A return of more than one million Columbia River coho salmon – the largest run since 2001 – is expected to brighten fishing prospects this year from the Washington coast to the Upper Columbia River.
Salmon forecasts also show strong coho runs to many of Washington’s other coastal rivers this year, a flood of pink salmon to Puget Sound and improved hatchery fall chinook returns to the Columbia River.
Those and other preseason salmon forecasts developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty Indian tribes, were released today at a public meeting in Olympia.
Forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon mark the starting point for developing 2009 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through March before finalizing fishing seasons in early April.
While several salmon runs are up this year, fishery managers still face a number of challenges in crafting fisheries that meet conservation goals for weak salmon stocks, said Phil Anderson, WDFW’s interim director.
“Conservation of wild fish will continue to be our top priority,” Anderson said. “We will work hard with tribal co-managers and our constituents to create fishing opportunities for hatchery fish while ensuring that we are successful in meeting conservation objectives for wild fish populations.”
One constraining stock this year is the Bonneville Pool hatchery fall chinook run, a major contributor to Washington’s coastal fisheries. Although the overall return of Columbia River fall chinook is forecasted to be higher than last year, catch quotas for chinook in the river and the ocean will likely be low because of the poor Bonneville Pool return and restrictions needed to protect wild salmon listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
While salmon forecasts are up overall in the Columbia River, coho and chinook returns to Puget Sound are expected to be slightly down this year.
A few individual Puget Sound coho stocks, including the Skagit and Stillaguamish, are expected to return at low levels and will require additional protective measures this summer, said Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for WDFW. The overall summer/fall chinook forecast for Puget Sound, where wild chinook salmon are listed for protection under the federal ESA, is 222,000 fish, a slight decrease from last year’s forecast.
“It’s important that we continue working to recover and protect wild salmon populations in Puget Sound,” Pattillo said. “One management tool we can use that helps with those recovery efforts and allows us to provide meaningful recreational fishing opportunities is mark-selective fisheries.”
In the last two years, WDFW has added several recreational mark-selective fisheries for hatchery chinook in Puget Sound. These fisheries allow anglers to catch and keep abundant hatchery salmon but require that they release wild salmon – marked with a missing adipose fin.
Pattillo said consideration of additional mark-selective fisheries for hatchery chinook in Puget Sound, as well as in the ocean, will be on the agenda during this year’s North of Falcon meetings.
A bright spot for Puget Sound this year is the pink salmon run. More than 5.1 million pink salmon are expected back to Puget Sound streams this summer, nearly 2 million more fish than forecasted in 2007. The smallest of the Pacific salmon species, the majority of pink salmon return to Washington’s waters only in odd-numbered years.
Another strong fall chum salmon return also is forecasted for Hood Canal and other areas of Puget Sound, where the run is expected to total nearly 915,000 fish. But a Lake Washington sockeye fishery is unlikely this year. The sockeye forecast is about 20,000, well below the minimum return of 350,000 sockeye needed to consider opening a recreational fishery in the lake.
Meanwhile, coho returns to several coastal rivers, including the Hoh and Quillayute, are expected to be up this year, Pattillo said.
State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 8-13 in SeaTac with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to develop options for this year’s commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries. The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters off the Pacific Coast.
Seven additional public meetings have been scheduled in March to discuss regional fisheries issues. Input from these regional discussions will be considered as the season-setting process moves into the “North of Falcon” and PFMC meetings, which will determine the final 2009 salmon seasons. The meetings are set for:
* March 4 – Grays Harbor fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main St., Montesano.
* March 5 – Willapa Bay fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Raymond Elks Lodge, 326 Third St., Raymond.
* March 11 – Puget Sound commercial fisheries discussion, 10 a.m.-noon, WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.
* March 11 – Puget Sound recreational fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.
* March 16 – Columbia River fisheries discussion, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, 4600 S.E. Columbia Way, Vancouver, Wash.
* March 19 – Final Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay fisheries meeting, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia.
* March 19 – North of Falcon salmon fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Benton PUD, 2721 W. 10th Ave., Kennewick.
Two public North of Falcon meetings, which involve planning fishing seasons for Washington’s waters, including Puget Sound, also will take place in March. The first meeting is scheduled March 17 at the Lacey Community Center, and the second meeting is scheduled March 31 at the Lynwood Embassy Suites. Both meetings will begin at 9 a.m.
The PFMC is expected to adopt the final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 4-9 meeting in Millbrae, Calif. The 2009 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters will be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.
Preseason salmon forecasts, proposed fishing options and details on upcoming meetings will be posted as they become available on WDFW’s North of Falcon website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/