OLYMPIA– A new era for salmon fishing in Washington arrives today with opening of the ocean sport fishing season.
That's because for the first time, ocean sport anglers will be targeting hatchery coho bearing special markings to distinguish them from wild fish.
"Selective fisheries for marked hatchery coho, and eventually hatchery chinook, will be a major tool in the state's effort to protect wild salmon while providing fishing opportunities," said Jeff Koenings, WDFW director. "In an era when so many salmon stocks have federal Endangered Species Act protection, we probably would have no fishing opportunities without this marking program."
Koenings said fishing will be monitored carefully by WDFW biologists and enforcement officers to educate fishers about the selective fishing technique and make sure it is effective in ensuring unmarked coho are released with minimal harm.
Hatchery coho are marked when they are young by removing their adipose fin, which is located on the back between the dorsal fin and tail. WDFW currently is marking millions of hatchery chinook so selective fishing for them can occur in future years.
"Once anglers recognize wild fish because of the adipose fin they bear, they will have to learn to release them carefully, without taking them from the water, if we want to minimize harm to them and convince the federal government selective fisheries work," Koenings said.
Koenings noted the state has a huge investment in the hatchery salmon marking program. "Since 1996 the department has marked 113 million salmon. That's a major effort and we want to make sure it is effective — for fishers as well as for salmon."
The selective fishing for coho will protect wild runs of coho as they make their way to the Columbia River. Puget Sound chinook and other species protected by the Endangered Species Act are not affected by fisheries off the coast.
Koenings added returns of hatchery coho as well as chinook to the Columbia are expected to be some of the largest in recent years because ocean conditions are improving for salmon and because Canadian harvests have been reduced dramatically. For example, until a couple years ago Canada annually harvested more than a million Washington-bound coho. In 1998 and again this year Canada is expected to incidentally kill approximately 50,000 Washington-bound coho in fisheries directed at other salmon species.
"It is through selective fisheries, as well as through time and area closures, that we can increase the fishing seasons substantially above those of last year and still keep the impacts to declining stocks of salmon at or below last years levels," Koenings said.
The same selective fishing regulations requiring the release of unmarked coho went into effect for south Puget Sound (Marine Area 13) on July 1. They are scheduled to go into effect on Aug. 1 when salmon fishing seasons open in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Marine Areas 5 and 6).
This year's regulations allow anglers in Marine Area 1 (Ilwaco) and Marine Area 2 (Westport-Ocean Shores) require the release of all coho with adipose fins. Anglers make keep two salmon daily, of which one may be a chinook. Fishing is open Sundays through Thursdays.
Marine Area 3 (LaPush) also offers a two-salmon daily limit, but both fish may be chinook. Wild coho must be released.
All of Marine Area 4 (Neah Bay) from the Sekiu River to Cape Alava, also opens Monday with a two-hatchery coho daily limit. All chinook must be released.
Marine Areas 3 and 4 are open seven days per week.