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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

March 2, 2010 at 5:18 PM

State Fish and Wildlife unveils salmon forecasts

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No Earth shattering news came out of the state Fish and Wildlife preseason salmon forecast meeting Tuesday (March 2) in Olympia, although a few items came to light that haven’t been touched on.

While anglers most likely won’t get a chance to fish for sockeye in Lake Washington this summer, it looks like the return should be much better than it had been over the past three years.

Fisheries managers say 123,654 sockeye are predicted to return to the huge urban watershed that has a 350,000 spawning escapement goal before anglers can go fishing.

“We are fairly optimistic about Lake Washington sockeye, and it is better than in past years (but) we are looking at that number cautiously,” said Val Tribble, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.

The last time a sockeye fishery happened in Lake Washington was 2006 when 458,005 fish returned. Since then it has dropped to 60,117 in 2007, 33,629 in 2008 and 21,718 last year.

The Upper Columbia River sockeye run looks to be strong for the third year in a row with a predicted return of 125,200, of which 14,300 are expected to return to Wenatchee River and 110,300 to the Okanogan River this summer.

Wild coho returns to Puget Sound also look good this summer with 95,800 forecasted back to the Skagit River; 25,800 to the Stillaguamish; and 99,400 to the Snohomish River.

“It looks like a pretty good run of wild coho,” said John Long, a state Fish and Wildlife statewide salmon manager.

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Another place of concern although it now appears that work is being made to try and resolve the issue is the Puget Sound Chinook Management plan that is set to expire on April 30, 2010.

Phil Anderson, the director for state Fish and Wildlife says both the state and tribes are working hard to get a plan submitted to NOAA Fisheries.

When the plan expires May 1 both the state and tribe are expected to have an interim plan in place and hopefully approved by NOAA Fisheries so user groups will be able to fish from May through August until a final decision is made.

On the Puget Sound chinook forecast front the South Puget Sound hatchery return is 97,400 compared to 93,000 last year.

The Nooksack/Samish hatchery chinook return is 30,300 compared to 23,000 last year. The Skagit River is not expected to open this summer for chinook fishing like last year as the wild fish return is 13,000 compared to 23,400 last year.

The Snohomish wild chinook forecast is 9,900 compared to 8,400 last year, and the hatchery run is 5,600 compared to 4,900 last year.

Salmon anglers on the Washington coast will be delighted with the expected strong return of chinook, but fisheries managers say the difficulty will accessing those while we expect a somewhat modest coho return.

The Columbia River fall chinook preseason forecasts were released by state Fish and Wildlife, and the overall returns look to be fairly good.

Doug Milward, the head state Fish and Wildlife salmon manager for the coast says the coho forecast is OK and on par with what occurred in 2006.

This summer’s forecast is 405,000 coho compared to more than one-million that returned last year.

“It looks like the (catch quota) cap is 90,000 to 100,000 coho (off all of Washington’s coast),” Milward said. “It would be nice if we could figure out a way to keep places like Ilwaco open through mid-August, but it is too early to know what will happen.”

The Lower River hatchery chinook forecast of 90,6000 is the best return since 2004, and slightly greater than the 10-year average. The 2009 actual return was 76,700 compared to forecast of 88,800.

The Lower River wild chinook forecast of 9,700 is slightly improved over last three years, but below 10-year average. The 2009 actual return was 7,500 compared to forecast of 8,500.

The Bonneville Pool hatchery chinook forecast of 169,000 is the best return since 2004, and much greater than the 10-year average. The 2009 return of jacks was a record high. The age-three chinook are 91-percent of total forecast. The 2009 actual return was 49,000 compared to forecast of 59,300.

The Upriver Bright chinook forecast of 310,800 is the best return since 2004. It is a strong return and greater than the 10-year average. The 2009 return of jacks was the highest in 23 years. The age-three chinook are 42-percent of total forecast. The 2009 actual return was 212,000 compared to forecast of 259,900.

The Bonneville Upriver Bright chinook forecast of 30,300 is slightly less than the 2009 actual return, and 69-percent of the 10-year average. The 2009 actual return was 39,000 compared to forecast of 50,000.

The Pool Upriver Bright chinook forecast of 42,300 is similar to the 10-year average. The 2009 actual return was 34,100 compared to forecast of 44,400.

The total forecast of 652,700 Columbia River fall chinook is greater than the 10-year average, and much greater than the 2009 actual return.

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Two other popular late summer chinook fisheries are the Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor areas.

This summer 31,100 hatchery chinook are expected back to Willapa Bay compared to 34,800 last year.

The Grays Harbor chinook forecast hasn’t been finalized yet, although Long reported at the meeting that it is a little above the spawning escapement goal, but not by much.

