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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

April 6, 2011 at 2:46 PM

Plenty of chinook will be out in the ocean pasture, but catching them could be limited

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The salmon fishing seasons will be decided at the Pacific Salmon Fishery Management Council meetings in San Mateo, Calif. next week, and it could come with a letdown for Pacific Northwest ocean salmon anglers.

“One of the things all anglers wish for each season is more fish,” said Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association. “Killer whales also want more fish. Commercial fishermen want more fish and the tribes want more fish.”

“This will be a year in ocean fisheries where more fish is not necessarily good once you understand what is happening, and something is going to happen on the way to this party or dance,” Floor said. “And what I mean is Alaska and Canada are going to unload on our wagon train of fish, and that is definitely not a good thing.”

The news brewing so far is how the increased chinook catches up in Canada and southeast Alaska will decrease chances for coastal anglers to take advantage of what is expected to be a run of more than 750,000 chinook, which falls in the top-five returns since after World War II.

In setting how many fish are alloted toward everyone’s piece of the pie is based on the Pacific Salmon Treaty’s computer generated formula that looks at all chinook run sizes in the Columbia River, and the entire West Coast.

Once those formulas are figured out it provides not only Washington, Oregon and California’s portion, but also Canada and southeast Alaska who are given percentage of those fish that are produced locally.

So the bigger chinook fishery this season by our friends to the north will affect the weaker chinook stocks in Washington, Oregon, and the Lower Columbia River. The chinook run that drives the ocean chinook fishery are the Lower Columbia Spring Creek wild tule chinook stocks that are predicted to be down this season.

“What we came up with in our meetings a month ago were based on assumptions of what Canada and Alaska were going to do, and the process at that point was not done yet,” said Mark Cedergreen, president of the Westport Charterboat Association and chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

“Then for everything we put out for our fisheries in the ocean and a lot in Puget Sound didn’t work anymore with those figures because (Canada and Alaska) were catching a larger amount of Upper Columbia fish, and that had a higher impact on our weaker wild chinook stocks,” Cedergreen said.

“Now we’re in the process of the give and take,” Cedergreen said. “If there are any fingers to be pointed at, then it looks like the U.S.-Canada Salmon Treaty isn’t working for us. We could very well be producing fish for Canada and Alaska, and getting nothing from it in return.”

NOAA fisheries had warned state Fish and Wildlife that fishing would be increasingly limited in 2011

State Fish and Wildlife fisheries managers expected a reduction of one percent going from a total allowable percentage of 38- down to 37-percent, which was difficult but yet manageable.

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Instead they found themselves with the one-percent reduction along with an additional 3.5-percent from the increase in Canadian and southeast Alaska fisheries, plus an additional 1-percent increase in fisheries south of Cape Falcon.

The reason for the increase in northern fisheries is the big forecast for Fraser River and Upper Columbia River bright chinook that don’t hang around the Washington area, but surge up to the north according to Cedergreen.

Here was the allowable catch in 2010: 221,800 in southeast Alaska; 152,100 in northern British Columbia; and 143,700 off West Coast Vancouver Island.

Here is the allowable catch in 2011: 294,800; 182,400; and 196,800. Additional catch totals in 2011: 73,000; 30,300; and 53,100.

“Is this year an anomaly? Probably, but it is hard to say,” Cedergreen said. “One person I talked to put it best by saying: “I don’t understand when we are the ones producing the fish down here then why are we last on the list to get the benefits from them.”

Cedergreen summed it up by saying: “One could say it is like an apple farmer raising the apples, and paying to fertilize them. Then having someone else to come in and take them for free.”

“Eventually we’ll end up with an ocean salmon fishing season down here similar to last year, but not have the opportunity to liberalize them like we did last year,” Cedergreen said. “So this is where we’re at, and nobody is happy. The only fishermen that are happy are those who live down here (in the Pacific Northwest) that fish up in southeast Alaska.”

The chinook option Cedergreen says they are looking at right now is 60,000 chinook shared between the sport and nontribal commercial fishermen.

“That number on the recreational side is not a lot less than what we actually caught all of last year, but we had plenty of buffer in the fishery to plan seasons, and didn’t have to worry that much about closing earlier,” Cedergreen said. “This year it will be harder to say how long it will last.”

Last year on the coast only 57 percent of the 67,200 coho and 74.4 percent of the 61,000 chinook quotas were caught during the entire season.

“For the average person coming down to the coast this summer will have a great opportunity and fishing will be good,” Cedergreen said. “The coho situation will be good, and we don’t expect any great increase in catch per unit effort for coho, but for chinook it should be good.”

