Projected poor returns of several salmon stocks are expected to limit fishing opportunities in Washington’s waters this year, according to a Department of Fish and Wildlife forecast released at a public meeting Tuesday.
Kyle Adicks, state salmon policy lead, said numerous salmon runs are expected to be lower this year compared to last season, including several key chinook and coho stocks. As a result, a number of fishing opportunities from Puget Sound south to the Columbia River will likely be restricted.
“We will definitely have to be creative in developing salmon fisheries this year,” Adicks said. “I encourage people to get involved and provide input on what they see as the priorities for this season’s fisheries.”
A lower return of coho and chinook to the Columbia River, combined with a poor forecast of coho returning to the Queets River, will likely mean further restrictions to Washington’s ocean salmon fishery as compared to last year, Adicks said.
This year’s forecast of about 112,500 hatchery chinook expected to return to the Columbia River is down more than 50 percent from last year’s forecast. Those hatchery chinook, known as “tules,” are the backbone of the recreational ocean fishery.
Roughly 236,500 “upriver brights” are expected to return to areas of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam. That is down more than 50 percent from the most recent 10-year average.
An estimated 286,200 coho are projected to return to the Columbia River this year, down nearly 100,000 fish from the 2017 forecast. About 279,300 actually returned last year to the river, where some coho stocks are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Some salmon fisheries in the Columbia River will likely be more restrictive than last year, Adicks said.
The expected return of 557,150 Puget Sound coho is down about 6 percent from the 10-year average. Very low returns to certain areas, such as the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Snohomish River, could limit salmon fishing in those regions.
While the 2018 forecast of 227,400 Puget Sound hatchery chinook is up 38 percent from last year, continued low returns of listed wild chinook to some rivers will limit fisheries this year.
Adicks said the low salmon returns are the result of a variety of factors, including another year of poor ocean conditions. 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.
Tuesday’s forecast meeting marks the starting point for crafting 2018 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. The annual salmon season-setting process is known as “North of Falcon.” Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through early April before finalizing seasons later that month.
“We’ll have a better idea of how restrictive Puget Sound salmon fisheries will be this year when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides its guidance in March,” Adicks said.
A 10-year management plan for harvesting Puget Sound chinook is being developed and will likely be submitted in late summer. More information on the plan can be found on the department’s website at wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/chinook/.