SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- The Washington coast may offer limited chinook
and coho salmon fisheries this summer.
Two of three options approved by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council
today include limited chinook fisheries. The third option is for no salmon fishing off the
Washington coast this year.
"I'm pleased that options to allow some ocean salmon fishing will be available for
public review and council consideration. First we must do what we can to protect every
wild chinook we have," said Bern Shanks, director of the Washington Department of
Fish and Wildlife.
"We used to have chinook from Oregon hatcheries off the Washington coast.
Oregon has drastically reduced its production of hatchery chinook in response to
federal budget cuts and that means fewer harvestable salmon for Ilwaco, Westport and
the other ocean towns in Washington," he said.
Shanks' comments came today after the Pacific Fishery Management Council
(PFMC) today voted to place the three ocean fishing options before the public for
review before a final vote is taken in April. The PFMC, representing the U.S. Secretary
of Commerce, sets fishing seasons in the ocean.
Those seasons are coordinated with the North of Falcon process, conducted by
WDFW and treaty tribes, which set seasons in Puget Sound and other state waters.
Salmon fishing seasons in the state waters also will be set in April.
The PFMC ocean options are:
- 16,000 coho and 8,000 chinook, of which sport fishers may harvest all the
coho and 3,000 chinook while commercial fishers may catch 5,000 chinook.
Shanks said the poor condition of a number of Washington wild coho runs was a
major factor in offering zero or very limited ocean coho fisheries.
- 25,000 coho and 12,000 chinook of which sport fishers may harvest 18,750
coho and 6,000 chinook while commercial fishers may take 6,250 coho and
"Wild fish from stocks in trouble mix with healthy native and hatchery stocks in
the ocean and northern Puget Sound," Shanks explained. "Protecting those wild stocks
approaching extinction means severe fishing restrictions."
He added that increasing numbers of hatchery coho are being marked by
Washington, Oregon and British Columbia which will gradually allow managers to set
more generous seasons. Marking hatchery fish, by clipping their adipose fins, enables
fishers to target artificially-raised salmon. The first WDFW-marked coho are scheduled
to return to Washington this year. Unfortunately, even hatchery salmon returns to the
Columbia River are expected to be very low.
Preseason forecasts also predict significant reductions in coho returns to rivers
on the Washington coast. For example, Willapa hatchery coho are expected to drop
from 72,500 predicted in 1997 to about 29,000 this year. The preseason hatchery run
forecast for the Queets River dropped from 16,100 last year to less than 5,000 this
WDFW biologists said warm El Nino currents meant poor ocean survival for
most of the coho from the coastal rivers and Columbia River. They are not sure yet how
El Nino affected coho stocks from Puget Sound rivers and hatcheries. The news may
not be good because coho returning to Puget Sound last year were small, normally a
sign that salmon were not thriving in the ocean.
"We are caught in a very difficult position," Shanks said. "We know many
Washington families depend upon recreational and commercial fishing for their
livelihoods and that crafting whatever fishing opportunities we can is important. We
also are legally and morally-bound to be responsible stewards of these noble fish,
especially as increasing numbers of the wild stocks face listings as threatened or
endangered species" under federal law.
The public has the opportunity to review and comment on PFMC ocean fishing
options until early April. The PFMC is scheduled to meet from April 6 through 10 at the
Columbia River Doubletree Hotel, 1401 N. Hayden Island Dr., Portland. The season-
setting vote is set for April 10.
The public North of Falcon process for setting salmon seasons in Puget Sound
and other state waters has scheduled the following meetings:
- March 18 and 19, Sheraton Motel, 8235 NE Airport Way, Portland
- April 1 and 2, Seattle Airport Hilton, 17620 Pacific Highway S., Seattle
- April 6 - 10 WDFW and treaty tribes will negotiate seasons for salmon
fishing in state waters for the Washington and Fish and Wildlife Commission's
review at the PFMC's meeting in Portland