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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

January 26, 2015 at 10:01 AM

San Juan Island salmon fishery could close much sooner than expected, and a decision is likely by Monday afternoon

1624462_10203415090846783_1288739993_nA firestorm is just on the horizon as state Fish and Wildlife has a conference call Monday (Jan. 26) at 11 a.m. to decide the fate of closing the San Juan Island salmon fishery.

The decision comes on the heels of state fisheries reducing the daily catch limit from two-hatchery chinook to one back on Jan. 12 to control in their words “the fishery’s impacts on ‘wild fish’ stocks of concern.”

Word is swirling like a strong tidal pool that the island fishery – also known as Marine Catch Area 7 – could close as soon as this coming Friday, Jan. 30 or Saturday, Jan. 31.

If this happens what was supposed to be a five month-long season ending on April 30, will only turn into a brief two-month fishery that has been very productive since it opened on Dec. 1.

This comes at a rough time since the sold-out Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 5-7 won’t happen as well as the Anacortes Salmon Derby on March 21-22. Each of these two derbies lure thousands of anglers and generate thousands of dollar in revenue to the small communities surrounding the islands.

“We’re going to look at this really hard going into the North of Falcon (salmon season setting process), and see what can be done to stop it in the future,” said Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association in Seattle and state Fish and Wildlife sport fishing advisory board member.

The decision has many anglers in a bind since the inland marine seasons are set on guidelines with angler encounters of wild or unmarked fish.

What makes this difficult to manage on a case-by-case area is that winter chinook are feeders, and move from area-to-area (eight total marine catch areas from Sekiu to Olympia).

On any given season the fishing could better in one area from another because baitfish schools are constantly moving around in Puget Sound, and the salmon hunting for them will go to where the majority of herring, smelt or candlefish reside. It is not uncommon to find one chinook in one area one day and then have it move to another by the following day.

Another issue surrounding this has been a push by the state Fish and Wildlife sport fishing advisory board to create the winter seasons into an aggregate type similar to what is used on the coast during summer salmon fisheries.

San Juan Island anglers must release all unmarked chinook and may keep only those with a missing clipped adipose fin, which identifies it as a hatchery fish.

A percentage of released wild chinook are not expected to survive, and are counted toward the management guideline of 7,775 chinook encounters in the San Juan Islands.

Preliminary estimates earlier this month by state Fish and Wildlife showed anglers had kept or released 4,060 chinook in the San Juan Islands through Dec. 28.

 

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