WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
NEWS RELEASE
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

March 05, 1997
Contact: Chuck Bolland, (360) 902-2255 or Tony Meyer, NWIFC, (360) 438-1180

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Fish managers use data from improved science on Skagit to develop fishing seasons

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 Francisco, Calif.

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 cautioned.