Managers begin to develop this year’s fishing seasons, complicated by expected low returns of wild chinook
OLYMPIA – Fishery managers estimate higher numbers of coho salmon will return to Washington’s waters in 2019 compared to last year, but expect low returns of wild chinook will again make setting fishing seasons a challenge.
Forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and pink salmon – developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty Indian tribes – were released Wednesday during a public meeting in Olympia.
The forecast meeting marks the starting point for crafting 2019 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. The annual process for setting salmon fisheries is known as “North of Falcon.” Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through early April before finalizing seasons later that month.
Kelly Susewind, WDFW director, said fishery managers will look to design fishing seasons that not only meet conservation goals for salmon but also minimize impacts on the region’s struggling southern resident killer whale population.
“In the coming weeks, we’ll be working with tribal co-managers and constituents to make sure that we meet our conservation objectives while providing fishing opportunities where possible,” Susewind said. “It’s complicated, but important work.”
The forecasts are based on varying environmental indicators, such as ocean conditions, as well as surveys of spawning salmon, and the number of juvenile salmon migrating to marine waters.
As in past years, salmon-fishing prospects in 2019 vary by area:
Columbia River: About 218,200 “upriver brights” are expected to return to areas of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam. That’s similar to the return in 2018 but down more than 50 percent from the most recent 10-year average.
An estimated 905,800 coho are projected to return to the Columbia River this year, an increase of 619,600 fish from the 2018 forecast. About 147,000 coho actually returned to the Columbia River last year.
Salmon fisheries in the Columbia River will likely be designed to harvest abundant coho stocks while protecting depleted chinook and “B-run” steelhead, which return to the Columbia and Snake river basins.
Washington’s ocean waters: Anglers should have more coho fishing opportunities in Washington’s ocean waters this summer compared to 2018, given higher numbers of coho projected to return to the Columbia River and to Washington’s coastal streams.
This year’s forecast of about 100,500 hatchery chinook to the lower Columbia River is down 12,000 fish from last year’s projected return. Those hatchery chinook – known as “tules” – are the backbone of the recreational ocean fishery.
Puget Sound: Increased returns of coho salmon should provide anglers with some good fishing opportunities including in areas in mid and south Sound, said Kyle Adicks, salmon fisheries policy lead for WDFW.
Roughly 670,200 wild and hatchery coho are expected to return to Puget Sound this year, up 15 percent of the 10-year average. However, the total forecast for wild and hatchery chinook is down slightly from 2018.
“We’re again expecting extremely low returns in key stocks such as Stillaguamish and mid-Hood Canal chinook, which will again limit salmon fishing opportunities,” Adicks said.
Meanwhile, this year’s run of pink salmon, which mostly return to Washington’s waters only in odd-numbered years, is expected to be 608,400 fish. That’s roughly 10 percent of the 10-year average of 5.7 million fish.
Southern resident killer whales
While developing fishing proposals, the department will consider the dietary needs of southern resident killer whales as well as ways to protect orcas from disruptions from fishing vessel traffic, Adicks said.
The declining availability of salmon – southern resident orcas’ primary prey – and disruptions from boating traffic have been linked to a downturn in the region’s orca population over the past 30 years.
WDFW is working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for orcas.
Public meetings and comment opportunities
A meeting schedule, salmon forecasts, and information about the salmon season-setting process are available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.
WDFW intends to livestream several public meetings, including those scheduled on March 19 and April 3. The department will provide links to those upcoming livestreams, as well as to the archived video from Wednesday’s forecast meeting, on the website listed above.
Upcoming meetings include:
- Ocean options: State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 7-12 in Vancouver, Wash., 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 three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.
- Regional discussions: Additional public meetings have been scheduled into April to discuss regional fishery 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 2019 salmon seasons.
- Final PFMC: The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 11-15 meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif. The 2018 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters is scheduled to be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.
Beginning in mid-March, fishery proposals will be posted on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/, where the public can submit comments electronically.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is the primary state agency tasked with preserving, protecting and perpetuating fish and wildlife and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing and hunting opportunities.