Total returns of coho salmon to Puget Sound this year are
expected to be significantly higher than last year, and that should
help smooth negotiations between state and tribal salmon managers
working to establish this year’s fishing seasons.
But critically low runs of coho to the Skagit and Stillaguamish
rivers in Northern Puget Sound could limit fishing opportunities in
other areas, as managers try to reduce fishing pressure on coho
making their way back to those rivers.
In any case, both state and tribal managers say they are
confident that they can avoid the kind of deadlock over coho they
found themselves in last year, when a failure to reach agreement
delayed sport fishing seasons and threatened to cancel them
altogether. See reporter Tristan Baurick’s stories in the Kitsap
May 4 and
“We’re in a much better situation than we were last year,” Ryan
Lothrop, a salmon manager with Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife, told a large gathering of sport and commercial fishermen
yesterday in Olympia.
I missed the annual trek to Olympia this year to meet with state
and tribal salmon managers, recreational and commercial fishermen
and others involved in setting fishing seasons. The event, held in
March, is both a reunion and the official start of some serious
talks about salmon.
I’ve always enjoyed the discussions about the number of various
salmon stocks expected to return to diverse areas of Puget Sound,
the Washington Coast and the Columbia River. Years ago, I observed
much more horse-trading — or rather salmon-trading — as experts
made decisions about how far inland the fish should be allowed to
swim before being caught.
Saving enough fish to make it back to the streams to spawn has
always been the goal of the negotiating process, known as “North of
Falcon” — so named because the discussions are focused on an area
north of Cape Falcon in Oregon. I have to say, however, that the
discussions began to change after Puget Sound chinook were declared
“threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and conservation
measures became even more important.
Chinook recovery has not been going well, even after major
reforms in harvest management, hatchery operations and habitat
restoration. So the need to protect the salmon from fishing
pressures grows ever greater and the opportunities to catch fish in
particular areas continue to decline.
Such was the case this year, when salmon managers decided to
forego fishing for chinook in the popular fishing area known as
Area 10 between Bremerton and Seattle. Other salmon can still be
caught there, but all chinook — even those reared in a hatchery —
must be released.
I was not around to observe how the negotiations went this year,
having retired from the staff of the Kitsap Sun in October. (I’m
now doing some in-depth reporting for the Sun and currently
covering the Legislature for InvestigateWest.) It appears that
recreational and commercial fishers believe that the salmon
managers could have carved out some fishing seasons in the area
without risking survival of the species.
“We fought hard just to keep what we had last year, and then to
get the rug pulled out from under us is totally incomprehensible,”
said Tony Floor of the Northwest Marine Trade Association, quoted
in a story by
Seattle Times reporter Mark Yuasa.
“With increasing (licensing) fees and the declining fishing
opportunities, it makes it really difficult,” said Karl Brackmann,
a Puget Sound Anglers board member, quoted in a story by
Kitsap Sun reporter Tristan Baurick.
Even though sophisticated computer models try to determine how
many salmon will be coming back to a given area, it’s still a
guess. Deciding how many fish can be safely caught is always a
judgment call. I guess this year managers have concerns not only
for the wild chinook but also the marked hatchery chinook. The
hatchery chinook, marked by removing the adipose fin, are normally
considered free for the taking as long as unmarked wild chinook are
Lorraine Loomis, chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries
Commission, said fishing reductions were especially painful for
tribal and state managers this year, but the cutbacks were
necessary. Salmon returns were poor last year, she said, and
managers were concerned about ocean conditions and a low snowpack
that could lead to increased stream temperatures.
“Because of these conditions we may see an increase in
pre-spawning mortality of salmon this year, which required the
tribal and state co-managers to be extra cautious in setting
seasons,” Loomis said in a
Anglers will still have good opportunities to catch coho, pink
and Skagit River sockeye, according to Ryan Lothrop, Puget Sound
recreational fishery manager for the Washington Department of Fish
“Fishing for pink salmon should be excellent in Puget Sound,
including in Hood Canal and Dungeness Bay,” Lothrop said in a
For details on the fishing seasons, check out the North of Falcon
webpage, which will be updated as new information becomes