OLYMPIA – Washington's citizens can get their first glimpse of returning salmon numbers and possible 2002 fishing seasons when the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) holds its public presentation of salmon forecasts Feb. 27.
The meeting, which is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave. S.E., in Lacey, is the kick-off to the annual "North of Falcon" process in which state, tribal and federal fisheries managers work together to establish salmon seasons for the Pacific coast as well as the inside waters of Puget Sound, the Columbia River and the Washington coast.
The North of Falcon salmon season-setting process occurs in conjunction with public meetings of the federal Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). The first PFMC meeting, March 11-15 in Sacramento, is convened to establish a range of ocean fishing options for public review.
Meanwhile, WDFW and tribal fisheries managers, in concert with the PFMC, meet to develop and analyze salmon fishing seasons for inside waters of Washington. Public sessions are scheduled for March 20 in Portland and April 2 in SeaTac. Agreement on the package of ocean and inside fisheries is scheduled to be reached April 8-12 when the PFMC meets in Portland.
While efforts continued in 2001 to rebuild depleted wild runs, including fishing restrictions established to protect stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act, the overall fishing season was the best in 50 years, said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings.
"Conserving and rebuilding weak wild stocks has been the cornerstone of our fisheries management philosophy for years," Koenings said. "In 2001, we were able to provide significant recreational and commercial fishing opportunities on plentiful hatchery and healthy wild stocks, while at the same time protecting weak stocks.
"These fisheries in 2001, which were very restricted compared to historical opportunities, were a real shot in the arm to many economically depressed coastal and interior communities, and I hope we will be able to provide meaningful seasons again," Koenings said.
Once again, the major focus of conservation efforts will be protecting and rebuilding weak chinook stocks, including Puget Sound chinook, which has been listed for federal Endangered Species Act protection since 1999.
A major difference between fisheries options in 2002 versus 2001 is the absence of pink salmon fisheries this year. Pink salmon return only in odd-numbered years in western Washington, and the 2001 return was exceptionally strong. A new world record was set last summer on the Skykomish River for the largest sport-caught pink salmon. The next opportunity to fish for pink salmon in Washington will be in 2003.
Like last year, WDFW will maintain a web page dedicated to the North of Falcon salmon season setting process. The web page will include background information, proposed ocean fishing options, a North of Falcon meeting schedule and an e-mail address for public feedback. The website will be frequently updated with new information.
"Input from our constituents is vital to our deliberative processes," Koenings added. "New ideas help us shape options for this season's fisheries as they inform the science that the department brings to the process."
2002 North of Falcon Public Meeting Schedule
Salmon Forecast and Fishery Outlook
Present 2002 salmon forecasts and discuss possible fishing opportunities
9am – 3pm
Lacey Community Center
WDFW contact (360) 902-2700
Pacific Fishery Management Council
Develop 2002 ocean salmon fishery options; adopt for public review
Sacramento Red Lion Inn
First North of Falcon Meeting
First session for developing and analyzing 2002 salmon seasons
Sheraton Hotel-Portland Airport
Second North of Falcon Meeting
Second session for developing and analyzing 2002 salmon seasons
SeaTac Holiday Inn
Pacific Fishery Management Council
Adopt 2002 ocean salmon regulations and reach agreement on inside Washington fisheries
Columbia River DoubleTree-Portland