April 11, 2018

PORTLAND – This year’s salmon season setting process had a totally different vibe and there was a feeling of unity between all user groups despite the usual difference in opinions over how the whole pie of sport, tribal and non-tribal fisheries was divided.

It was a sure sign of progress in a process that has long been a bitter battle filled with arguments, cultural indifference and what seemed like everyone was fishing for that “last salmon” dating back to Boldt Decision in 1975.

“This year we’ve been able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our co-managers and all those involved on objectives during this difficult process,” said Ron Warren, the head Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) salmon policy coordinator. “This renewed understanding has brought us all closer together and during the meetings nobody got angry. Nobody flipped out. And it was just a professional tough conversation.”

Lorraine Loomis, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission also pointed out that “a bright spot in this year’s salmon season planning process was a renewed commitment by Indian and non-Indian fishermen to work together for the future of salmon and salmon fishing.”

“No fisherman wants to catch the last salmon,” Loomis said. “We know that the ongoing loss of habitat, a population explosion of hungry seals and sea lions and the needs of endangered southern resident killer whales are the real challenges facing us today. We must work together if we are going to restore salmon to sustainable levels.”

The state’s 2018-19 salmon fishing seasons – developed by the WDFW, treaty tribal co-managers, federal fishery agencies and representatives from the sport and commercial fishing sectors – were crafted this past week during the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (PFMC) meeting in Portland, Oregon.

Washington anglers can expect another season of woes with a decline in ocean salmon fisheries and for chinook from Strait of Juan de Fuca clear into Puget Sound, but a glimmer of hope lies within an increased opportunity for coho in Puget Sound.

“Back in 2015 and in the years that followed when we started to close our rivers and marine areas for coho fishing it really hurt,” Warren said. “To have made those difficult choices back then, we are now seeing the benefits and it felt good at table during these meetings to finally get them back for anglers to enjoy. We may not have done the same for chinook, but every year brings new challenges and we can only hope that in the future those will also come into play by the sacrifices we make today.”

In recent years, unfavorable environmental conditions, such as warm ocean water and drought, have drastically reduced the number of salmon returning to Washington’s waters despite slight gains for some runs.

As what commonly happens annually in this salmon fishing season setting process termed the “North of Falcon” is the undeniable element of surprise.

While all parties worked toward achieving cuts and protection on “key stocks” such as Nooksack early-returning chinook, it was this year’s “white elephant in the room” of mid-Hood Canal chinook that created some last-minute issues. Mid-Hood Canal chinook have been an apparent issue for a good number of previous years.

The challenge of mid-Hood Canal chinook continued into Tuesday as fishery managers and fishing constituents worked toward finding ways of healing the remaining deficit to meet this stock’s management objective, and potential cuts to sport fisheries in Puget Sound and ocean fisheries considered to address this problem.

Catch inputs for summer sport fisheries in northern Puget Sound and south-central Puget Sound (Marine Catch Areas 9 and 11) would be reduced without changing the seasons, by eliminating the so-called “performance adjustments” that have increased the catches or encounters of chinook in recent years and reduced the risk that those fisheries could require in-season adjustment.

Originally the northern Puget Sound summer fishery was modeled with a catch limit of 7,300 hatchery chinook and was trimmed to 5,563 fish – a similar figure to the 2017 quota – and was expected to last one-month when it opens in July. Modeling by WDFW staff suggested this change would likely result in a shorter 2018 season given the forecast of increased hatchery chinook in the area this summer.

In south-central Puget Sound a performance adjustment reduces the catch from 6,691 hatchery chinook to 4,147. WDFW staff did not conclude the risk of an in-season closure was significantly elevated.

No change was purposed for the central Puget Sound (Area 10) summer hatchery chinook fishery that would also start on July 16 with a cap of 4,743 hatchery chinook. There will also be a coho only directed fishery in June.

While inner-Elliott Bay saw a brief three-day summer king opportunity in 2017, this coming summer the popular fishery in front of the Emerald City will remain closed.

A drive to have the Elliott Bay summer sport chinook fishery was supported by the Muckleshoot Tribe who understand the value to sport anglers. Both WDFW and tribal parties assured the Green River will achieve conservation targets and get enough chinook back to hatchery facilities.

In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Sekiu (Area 5) will open for summer hatchery king fishing from July 1 through Aug. 15, but Area 6 won’t

open until July 3 – a reduction of three days compared to initial plans – and would switch to non-retention of chinook in the last two weeks of August and remain open for coho.

The Area 5 winter chinook fishery will be open mid-February of 2019 through April 30 while Area 6 is open Feb. 1 through April 15.

For the summer sport king fishery in San Juan Islands (Area 7), the month of September has been changed to require release of chinook while remaining open to coho retention.

The good news for Puget Sound is an extended coho fishing season – something that hasn’t happened for more than three years.

This includes a hatchery coho season in northern Puget Sound from July through September, and a non-select coho fishery from June through mid-November in central Puget Sound.

There will also be some late-summer and early-fall coho fisheries in Areas 5 6, 7, 8-1, 8-2, 11, 12 and 13.

Ocean salmon fisheries will see a reduction

WDFW and Pacific Fishery Management Council developed a more curtailed ocean salmon fishing option from Neah Bay to Ilwaco due to a downward trend in 2018 for some chinook and coho runs including a poor forecast for Queets wild coho and Lower Columbia River “tule” chinook stocks.

“This year’s package includes some very restrictive seasons in both commercial and recreational fisheries along the entire coast. Low abundances of chinook and coho are in part due to the poor ocean conditions the adult fish faced as juveniles when they entered the ocean, and poor in-river habitat and water conditions. Tribal, commercial, and recreational fishers continue to bear a large part of the burden of conservation,” said Pacific Fishery Management Council Chairman Phil Anderson.

