OLYMPIA The National Marine Fisheries Service's decision to postpone for
six months a decision on listing Oregon coastal coho salmon as a threatened or
endangered species will bring more uncertainty to Washington's 1997 salmon fishing
Some Oregon-produced coho are caught each year in Washington's southern
Bern Shanks, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Oregon's
decision to mark all its hatchery coho this year could be a factor in avoiding a federal
Endangered Species Act listing for the fish next April.
Marking hatchery coho by clipping fins is expected to become a major tool used
by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and other west coast fish managers
in the struggle to save wild salmon.
Shanks said fin clipping is an essential tool for preserving wild coho because it
allows fishers to identify and release wild salmon while keeping hatchery fish. Shanks
warned Washington's salmon management could be federalized under the Endangered
Species Act if the marking program does not proceed.
While Oregon has clipped the fins on its coho, a federal court in Seattle has
ordered the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to cease clipping adipose fins
from coho produced at its Puget Sound and north coastal hatcheries. Washington
hopes to continue clipping fins from coho produced at its Columbia River and south
The marking program, however, will not affect Washington or Oregon fisheries
until 1998 when fish marked in 1996 return from the ocean as adults.
This spring, fish managers will have to contend with the possible ESA listing of
Oregon wild coho when they develop fishing season plans.
In Washington, recreational, non-Indian commercial and tribal seasons each
year are determined by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (for most ocean
waters) and the so-called "North of Falcon" process (for waters under state and tribal
jurisdiction). Both public season-setting processes begin in February and continue
A central goal of the PFMC and North of Falcon processes is to shape fishing
seasons that allow the maximum salmon harvest compatible with protecting low wild
fish runs. In recent years, the need to protect low coho runs in Hood Canal and Strait of
Juan de Fuca rivers and the Skagit River has produced restrictive fishing seasons in
Washington's marine waters.
The need to protect wild Oregon coho also reduced salmon fishing opportunities
on the Washington coast this year.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has determined that Washington's coastal
coho stocks are healthy but continues its review of the condition of other salmon and
steelhead runs in the state, including Puget Sound coho. The NMFS review could result
in some Endangered Species Act listings in this state.
In determining which runs are proposed for listing under the federal Endangered
Species Act, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife supports the consistent
application of the best scientific criteria available for all species under consideration.