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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

August 4, 2011 at 10:06 AM

Tribal test fishery chinook catches in Elliott Bay have been good, but optimism is met with caution

When state Fish and Wildlife and co-tribal managers finalized fishing seasons at the annual North of Falcon meetings in April they came to the conclusion that inner Elliott Bay would be closed this summer for recreational chinook fishing to protect Green River naturally spawning chinook, which were expected to return in low numbers.

Word in recent days has been buzzing in the sport angler world that there could be an emergency opening after Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribal fishermen during their first two once-a-week test fisheries had seen improved catches in the bay that overlooks the Seattle skyline.

During the first tribal test fishery on July 20 they caught 53 chinook, and then on July 27 they tallied another 122 fish.

Last year, the first week’s test fishery landed five chinook, and the following week it was seven. In 2009, the test fishery also generated some very small numbers of 20 or less chinook in each test netting period. During those years, inner-bay was also open to sport fishing for chinook.

“The tribal catches were up a lot from the last couple of years, but it is hard to interpret what that means and to put it in perspective,” said Pat Pattillo, the salmon policy coordinator for state Fish and Wildlife.

In past years, state Fish and Wildlife had an agreement with the tribes to open a full fishery in the bay if the first three once-a-week nights of test fishing generated 100 chinook or more.

So now, Pattillo says they’ve surpassed that minimum mark in just the first two weeks of test fishing.

“We expect them to do better on the third night, and have averaged 300 fish on that last night,” Pattillo said. “We’ve talked about this with both tribes in North of Falcon, and we all agree of course that we’re still really concerned even though test fishing showed otherwise.”

Pattillo says they know that over the course of the past decade there hasn’t been a good relationship with spawning escapement and the tribal test fisheries.

“There are a number of reasons, and the most reasonable is that some of these fish could be just passing through the bay, and they’re not destined for the Green,” Pattillo said. “We have recovered tagged fish caught in Elliott Bay that originated from Canada, and it’s not unusual to see a lot of non-local origin fish in that mixed stock fishery.”

Another difference this summer is that there is no sport fishery occurring in the inner-bay at the same time, which has been the pattern for several years.

“Some of those fish would be removed from (the sport fishery), and you start to see the test fishery being affected by the sport fishery in place,” Pattillo said

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