I just filed my story after sitting through this morning’s North of Falcon meeting. The state unveiled its forecasts for salmon runs at the meeting in Olympia.
Based on the numbers and what I heard, I would not expect local fishing seasons to change drastically for 2010. Ocean anglers should see a better chinook season thanks to strong Columbia River runs, but likely a shorter coho season because those numbers are down.
Here is the story I just filed:
South Sound anglers should this year see local salmon fishing seasons similar to 2009, with some exceptions.
As for ocean fisheries, the focus will be on chinook salmon this year because of a sharp decline in coho runs.
That was the general assessment offered Tuesday by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Staffers offered preseason run forecasts for Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean. The forecasts – developed by state and tribal fish biologists – will be used to shape recreational, commercial and tribal salmon fishing seasons, a six-week process that will conclude at the April 11-15 meeting of the Pacific Fishery Management Council in Portland.
“I think we’re looking a season very similar to last year in terms of season structure,” said Pat Pattillo, special assistant to department director and the state’s lead salmon season negotiator.
“I’m somewhat optimistic we’ll be able to hang on to the seasons we’ve had,” he said. “We’ve created these fisheries with pretty low impact on protected wild stocks.”
Fish managers must deal with constraints imposed by the 1999 listing of Puget Sound wild chinook as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Fishing is allowed to occur as long as managers keep impacts on wild fish within established limits.
Constraints being laid out in a new Puget Sound chinook management plan might have an impact on the popular Skokomish River fishery, Pattillo said.
He said higher average catch rates of about one fish per rod would exceed the proposed 50 percent cap in the proposed plan. The current cap is 60 percent.
The department will try to structure the season to allow anglers to catch more hatchery fish, but he cautioned, there might have to be reduced fishing opportunities to stay under the 50 percent cap.
There could also be additional closures on the Puyallup River to avoid safety issues that arose last season. In one incident, several recreational anglers were trapped in a tribal net and swept downriver.
“Any new closures would be mostly safety driven,” Pattillo said. “The tribe hasn’t felt it’s had an opportunity to fish unimpeded.”
Pattillo understands any closure would not be popular with sport anglers. The state closed the Puyallup for two days last August to lessen the competition for room on the river. A lesser alternative, he said, would be for the tribe to close its lands on the lower river.
As for ocean fisheries, strong chinook numbers should make up for a steep decline in coho numbers. A forecast of 169,000 fall chinook returning to the Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery on the Columbia River is a sign there will be good ocean fishing opportunities, said the department’s Doug Milward.
That’s good news to Butch Smith of CoHo Charters and president of the Ilwaco Charter Boat Association. He hopes the season will allow for some early season chinook fishing June while extending the coho season through Labor Day.
The season options for ocean fishing are to be released next week.
Here is a look at some other key fisheries:
Summer/fall Chinook: In the Puyallup River, the state is predicting a summer/fall chinook run of 8,970 hatchery fish and 1,877 wild fish in 2010. That’s up from the 2009 forecast of 6,060 hatchery and 1,476 wild fish. On the Nisqually River, the forecast calls for a summer/fall Chinook run of 18,918 hatchery and 5,177 fish. Those numbers are mixed compared to the 2009 forecast that called for 21,331 hatchery and 4,606 wild fish. In the deep South Sound, the forecast calls for 11,638 hatchery summer/fall Chinook to return to Carr Inlet, and another 14,198 hatchery fish to the Deschutes River. On the Skokomish River, the forecast calls for a run of 29,793 hatchery and 2,160 wild fish.
Chum: The 2010 fall chum forecast for the South Sound calls for 20,604 hatchery and 371,269 wild fish. That’s a vast improvement on the wild fish forecast in 2009, which called for a run of 212,560 wild fish. The Hood Canal forecast is 296,409 hatchery fall fish and 181,000 wild fish. The 2009 forecast was 264,058 hatchery and 110,871 wild fish. The winter chum for the South Sound calls for 27,295 hatchery and 61,998 wild fish.
Sockeye: The Lake Washington forecast is up to 123,654 wild and hatchery fish, well above the 2009 forecast of 19,327 fish, but still well below the 350,0000 fish threshold at which a recreational fishery can be held.