On the other hand, Cedergreen points out that chinook encountered off the coast this summer will be the larger four- and five-year old kings.

“I don’t expect any big surprises between now and when the meetings and seasons are finally set down in California,” said Cedergreen who says the ocean fishing start date will fall around June 26.

As of now it looks like Columbia River sport fisheries will be faced with a similar situation as those on the coast to meet the Endangered Species Act limits for the threatened wild tule chinook stocks.

That means reduced season lengths at Buoy-10 and the Lower Columbia River mainstem below Bonneville Dam compared to last year.

The early word is that the Buoy-10 chinook fishery could close by Aug. 28 compared to last year when it closed on Sept. 1.

Sport fisheries aren’t the only one taking the heat, and commercial fisheries in the ocean and the Columbia River will more restricted in 2011.

OCEAN SPORT SALMON FISHING OPTIONS:

Option one is the most liberal sport quota with 52,000 chinook and 79,800 hatchery-marked coho (only those with a missing adipose fin may be kept); option two is 42,000 and 67,200; and option three is 32,000 and 54,600.

In option one, the season would begin June 4 with a mark-selective fishery for hatchery chinook at Westport (Area 2), La Push (3) and Neah Bay (4). In Ilwaco (1), the season would begin June 11. The selective fishery would be open every day with a two-salmon daily limit through June 25 or until the 12,000 quota is achieved.

Neah Bay and La Push would be open daily from June 26 to Sept. 18 or until the quota is achieved (La Push would also have a sub-quota fishery in late September); Westport would be open Sundays to Thursdays from June 26 to Sept. 18 or until the quota is achieved; and Ilwaco would be open daily from June 26 to Sept. 30 or until the quota is achieved. Daily limit is two salmon. In Areas 2, 3 and 4, anglers would also be allowed to retain two additional pink salmon.

In option two, the season would begin June 11 with a mark-selective fishery for hatchery chinook in all ocean areas. The fishery would be open every day with a two-salmon daily limit through June 25 in Area 1, and through June 30 in Areas 2, 3 and 4 or until the 12,000 quota is reached.

Neah Bay and La Push would be open daily from July 1 to Sept. 18 or until the quota is achieved (La Push would also have a sub-quota fishery in late September); Westport would be open Sundays to Thursdays from July 3 to Sept. 18 or until the quota is achieved; and Ilwaco would be open daily from June 26 to Sept. 30 or until the quota is achieved. Anglers would be allowed to retain one chinook as part of a two-salmon daily limit. Anglers also would be allowed one additional pink salmon daily in Areas 2, 3 and 4.

In option three, the fisheries would begin for hatchery chinook and hatchery coho only. Those would start June 24 in Neah Bay and La Push; June 26 in Westport; and July 3 in Ilwaco. Wild chinook retention would begin in late July.

Neah Bay and La Push would be open Tuesdays to Saturdays from June 24 to Sept. 18 or until quota is achieved (La Push would also have a sub quota fishery in late September); Westport would be open Sundays to Thursdays from June 26 to Sept. 18 or until the quota is achieved; and Ilwaco would be open from July 3 to Sept. 30 or until the quota is achieved. At Ilwaco, fishing would be open daily July 3-31 and Sept. 1-30, and Sundays to Thursdays in August.

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Puget Sound appears to be status quo

In Puget Sound, the sport salmon advisory board has been hard at work keeping what was maintained last season on the table and it appears that will be pretty much the same along with a few added caveats.

In general Puget Sound the chinook situation for 2011 is generally better, due to the introduction of marked selective fishing (fishing only for healthy stocks of hatchery chinook with a missing adipose fin indicating they are of hatchery origin).

Virtually all of Puget Sound chinook fisheries are hatchery-marked driven with one a few winter fisheries that allow anglers to keep any chinook.

“There is one big change that could happen, and it is more winter fishing time in the Port Angeles area for hatchery marked chinook,” Floor said. “That would make the package this year a little bigger, and so in that sense we’ve gained ground versus losing ground.”

Other positives this year will be the millions of pink salmon migrating into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. Another on the negotiation table is a sport fish exclusion zone from Shilshole Bay up to the Edmonds oil docks, although the commercial sector isn’t showing much movement on that one.

Coho numbers are also up in Puget Sound, and the total forecast is around one-million fish, which should create some good late summer and fall fishing in local waters.

“We should see more coho in recent years, and chinook fisheries are status quo,” Floor said.

The only downer this summer are the Green River chinook stock isn’t expected to meet spawning escapement goals, which could mean no sport fisheries in Elliott Bay or the Green River.

(Photo taken by Seattle Times staff)

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