OLYMPIA – Minimum size limits on chinook salmon caught by anglers off the Washington coast will be raised in an effort to prevent an early closure of fast-paced fisheries from Ilwaco to Neah Bay, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced today.
Starting Sunday (July 21), anglers in three ocean fishing areas stretching from Leadbetter Point to Neah Bay (Marine areas 2 through 4) must release any chinook salmon measuring less than 28 inches from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail. In Marine Area 1 off of Ilwaco, the new minimum size limit for chinook will be 26 inches.
The current minimum size limit for chinook salmon in all four fishing areas is 24 inches.
The new size limits are designed to prevent coastal anglers from catching their entire quota of chinook salmon before they have a chance to harvest more of the available hatchery coho salmon, said Phil Anderson, WDFW special assistant to the director.
"The way things have been going – with high catch rates of chinook coastwide – we have been looking at the possibility of having to close the entire coastal salmon fishery much earlier than expected," Anderson said. "That would be a shame, because fishers would miss out on a lot of available hatchery coho and coastal communities would miss out on a lot of business that results from the summer fishery."
Under this year's regulations, the summer salmon-fishing season is scheduled to run through Sept. 8 in most coastal areas – or until the catch reaches quotas established for chinook or coho salmon in each area. As of July 14, WDFW estimated that anglers had already caught 35 percent of the 47,400 chinook but only 7 percent of the 109,530 hatchery coho available for harvest coastwide during the summer salmon fishery.
"I've been doing this job for 13 years and I've never seen a chinook season like this one," said Doug Milward, WDFW ocean salmon manager. "This run is way above anything we've seen in recent history."
The tide of chinook is beginning to turn in some areas, however.
At Westport, anglers are now catching approximately two chinook for every hatchery coho they take aboard, compared to an average of five chinook for every hatchery coho caught in early July, Milward said.
"The coho are beginning to show more in the catch, but we're still seeing a preponderance of chinook in most areas," he said.
Milward noted that the 16-inch minimum size limit for coho remains unchanged, although coho salmon whose adipose fin has not been clipped for identification as a hatchery salmon must be released.
Milward said he couldn't predict how much the new size limits for chinook will extend the summer fishery, but said "they will certainly help." He noted that the new 26-inch limit in the Ilwaco was set lower than the 28-inch limit in other areas to reflect the higher abundance of smaller fish near the mouth of the Columbia River.
To put those limits into perspective, WDFW spokesman Tony Floor noted that a 24-inch chinook – the current minimum size – generally weighs between five to six pounds. By contrast, a 28-inch chinook weighs about 10 pounds and a 26-inch chinook generally weighs about 8 pounds.
"Anglers are going to have to adjust their measuring devices to ensure that they're in compliance with the new limits," Floor said. "Either they're going to have to get a new ruler or add some wood to their old one."