Salmon managers will try to eke out fishing options

Forecasts for Puget Sound salmon runs call for lower returns this year compared to last year, but officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are emphasizing “promising” chinook fishing off Washington’s coast and Columbia River.

Each year, sport fishers line the banks of the Skokomish River as they try to catch the prized chinook salmon. / Kitsap Sun file photo

Preseason forecasts were released yesterday, launching the North of Falcon Process, which involves state and tribal salmon managers working together to set sport, commercial and tribal fisheries. Federal biologists and regulators keep watch over the negotiations to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

For a complete schedule of meetings leading up to final decisions the first week of April, go to the WDFW’s North of Falcon page.

With regard to fishing opportunities, Doug Milward, ocean salmon fishery manager for the agency, had this to say in yesterday’s news release:

“It’s still early in the process, but we will likely have an ocean salmon fishery similar to what we have seen the last two years, when we had an abundance of chinook in the ocean but low numbers of hatchery coho.”

In Puget Sound, total coho returns are predicted to be 732,000 fish, a 25-percent drop from last year’s forecast of 981,216. The forecast for hatchery coho is actually a little higher than last year, but biologists are predicting a 39-percent reduction in the number of wild coho. Selective fishing for marked hatchery fish could help maintain sport fishing in Puget Sound. See Washington Coho Forecasts (PDF 100 kb).

For chinook, about 224,000 summer/fall fish are expected to return to Puget Sound, about 20,000 less than last year’s forecast. Most are hatchery fish.

Steve Thiesfeld, Puget Sound salmon manager for WDFW, says fisheries are likely to be limited to times and places to allow people to catch hatchery chinook while protecting low runs of wild chinook coming back to Skagit, Snohomish, Stillaguamish and Green (Duwamish) rivers. The wild Puget Sound chinook are listed as a “threatened” species. See 2012 Puget Sound Summer/Fall Chinook Preseason Forecasts (PDF 36 kb).

For fall chum, the forecast for this year is 932,000 fish, with 427,000 of those in Hood Canal. That compares to 1.2 million returning in 2010, with Hood Canal seeing 416,000 chum. (Those are post-season counts; the forecasts were slightly higher.)

We compare even-numbered years to previous even-numbered years and odd-numbered years to previous odd-numbered years, because chum seem to decline during odd-numbered years when pink salmon are around. The theory is they compete for similar habitat.

Last year, the fall chum estimate was 971,000, with Hood Canal making up 352,000 of that. Actual returns have not yet been calculated.

The Hood Canal run of fall chum is dominated by hatchery fish at a ratio of about 3-1. For Puget Sound as a whole, wild chum outnumber hatchery fish: about 541,000 wild to about 391,000 hatchery fish listed in this year’s forecast.

Hood Canal also contains an early run of chum that return in late August and September, a run that nearly went extinct in the 1980s. Salmon managers are working to restore Hood Canal summer chum, a threatened species. One protective measure has been to delay tribal harvest of coho in Hood Canal to limit summer chum that may be caught incidentally. Check out my story from a conference last summer, Kitsap Sun, July 1, 2011, or a series I wrote in 2003.

If you are into fishing, Seattle Times reporter Mark Yuasa looks at the prospects for sport fishers in a column he wrote for today’s newspaper.

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