OLYMPIA – Hatchery chinook salmon returns to the Columbia River and portions of Puget Sound are expected to be up from last year, but low returns of coho and wild chinook could put a damper on upcoming salmon fisheries around the state.
Those salmon forecasts, along with other preseason projections developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty 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 2008 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through March before finalizing fishing seasons in early April.
Salmon fisheries will be constrained in some areas this year because of low returns to several rivers of wild and hatchery coho, as well as wild chinook, according to preseason forecasts. The most significant drop-off will be in the number of Columbia River coho, which is expected to total about 196,000, nearly 266,000 fewer fish than last year’s run and the lowest since the late-1990s.
Lower returns, along with restrictions needed to protect both coho and chinook salmon populations listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), will limit fishing opportunities in the ocean and the Columbia River, said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings.
“From Alaska to the Mexican border, fisheries managers are considering harvest restrictions to protect weak stocks,” Koenings said. “For all of us conservation must be our first priority, requiring a cautious approach in developing fisheries. Recovering and protecting wild salmon populations is our most important goal, and this season’s fisheries will be designed to support that effort.”
Last year, WDFW added seven new chinook salmon selective fisheries in Puget Sound. These fisheries allow anglers to catch and keep abundant hatchery salmon but require that they release wild salmon – many of which are listed for protection under the ESA.
Consideration of selective fisheries for hatchery chinook in Puget Sound once again will be on the agenda during this year’s North of Falcon meetings, said Koenings.
The overall forecast for Puget Sound chinook, including ESA-protected salmon, is about 245,000 fish, a slight increase from last year’s forecast. But Puget Sound coho returns are expected to drop to about 614,000 fish, nearly 16,000 less coho than last year’s expected return.
In the Columbia River, the overall forecast for fall chinook is about 366,000 salmon, an increase of about 155,000 fish compared to last year’s actual return. Upriver “brights,” a main component of that run, is expected to return in abundant numbers this year.
Another bright spot is chum salmon. A strong chum return is forecasted for Hood Canal and other areas of Puget Sound, where the run is expected to total about 1.9 million fish.
But a Lake Washington sockeye fishery is unlikely this year. The sockeye forecast is about 106,000, 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 9-14 in Sacramento, Calif., 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 off the Pacific Coast.
Five additional public meetings have been scheduled in March 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 2008 salmon seasons. The meetings are set for:
- March 5 – Grays Harbor fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main Street, Montesano.
- March 6 – Willapa Bay fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Raymond Elks Lodge, 326 Third Street, Raymond.
- March 12 – Puget Sound recreational fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.
- March 17 – Columbia River fisheries discussion, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, 4600 SE Columbia Way, Vancouver, Wash.
- March 28 – Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay fisheries meeting, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Avenue, Lacey.
Two public North of Falcon meetings, which involve planning fishing seasons for Washington’s waters, including Puget Sound, will take place in March and early April. The first meeting is scheduled March 18 at the General Administration Building in Olympia, and the second meeting is scheduled April 1 at the Lynwood Embassy Suites. Both meetings will begin at 9 a.m.
The PFMC is expected to adopt the final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 6-11 meeting in SeaTac. The 2008 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/.