OLYMPIA– As this summer's salmon season gets underway, anglers in the San Juan Islands and some other areas of Puget Sound will face new fishing regulations aimed at protecting critically low populations of wild coho.
Selective fishing rules, which require anglers to release wild coho unharmed, go into effect Aug. 1 in the San Juans (Marine Area 7), and continue beginning July 1 in Puget Sound waters south of Tacoma (Marine Area 13), where they went into effect last year. When fishing in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca (Marine Area 6) opens Aug. 1, wild coho release also will continue to be required there.
In addition, the dates selective fishing is required in the Sekiu vicinity (Marine Area 5) have shifted from Aug. 1 to July 1.
The selective fishing regulations are aimed at protecting weak runs of wild coho, which are returning at low levels to South Puget Sound and to the Fraser River and the Strait of Georgia in Canada.
Selective coho fishing rules also are in effect for coastal waters (Marine Areas 1 through 4), and some inside areas including the Buoy 10 fishery at the Columbia River mouth.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) enforcement officers and fish managers will be carefully monitoring this year's fishery for compliance with the rules.
"Compliance with selective fishing rules is essential to allow salmon fishing to continue this year and into the future," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. "The alternative to selective fishing is no fishing."
In the South Sound, less than one percent of wild coho smolts leaving the Deschutes River near Olympia in 1998 survived to adulthood, according to WDFW biologists. By contrast, in the 1980s the survival rate for Deschutes coho averaged 24 percent.
To the north, scientists in recent years have observed record low survival and escapement rates for Canadian wild coho originating from a number of Fraser River and Strait of Georgia tributaries.
This year's Puget Sound selective fishing rules were adopted in April as part of the North of Falcon salmon fishing season-setting process, which included participation by WDFW, tribal co-managers, federal officials and citizen groups.
To comply with selective rules, fishers must carefully release wild coho and return them to the water unharmed. Wild fish are identifiable by an intact adipose fin, located on the back just above the tail. The adipose fin is removed on hatchery-produced coho.
Complete season regulations and Marine Area maps are available in the 2001 "Fishing in Washington" rules pamphlet available in WDFW offices or on the department's website.
A special website featuring information on this summer's Puget Sound selective fisheries and ocean fisheries will go on-line early next week.