last year, the chinook quota is at a near-record low level, said Anderson, who represents the department on the council.
With this year's quotas, recreational salmon fisheries will be shorter in the ocean this summer. But salmon fisheries are scheduled earlier this year in Marine Areas 1-4. Those fisheries, which will begin June 1, will give anglers an opportunity to harvest hatchery chinook while protecting Columbia River coho, said Anderson.
WDFW and tribal co-managers develop fisheries for Washington's "inside waters" - Puget Sound, the Columbia River and along the coast - in conjunction with the PFMC process.
In Puget Sound, where chinook salmon returns are expected to total about 245,000 - about the same forecast as last year - two fisheries were converted to mark-selective fisheries to preserve opportunity and protect wild salmon. Anglers fishing Marine Area 7 from March 1-April 15 and Marine Area 9 during the month of November will be allowed to catch and keep abundant hatchery salmon but are required to release wild salmon.
Other changes in Puget Sound and on the coast this year include:
- Almost a month reduction in the Skokomish River chinook fishery, which will run this year from Aug. 1 through Sept. 5.
- Closing the Stillaguamish River coho fishery in September and October.
- No opportunity for chinook in Grays Harbor.
In the Columbia River, recreational chinook salmon fisheries in the mainstem from the Rocky Point/Tongue Point line upstream to Bonneville Dam also will be reduced this year. The salmon fishery in the mainstem will be open from August through September, but chinook retention will be limited to Sept. 1-16.
"A number of tough issues had to be resolved to put together fishing opportunities this year," said Anderson. "Protecting weak wild salmon stocks while still providing meaningful fishing opportunities was possible because of the strong cooperation between the state, the tribes and our constituents."
Specific regulations for a portion of the Columbia River and marine areas in Washington will be available early next week on WDFW's North of Falcon website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/).