The total allowable ocean sport catch is 27,500 chinook down from 45,000 last year; and 42,000 hatchery coho, which is the same as last year.

A total Columbia River fall chinook forecast of 365,000 is about half of the 10-year average and falls below the 582,600 forecast and actual return of 475,900 last year.

The Columbia River chinook forecast is 112,500, which is down in 50 percent from last year.

Hatchery chinook known as “tule” and other lower river chinook stocks are the most prized sport fish and a driving force in ocean fisheries off Ilwaco, Westport and at Buoy 10 near the Columbia River mouth.

The “upriver bright” chinook return of 67,300 (53,100 last year) to Columbia above Bonneville Dam are also down more than 50 percent of the most recent 10-year average.

A forecast of 286,200 coho are forecast to return to Columbia River in 2018, which is down almost 100,000 fish from last year. About 279,300 actually returned last year where some coho stocks are listed on the Endangered Species Act.

The ocean sport seasons are as follows:

Ilwaco (Area 1) will be open daily from June 23 through Sept. 3 with a 21,000 hatchery coho and 8,000 chinook quota. Daily limit is two salmon and no more than one may be a chinook.

Westport (Area 2) will be open Sundays through Thursdays only from July 1 through Sept. 3 with 15,540 hatchery coho and 13,100 chinook quota. Daily limit is two salmon and no more than one may be a chinook.

La Push (Area 3) will be open daily June 23 through Sept. 3 with 1,090 hatchery coho and 1,500 chinook. Daily limit is two salmon.

Neah Bay (Area 4) will be open daily June 23 through Sept. 3 with 4,370 hatchery coho and 4,900 chinook. Daily limit is two salmon and no more than one may be a chinook. No chum can be retained beginning Aug. 1. Beginning Aug. 1, chinook non-retention east of Bonilla-Tatoosh line during council managed ocean fishery.

Buoy 10 opens Aug. 1 with expected catch of 25,000 hatchery coho in August and September.

All areas could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved.

For more information on this year’s salmon fisheries, visit WDFW’s webpage at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/. To view the tribal news release, go to https://nwifc.org/.

Other Puget Sound fisheries

The sockeye forecast of 35,002 to Baker Lake is strong enough to allow for both a lake fishery, open July 7 through Sept. 7 (three sockeye daily limit), and a fishery on Skagit River from Highway 536 to mouth of Gilligan Creek will be open June 16 through July 15.

The Skokomish River will remain closed to non-tribal fishing this year due to an ongoing dispute over the Skokomish Reservation boundary.

The Snohomish river system including the Skykomish and Snoqualmie will be open Sept. 16 for a coho directed fishery.

The Skykomish, a section of Skagit and Cascade rivers will also be open for hatchery chinook beginning June 1. The Nooksack River will be open for coho.

The east side of Whidbey Island (Marine Areas 8-1 and 8-2) will be open for coho in August and September. The areas will re-open to fishing for hatchery chinook in December.

South Sound freshwater anglers will have the opportunity to fish for coho in Minter Creek beginning Oct. 16. Strong hatchery chinook returns are expected to several south Sound rivers this year.

Southern Resident Killer Whales: The governor and NOAA Fisheries have instructed WDFW to take steps to help recover killer whales. In meeting conservation objectives for wild salmon, the co-managers are also limiting fisheries in areas where southern resident killer whales are known to feed. The adjustments will aid in minimizing boat presence and noise and decrease competition for chinook and other salmon in these areas critical to the declining whales.

Columbia River

The Buoy 10 salmon fishery will be open from Aug. 1 through Sept. 4 (Labor Day) with a daily limit of two salmon, only one of which can be a chinook. From Sept. 5 through Sept. 30, anglers will have a daily limit of two hatchery coho, but must release all chinook. From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, the fishery will be open for chinook and hatchery coho, with a daily limit of two adult salmon.

The summer season on the mainstem Columbia River from the Astoria-Megler Bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam will be open from June 22 through July 4 for hatchery (adipose fin-clipped) summer chinook. Bonneville Dam to Hwy. 395 near Pasco is open from June 16 through July 31. The daily limit will be two adult hatchery salmonids. All sockeye must be released.

Buoy 10 salmon fishery will be open from Aug. 1 through Aug. 24 for chinook retention.  The daily limit is one salmonid (chinook, hatchery coho or hatchery steelhead). From Aug. 25 through Dec. 31, anglers will have a daily limit of two salmonids, but chinook must be released and no more than one hatchery steelhead may be kept.

Rocky Point/Tongue Point line upstream to the Lewis River will be open from Aug. 1 through Sept. 2 for chinook retention. The daily limit is one adult salmonid. From Sept. 3 through Dec. 31, anglers will have a daily limit of two adult salmonids, but chinook must be released and no more than one hatchery steelhead may be kept.

Lewis River upstream to Bonneville Dam will be open Aug. 1 through Sept. 14 for chinook retention. The daily limit is one adult salmonid.  During Sept. 15 through Dec. 31, anglers will have a daily limit of two adult salmonids, but chinook must be released and no more than one hatchery steelhead may be kept.

Bonneville Dam upstream to the Hwy. 395 Bridge at Pasco will be open Aug. 1 through Dec. 31 with a daily limit of two adult salmonids with no more than one chinook and no more than one hatchery steelhead.

Sockeye, chum and jacks

Columbia River anglers are reminded that retention of sockeye and chum salmon is prohibited. Catch limits for jack salmon – salmon that return at a younger age – follow typical permanent regulations and will be listed in the 2018-19 pamphlet.