OLYMPIA – Forecasts for strong chinook salmon returns to the Columbia River this summer could lead to improved fishing in the river and Washington’s ocean waters. Fishing prospects also are looking up for some rivers in Puget Sound, where coho salmon are expected to return in increased numbers.
Those and other preseason salmon forecasts developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty Indian tribes were released today at a public meeting in Olympia.
Forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon mark the starting point for developing 2010 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings over the next few weeks to discuss potential fishing opportunities before finalizing seasons in mid-April.
Phil Anderson, WDFW director, said fishery managers face new challenges this year in designing fishing seasons that not only meet conservation goals for salmon, but also minimize impacts on depressed rockfish populations in Puget Sound.
“It’s important that we take an ecosystem approach to managing our fisheries,” Anderson said. “We must take into account and minimize impacts to other species.”
Anderson said WDFW staff will work closely with tribal co-managers and constituents to develop fisheries that meet conservation objectives and provide fishing opportunities on abundant runs of wild and hatchery fish.
To help meet those goals, fishery managers will consider adding new mark-selective fisheries, which allow anglers to catch and keep abundant hatchery salmon but require that they release wild salmon, said Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for WDFW.
“We’ve implemented several new selective fisheries for salmon in Puget Sound the last few years, and we will look at other areas in the Sound where these fisheries would be appropriate,” Pattillo said.
Fishery managers also are considering recreational selective fisheries for hatchery chinook in Washington’s ocean waters, where selective fisheries for hatchery coho salmon already have been in place for a decade, Pattillo said.
“Selective fisheries for hatchery chinook in the ocean would help us meet our conservation objectives while allowing for meaningful recreational fishing opportunities this summer,” Pattillo said.
Nearly 653,000 fall chinook are forecasted to make their way along the Washington coast to the Columbia River this season, about 234,000 more chinook than last year’s actual return. The increased numbers represent abundant returns to Spring Creek and other Columbia River hatcheries, which traditionally have been the backbone of the recreational ocean chinook fishery, said Pattillo.
While the chinook forecast is up, the Columbia River coho return is expected to be down this year. Nearly 390,000 Columbia River coho are projected to make their way along Washington’s coast this year, compared to one million coho in 2009.
“The Columbia River coho return is down compared to last year’s run, which was one of the largest returns we’ve seen in the last decade,” Pattillo said. “But there should still be decent coho fishing opportunities in the ocean and the Columbia River this year.”
In Puget Sound, coho returns are expected to be up this year. Nearly 614,000 coho are forecast to return to Puget Sound streams, about 31,000 more fish than last year’s forecast. That could translate into good coho fishing in several North Sound rivers, including the Skagit, Snohomish and Stillaguamish, said Pattillo.
Summer/fall chinook salmon returns to Puget Sound are expected total about 226,000 fish, slightly higher than last year’s projection. Pattillo said chinook fisheries in Puget Sound likely will be similar to last year.
However, a repeat of last year’s Skagit River summer chinook fishery is unlikely this season because of projected low chinook returns to the river, he said.
Meanwhile, another strong fall chum salmon return is forecasted for Hood Canal and other areas of Puget Sound, where the run is expected to total about 1.3 million fish. But a Lake Washington sockeye fishery is unlikely this year. The sockeye forecast is about 123,000, well below the minimum return of 350,000 sockeye needed to consider opening a recreational fishery in the lake.
State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 6-12 in Sacramento with the Pacific Fishery 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 three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.
Additional public meetings have been scheduled in March and April 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 2010 salmon seasons. This year’s regional and North of Falcon meetings are set for:
- March 11 – First coastal fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main St., Montesano.
- March 15 – Columbia River fisheries discussion, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., YWCA Community Room, 3609 Main Street, Vancouver, Wash.
- March 16 – First North of Falcon meeting, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., General Administration Building Auditorium, 210 11th Ave. S.W., Olympia.
- March 23 – Eastern Washington North of Falcon discussion, 6 p.m.-9 p.m., Benton PUD, 2721 W. 10th Ave. Kennewick.
- March 24 – Second coastal fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Raymond Elks Lodge, 326 Third St., Raymond.
- March 25 – Puget Sound commercial fisheries discussion, 10 a.m.-noon, WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.
- March 25 – Puget Sound recreational fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.
- March 30 – Final Grays Harbor/Willapa Bay fisheries discussion, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia.
- April 6 – Second North of Falcon meeting, 9 a.m.- 4 p.m., Embassy Suites Hotel, 20610 44th Ave. West, Lynnwood.
The PFMC is expected to adopt the final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 10-15 meeting in Portland, Oregon. The 2010 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 WDFW’s North of Falcon website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/.