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
"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.
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.
- Option 4: No ocean chinook or coho fishing.
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 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.