OLYMPIA – Preseason salmon forecasts released today by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) point to strong fishing opportunities this year in a number of areas, although some weak stocks may require additional protections.
The forecast for Columbia River hatchery fall chinook salmon should support good opportunities for catching chinook in the ocean, while fall upriver “bright” chinook salmon returning to the Columbia River will support excellent chinook fisheries in the river, WDFW fisheries managers say.
However, returns of lower Columbia River coho salmon are expected to be significantly below what was forecast in 2004. The forecast of 78,000 Columbia River late stock coho is nearly 200,000 fewer fish than the forecast for 2004 and will mean restrictions in ocean and lower Columbia River coho fisheries.
Almost two million pink salmon are expected to return to Puget Sound streams this summer, including nearly one million fish to the Snohomish River alone, providing fishing opportunities in marine and freshwater areas.
The preseason forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon are the starting point for developing 2005 salmon fishing seasons for Washington's marine and freshwater areas.
“Anglers’ expectations for fisheries are always strong during the preseason planning process,” said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. “We hope to provide as much fishing opportunity as possible, keeping in mind the conservation needs of individual weak stocks that require protection.”
State, tribal and federal fisheries managers will meet March 6-11 in Sacramento with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to develop a range of options for this year's commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries. Final seasons for ocean and Puget Sound fisheries will be set in early April.
A forecast of more than 350,000 Columbia River upriver chinook is nearly 60,000 fish higher than the 2004 forecast and are the backbone of Columbia River chinook fisheries, said Pat Pattillo, WDFW salmon policy coordinator.
In Puget Sound, where chinook populations have protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, the forecast is similar to 2004. Pattillo said a few individual stocks, including the mid-Hood Canal natural chinook stock, are expected to return at low levels and could require additional protection measures compared to last year’s seasons.
The statewide coho salmon forecast anticipates more than 1.7 million fish this year, down about 300,000 fish from the 2004 forecast. Snohomish River natural coho are expected to return at much higher levels than last year, while Skagit River and southern Puget Sound natural stocks are expected to be somewhat weaker.
Fall chum salmon, which are an important species for commercial fishers and are becoming more popular with recreational anglers, are expected to return to Puget Sound and Hood Canal in strong numbers.
Two public meetings will be sponsored by WDFW following the PFMC meeting to plan salmon fishing seasons for Washington's inside waters, including Puget Sound. These "North of Falcon" meetings are scheduled for March 16 at the Natural Resources Building in Olympia (WDFW headquarters) and March 29 at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites Hotel. Both meetings start at 9 a.m.
WDFW has scheduled three additional public meetings in March to discuss regional fisheries issues. Input from these discussions will be considered as the pre-season process moves into the North of Falcon and PFMC meetings to determine final 2004 salmon seasons. The meetings are set for:
- March 8 starting at 7 p.m. at Montesano High School, 303 North Church Street for Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay and coastal river sport fishery and commercial fishery proposals;
- March 10 starting at 7 p.m. at WDFW's Mill Creek office to discuss Puget Sound region freshwater and marine fishery expectations and proposals;
- March 14 starting at 9 a.m. at the Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, 4600 S.E. Columbia Way in Vancouver, Wash., to discuss Columbia River mainstem and tributary salmon fishing expectations and proposals.
The PFMC is expected to adopt the final ocean fishing harvest levels and seasons at its April 4-8 meeting in Tacoma. The co-managers will complete the 2005 salmon fisheries package for Washington's inside waters by the conclusion of the PFMC's April meeting.
The preseason salmon forecasts, proposed fishing options and details on upcoming public meetings will be posted as they become available on the North of Falcon portion of WDFW's website on the Internet.