OLYMPIA -- Most salmon runs returning to Washington this year will be in poor
shape and provide only limited fisheries.
That was the message from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fish
managers today when they presented their preseason forecasts to sport and
commercial fishers, conservationists, business people and others.
Their reports indicated the El Nino ocean conditions as well as continuing
degradation of the rivers and streams in which salmon hatch and spawn are the primary
causes of the declining runs. El Nino currents disrupt the ocean food chain and bring
warmwater predators, such as mackerel, that feed on young salmon.
"We've been reducing salmon harvests for years but it hasn't been enough," said
Bruce Crawford, who heads the department's Fish Management Program. "The salmon
habitat problems have to be addressed by state, local and tribal governments as well
as everyone from the big corporations right down to the fisher on the river or there is no
future for this Northwest totem."
"We are at a crossroads," Crawford said.
Today's preseason forecast came a day after the National Marine Fisheries
Service proposed Puget Sound chinook and other salmon stocks for the federal
Endangered Species List.
Gov. Gary Locke yesterday warned: "It isn't just our salmon that are in trouble--
it's our Northwest quality of life that is in trouble. We're all connected by our land and
water. When rivers flood and our lakes are polluted, people and fish are hurt."
At today's forecast meeting, Carol Smith, WDFW's chinook program manager,
said Puget Sound chinook stocks, except for the Nisqually and Green river runs, have
been in decline for three decades. She said only one Columbia River chinook stock,
the so-called upper river brights--are expected to return in relatively healthy numbers.
She attributed their success to the facts that they spawn in the Hanford Reach, the only
free-flowing portion of the Columbia and that they forage in Alaskan waters, where
warm El Nino currents do not reach.
Bill Tweit, WDFW's coho manager, said large numbers of wild and hatchery
smolts went to sea in 1997 but it appears ocean survival for coastal and Columbia
River stocks was very poor. He said it was unclear what effect El Nino currents had on
Puget Sound stocks but warned that coho returning last year were unusually small--a
potentially bad sign to fish biologists.
Early runs of Columbia River coho should provide some fishing opportunities but
late runs are expected to be very poor.
Crawford said he expected the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets
ocean fishing seasons, to propose options that range from no fishing to limited
opportunities for hatchery fish at coastal areas such as Ilwaco and Westport.
He said he hoped hatchery stocks would provide some fishing in Puget Sound.
"We'll try to provide fishing benefits where we can without harming wild stocks,"
Washington salmon seasons will be set in April at the culmination of a public
process known as North of Falcon.
Today's forecast meeting marks the opening of the North of Falcon and Pacific
Fishery Management Council's public processes for setting 1998 salmon fishing
seasons for sport, commercial and tribal fishers.
The PFMC will meet from March 9 to 13 at the Clarion Hotel, 401 E. Millbrae
Ave, Millbrae, Calif., to begin setting ocean fishing seasons along the coast from
California to the Canadian border.
Its decision-making meeting will occur from April 6 to 10. at the Columbia River
Doubletree Hotel, 1401 N. Hayden Island Dr., Portland.
The first North of Falcon meeting is scheduled for March 18 and 19 at the
Sheraton Motel, 8235 NE Airport Way, Portland.
The second North of Falcon meeting is scheduled for April 1 and 2 at the Seattle
Airport Hilton, 17620 Pacific Highway S., Seattle.
In order to coordinate state, tribal and federal fishing seasons, Washington fish
managers will negotiate final salmon fishing seasons from April 6 to 10 at the PFMC
meeting in Portland.