Here is the news release state Fish and Wildlife released this afternoon after the public meeting:

Forecasts for strong chinook salmon returns to the Columbia River this summer could lead to improved fishing in the river and Washington’s ocean waters. Fishing prospects also are looking up for some rivers in Puget Sound, where coho salmon are expected to return in increased numbers.

Those and other preseason salmon forecasts developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty Indian tribes were released today at a public meeting in Olympia.

Forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon mark the starting point for developing 2010 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings over the next few weeks to discuss potential fishing opportunities before finalizing seasons in mid-April.

Phil Anderson, WDFW director, said fishery managers face new challenges this year in designing fishing seasons that not only meet conservation goals for salmon, but also minimize impacts on depressed rockfish populations in Puget Sound.

“It’s important that we take an ecosystem approach to managing our fisheries,” Anderson said. “We must take into account and minimize impacts to other species.”

Anderson said WDFW staff will work closely with tribal co-managers and constituents to develop fisheries that meet conservation objectives and provide fishing opportunities on abundant runs of wild and hatchery fish.

To help meet those goals, fishery managers will consider adding new mark-selective fisheries, which allow anglers to catch and keep abundant hatchery salmon but require that they release wild salmon, said Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for WDFW.

“We’ve implemented several new selective fisheries for salmon in Puget Sound the last few years, and we will look at other areas in the Sound where these fisheries would be appropriate,” Pattillo said.

Fishery managers also are considering recreational selective fisheries for hatchery chinook in Washington’s ocean waters, where selective fisheries for hatchery coho salmon already have been in place for a decade, Pattillo said.

“Selective fisheries for hatchery chinook in the ocean would help us meet our conservation objectives while allowing for meaningful recreational fishing opportunities this summer,” Pattillo said.

Nearly 653,000 fall chinook are forecasted to make their way along the Washington coast to the Columbia River this season, about 234,000 more chinook than last year’s actual return. The increased numbers represent abundant returns to Spring Creek and other Columbia River hatcheries, which traditionally have been the backbone of the recreational ocean chinook fishery, said Pattillo.

While the chinook forecast is up, the Columbia River coho return is expected to be down this year. Nearly 390,000 Columbia River coho are projected to make their way along Washington’s coast this year, compared to one million coho in 2009.

“The Columbia River coho return is down compared to last year’s run, which was one of the largest returns we’ve seen in the last decade,” Pattillo said. “But there should still be decent coho fishing opportunities in the ocean and the Columbia River this year.”

In Puget Sound, coho returns are expected to be up this year. Nearly 614,000 coho are forecast to return to Puget Sound streams, about 31,000 more fish than last year’s forecast. That could translate into good coho fishing in several North Sound rivers, including the Skagit, Snohomish and Stillaguamish, said Pattillo.

Summer/fall chinook salmon returns to Puget Sound are expected total about 226,000 fish, slightly higher than last year’s projection. Pattillo said chinook fisheries in Puget Sound likely will be similar to last year.

However, a repeat of last year’s Skagit River summer chinook fishery is unlikely this season because of projected low chinook returns to the river, he said.

Meanwhile, another strong fall chum salmon return is forecasted for Hood Canal and other areas of Puget Sound, where the run is expected to total about 1.3 million fish. But a Lake Washington sockeye fishery is unlikely this year. The sockeye forecast is about 123,000, well below the minimum return of 350,000 sockeye needed to consider opening a recreational fishery in the lake.

State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 6-12 in Sacramento 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.

Additional public meetings have been scheduled in March and April to discuss regional fisheries 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 2010 salmon seasons.

This year’s regional and North of Falcon meetings are set for:

March 11 – First coastal fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main St., Montesano.

March 15 – Columbia River fisheries discussion, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., YWCA Community Room, 3609 Main Street, Vancouver, Wash.

March 16 – First North of Falcon meeting, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., General Administration Building Auditorium, 210 11th Ave. S.W., Olympia.

March 23 – Eastern Washington North of Falcon discussion, 6 p.m.-9 p.m., Benton PUD, 2721 W. 10th Ave. Kennewick.

March 24 – Second coastal fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Raymond Elks Lodge, 326 Third St., Raymond.

March 25 – Puget Sound commercial fisheries discussion, 10 a.m.-noon, WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.

March 25 – Puget Sound recreational fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.

March 30 – Final Grays Harbor/Willapa Bay fisheries discussion, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia.

April 6 – Second North of Falcon meeting, 9 a.m.- 4 p.m., Embassy Suites Hotel, 20610 44th Ave. West, Lynnwood.

The PFMC is expected to adopt the final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 10-15 meeting in Portland, Oregon. The 2010 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters will be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.

(Photos by Mark Yuasa, Steve Kesling and Keith Robbins)

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