Poor forecasts for returning coho salmon are prompting state and tribal fishery managers to consider closing all salmon fisheries in Washington’s ocean waters this year as part of a federal season-setting process for the west coast.
State, tribal and federal fishery managers have developed three options for non-treaty ocean salmon fisheries that reflect the anticipated low coho returns. Two options would permit some salmon fishing this year, but one would close recreational and commercial ocean fisheries for chinook and coho salmon.
Those alternatives were approved Sunday for public review by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), which establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast. A public hearing on the three alternatives for ocean salmon fisheries is scheduled for March 28 in Westport.
Jim Unsworth, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said he hopes fishery managers can provide some ocean salmon fishing opportunities this year, but must place a higher priority on protecting the diminished number of wild coho expected to return this year.
“Fishery managers face many difficult decisions in the weeks ahead as we move toward solidifying salmon-fishing seasons for the state,” Unsworth said. “We know that severely limiting opportunities will hurt many families and communities that depend on these fisheries. But conserving wild salmon is our top priority and is in the best interest of future generations of Washingtonians.”
Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, said tribal and state co-managers must have a full range of options – including no fishing at all – in working to shape possible fisheries over the next month.
“We hope it doesn’t come to that. Our cultures, treaty rights and economies depend on salmon. But the resource must come first,” she said. “We face an extraordinary conservation challenge this year. In many instances returns will likely be far below minimum levels needed to produce the next generation of salmon. Conservation must be our sole focus as we work to rebuild these stocks.”
Chinook and coho quotas approved by the PFMC will be part of a comprehensive 2016 salmon fishing package, which includes marine and freshwater fisheries throughout Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington’s coastal areas. State and tribal co-managers are currently developing those fisheries, which will be finalized at the PFMC’s April meeting in Vancouver, Wash.
The non-treaty recreational fishing alternatives include the following quotas for fisheries off the Washington coast:
- Alternative 1: 58,600 chinook and 37,800 coho. This option includes early season fisheries, from June 18-30, for hatchery chinook in Washington’s ocean waters (marine areas 1-4). This option also allows hatchery coho retention in all four marine areas during the traditional summer fishery.
- Alternative 2: 30,000 chinook and 14,700 coho. This option does not include early season fisheries for hatchery chinook, but provides summer chinook fisheries in all four marine areas. Hatchery coho fishing would be allowed only in Marine Area 1 (Ilwaco).
- Alternative 3: No commercial or recreational salmon fisheries in Washington’s ocean waters.
For more details about the options, visit the PFMC webpage at http://www.pcouncil.org/. Last year, the PFMC adopted recreational ocean fishing quotas of 64,000 chinook and 150,800 coho salmon.
This year, forecasters expect 380,000 Columbia River hatchery coho to return to the Washington coast, which is about half of last year’s forecast. Only 242,000 coho actually returned last year to the Columbia River, where some coho stocks are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Poor ocean conditions, such as the Pacific Ocean “blob” and warmer water temperatures, contributed to last year’s lower than expected return of coho.
Meanwhile, a robust return of Columbia River fall chinook salmon is expected back this year, including about 223,000 lower river hatchery fish, which traditionally have been the backbone of the recreational ocean chinook fishery.
In addition to the March 28 public hearing, several other meetings will take place later this month and in early April to discuss regional fisheries issues. The public can comment on the proposed ocean alternatives as well as on other proposed salmon fisheries through WDFW’s North of Falcon webpage at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.
A schedule of public meetings, as well as salmon run-size forecasts and more information about the salmon-season setting process can also be found on the webpage.