PORTLAND -- Improved scientific techniques will provide state and tribal fish
managers with more realistic wild coho salmon run sizes for the Skagit River, which
play a key role in setting ocean and Puget Sound fishing seasons.
The new techniques being applied this year have significantly raised estimates
of returning adult fish over the numbers used during the last decade. The new numbers
will be used in technical salmon forecasting models used in public season-setting
meetings that occur through March and culminate the week of April 7 - 11 in San
The numbers are being used at the first of these meetings this week in Portland
where state, tribal and federal fish managers are meeting to develop options for salmon
fishing in the ocean. Low Skagit coho runs over the last decade have required severe
limits for ocean as well as Puget Sound fisheries as part of the strategy to protect that
and other weak salmon runs. These new numbers, however, indicate that Skagit
spawning levels were actually two or three times greater than previously estimated.
"Refining our scientific techniques to produce the best information possible
about wild salmon runs gives us more ability to craft fishing seasons to protect weak
runs while providing as many fishing opportunities as possible," said Bern Shanks,
director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "The work done on the
Skagit over the past decade will make our run size predictions more accurate for that
watershed and improve our science overall for all salmon-bearing rivers."
Lorraine Loomis, fisheries director for the Swinomish Tribal Community, added
that, "This shows how research and test fisheries can directly benefit sport and
commercial fisheries by providing better management information. This was a great
example of co-management, with the Skagit System Cooperative (a consortium of the
Swinomish, Upper Skagit and Sauk-Suiattle tribes) tagging and recovering fish, and
WDFW reading and compiling coded wire tags and scale data and maintaining a
mainstem smolt trap. The result will be improved fisheries for everyone."
Shanks warned that it is too early in the annual season-setting process to
speculate what kind of fishing opportunities will be appropriate with these new higher
Skagit coho run size estimates. Loomis noted that marine survival rates have been
declining, which tends to reduce allowable harvest rates.
Shanks said fish biologists are using this new information to review their
assumptions about the spawning escapement goal to help determine how many of the
fish in this year's wild run can be harvested in the ocean and Puget Sound.
The director noted that while this year's Skagit River wild coho run looks
healthier than runs in recent years, wild coho runs from rivers on the coast and the
Strait of Juan de Fuca are expected to be at record low levels.
"The need to protect those wild stocks from the coast and strait will limit fishing
opportunities for recreational, commercial and tribal fishers in marine areas," Shanks