OLYMPIA - Salmon fishing prospects should be similar to last year in Puget Sound, although additional restrictions will likely be required in the ocean and the Columbia River to protect weak stocks, according to preseason forecasts developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty tribes.
The forecasts released today for chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon mark the starting point for developing 2006 salmon-fishing seasons for Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. Fisheries managers have scheduled a series of public meetings in March before finalizing fishing seasons in early April.
"Conservation is one of our most important goals as we go about setting these salmon seasons," said Jeff Koenings, director of WDFW. "We want to provide the best possible opportunities to fish on healthy runs of salmon and hatchery fish, but we must do that without harming weak wild stocks that require our protection."
Salmon fisheries are structured to avoid weak wild stocks. For example, selective fisheries offer anglers a chance to catch marked hatchery fish.
In Puget Sound, the forecast for coho salmon, which has been consistently strong in recent years, looks good again this year, said Phil Anderson, WDFW special assistant to the director. About 1 million coho are expected to return to Puget Sound streams, mirroring last year’s forecast.
Anglers will face additional restrictions on the Columbia River and along the Washington coast to avoid impacts on lower Columbia River wild coho, listed last year as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The Columbia River hatchery fall chinook forecast is about 465,000, down nearly 185,000 from last year’s forecast, Anderson said.
The fall upriver "bright" chinook return on the Columbia River also is expected to be down this year.
"While the fall upriver bright return looks lower this year, the run is still expected to be strong enough to provide anglers good opportunities for chinook, particularly in the Columbia River," Anderson said.
For Puget Sound chinook, another group of salmon stocks protected by the federal ESA, the forecast is similar to 2005, said Anderson. A few individual stocks, including the mid-Hood Canal natural chinook population, are expected to return at low levels and will continue to require protective measures comparable to last year, he said.
Fall chum salmon, an important species for the commercial fleet and one that is increasing in popularity with recreational anglers, are once again expected to return to Puget Sound and Hood Canal in strong numbers.
But the prospects for a Lake Washington sockeye fishery are not good this year, said Anderson. The sockeye forecast is about 210,000, far below the minimum return of 350,000 sockeye necessary to consider a recreational fishery.
State, tribal and federal fisheries managers will meet March 6-10 in Sea-Tac with the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) to develop options for this year’s commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries. The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters off the Pacific Coast.
Three additional public meetings have been scheduled in March to discuss regional fisheries issues. Input from these regional discussions will be considered as the season-setting process moves into the "North of Falcon" and PFMC meetings, which will determine the final 2006 salmon seasons. The meetings are set for:
- March 8 - Coastal regional fisheries discussion, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., South Bend Community Center.
- March 9 - Puget Sound fisheries discussion, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.
- March 13 - Columbia River fisheries discussion, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, 4600 SE Columbia Way, Vancouver, Wash.
Two public North of Falcon meetings, which involve planning for the numerous fishing seasons on Washington’s waters - including Puget Sound - are scheduled for March 15 and March 30. Both meetings will be at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites Hotel and are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on both days.
The PFMC is expected to adopt the final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 3-7 meeting in Sacramento, Calif. The 2006 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters will be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.
Preseason salmon forecasts, proposed fishing options and details on upcoming meetings will be posted as they become available on the North of Falcon website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/).