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

March 07, 1997
Contact: Jeff Weathersby, (360) 902-2256

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Washington coast may offer limited chinook season

PORTLAND -- The first recreational and commercial fishing for chinook salmon from Westport since 1993 may occur this summer.

Three of the four ocean fishing options placed before the public for review today by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) include chinook and/or coho quotas.

"We know the people and businesses of ocean fishing towns such as Illwaco and Westport desperately need salmon seasons and we are doing the best we can to offer fishing opportunities this year," said Bern Shanks, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"While the economies of these towns are important, Washington and other northwestern states also must focus on rebuilding their salmon runs. The resource must come first. That effort is going to require sacrifices from everyone," he added.

Shanks said no one should assume the wild salmon situation in Washington is improving significantly by the fact that the PFMC is considering chinook fisheries in the ocean this summer. He explained the majority of the chinook that would be caught off the Washington Coast this year are from Washington and Oregon hatcheries along the Columbia River and there are a few more of these fish that can be harvested this year. One reason for this improved situation is the hatcheries don't need the chinook for spawning purposes because Oregon hatchery production has been cut drastically in response to reductions in federal support.

"This is a once-only dividend. The offspring of those Oregon hatchery fish won't be in the ocean to provide fisheries in future years," Shanks warned.

But the need to protect record low runs of wild coho salmon from Grays Harbor and north Washington coastal rivers will determine what fishing opportunities will be available in the ocean, where the weak stocks of wild fish mix with wild coho and chinook from strong runs as well as hatchery fish.

Based on conservation needs, here are the options passed by the council today:

  • Option 1: Total catch of 20,000 chinook (5,000 for recreational fishers and 15,000 to commercial) and 50,000 coho for recreational fishers.
  • Option 2: 40,000 chinook to be divided equally between recreational and commercial fishers on the coast. No coho season.
  • Option 3: A 12,000-chinook quota for recreational fishers off Westport but no coho. Illwaco and other Columbia River ports would have a 25,000-coho ocean quota while Neah Bay would have a 6,500 coho quota. Commercial trollers would have a 13,000-chinook quota in the ocean.
  • Option 4: No ocean chinook or coho fishing.
Department biologists said Option 3 offers chinook fishing for Westport to protect low runs of wild coast coho stocks. More coho would die if chinook fishing were offered off the Columbia and at Neah Bay. The option crafts seasons based on where the two species of salmon concentrate.

Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists say some peninsula runs could be the lowest on record.

"We've got to be very careful how we shape fisheries where those wild coho stocks are at risk," warned Jim Hoff, Shank's representative on the PFMC. "Anglers fishing for chinook will cause some hooking mortality among wild coho no matter how carefully they are released. Option 3 was crafted to offer chinook fishing that would minimize north coastal coho mortality."

The Olympic Peninsula coho aren't the only weak stocks needing protection.

"Some Columbia chinook runs look moderately stronger this year," Hoff said. "But we can't forget the Snake River chinook stock already is listed under the Endangered Species Act. We will find out later this year if any Columbia River chinook or coho stocks will be proposed for the list."

Hoff said ESA considerations could require changes in the three fishing options passed today by the PFMC. He noted that fishing plans for Alaska and British Columbia are extremely uncertain, making the job of defining fishing seasons for the Washington coast and inland waters very difficult. Neither Alaska nor British Columbia participate in the PFMC season-setting process.

Shanks said the difficulties in shaping fishing opportunities around weak wild runs underline the need for the state to rebuild wild stocks. The draft of the state Wild Salmonid Policy containing five options for rebuilding the stocks will be available to the public in the next few weeks. At that time the department will launch a major public involvement effort designed to obtain public comment and suggestions for improving the policy.

The plight of wild salmon in other portions of Washington will become more apparent next week when the ocean options will be linked to possible salmon fisheries in Puget Sound, Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay and in the Columbia River at the public North of Falcon meeting scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday at the Red Lion Inn at the Quay, 100 Columbia St. in Vancouver, Wash.

For example, several of the Puget Sound chinook stocks are in extremely poor condition. On the other hand, almost 1.8 million coho are expected to return to Puget Sound and 11.4 million Fraser River pink salmon should pass through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, according to PFMC forecasts.

Final ocean salmon seasons will be set at the PFMC meeting in San Francisco during the week of April 7.

Seasons and limits for Puget Sound and other inland waters will be published in the Fishing in Washington regulations pamphlet available at all department office and license dealers on May 1.