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Expect salmon fishing seasons to be similar to last year as state releases forecasts

Post by Jeff Mayor / The News Tribune on Feb. 28, 2012 at 1:21 pm with No Comments »
February 28, 2012 2:56 pm


Here is the story I filed for Wednesday’s paper.

Based on preliminary numbers, South Sound anglers can expect the 2012-13 fishing season to be similar to last season. That was the consensus of state Department of Fish and Wildlife staffers Tuesday as they released forecasted salmon runs for waters from the South Sound to the ocean coast.

It sounds like there will be plenty of coho and chinook off the coast to make folks happy. Waters like Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor and coastal rivers such as the Queets are expected to see large runs of coho as well. The Nisqually River should see another good run for chinook.

For the waters off Tacoma and Olympia, fishing “should be very similar to last year,” said Steve Thiesfeld, Puget Sound salmon manager.

The forecasts ¬– developed by the state and treaty tribes — are the starting point for developing the upcoming seasons for sport, commercial and tribal fishermen in Puget Sound, Columbia River and Washington’s coastal waters. The process will conclude with the Pacific Fishery Management Council meetings in Seattle April 1-6.

“Coastal coho fishing should be really good,” said Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for the department.

“I can remember years ago on the Queets thinking we wouldn’t get the 2,000 fish needed for (successful spawning),” he said. “This year the forecast is 37,000 wild fish, about three times the run last year.”

Overall, the coastal return of coho is forecast at 595,265 fish, 33.8 percent higher than the 2011 forecast. At Willapa Bay, the estimate is 170,099 fish, up 51.2 percent from last year. The Gray Harbor forecast is 198,012 fish, up 48.8 percent.

“There will be a lot of people from the Puget Sound region heading to Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor to fish for coho,” said Frank Urabeck, a sports fishing proponent from Federal Way.

Another bright spot is the Nisqually River, where the forecast calls for a run of 36,106 hatchery and 1,496 summer and fall chinook.

“We have a large amount of hatchery chinook moving through marine areas 11 and 13, but no one is catching them,” Thiesfeld said. “It could potentially be better this year if the salmon are willing to bite.”

Off the popular fishing destination of Westport, the chinook fishing should be good again.

Almost 191,000 hatchery chinook are expected to return to the lower Columbia River. Those fish make up the majority of fish caught in the recreational ocean fishery. The 317,000 coho headed for the Columbia also are a significant portion of the ocean catch.

“I think we can expect fishing like we had last year, maybe with a little more stabilization in regulations,” said Mark Cedargreen, executive director of the Westport Charter Association, citing in-season changes in the regulations. “Last people were asking is it open or not.”

Impacting much of what the department can do to expand fishing opportunities is the state’s continuing budget dilemma. Department director Phil Anderson said he fully expects the agency to face another $10 million budget cut by next week. That would drop the agency’s general fund support from more than $110 million to about $57 million in three year’s time. Anderson also expects significant reductions in federal funding that supports the agency’s native fish recovery, fish production, fisheries management and enforcement efforts.

Thiesfeld estimated the state already spends more than $1 million each year to monitor and enforce selective fisheries on Puget Sound alone.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640

Other 2012 salmon forecast highlights

Marine Area 11: The state has approached tribes to open the waters off Tacoma to fishing for hatchery chinook from October- January. While expanding the season to all of January, wild chinook would have to be released.

Marine Area 13: The state is considering converting this year-round fishery to one for hatchery fish only. Clint Muns, a member of the Puget Sound Anglers, cautioned that there could be backlash from anglers wanting the opportunity to keep a wild chinook.

Fall chum: The South Sound forecast is well above the goal of 80,000 fish returning to spawn. The fall run is estimated at more than 200,000 fish, including 178,548 wild chum. On Hood Canal, the forecast is 307,283 hatchery fish, with almost 120,000 wild fish.

Puget Sound chinook: The Green River is expecting a return of 11,713 summer and fall Chinook, with just 1,910 of those being wild fish. The Puyallup run is forecast at 10,091 fish. The lower South Sound forecast is 63,994 chinook, including 9,335 headed to Carr Inlet, 9.958 head for the Deschutes River and 7,099 fish bound for Chambers Creek. The Skokomish River run is predicted to be 33,433 fish.

Puget Sound coho: Overall coho returns are expected to be about 732,000 fish, 249,000 below last year’s forecast. The lower South Sound forecast calls for a run of 73,091 fish, down from the 2011 forecast of 108,708 fish. The Puyallup coho run is set at 31,726 coho, down from a forecast of 54,588 coho last year. The Green is the exception, with a run forecast at 51,465 fish, up from last year’s forecast of 41,805 fish.

Upper Columbia sockeye: While it’s a drive from the South Sound, the Brewster area might be a fishing destination worth considering. More than 431,000 sockeye are expected to return to the Okanogan River this year. “We are predicting a near record run of sockeye this year,” said Cindy LaFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator.

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