OLYMPIA – Continued low returns of some key Chinook salmon stocks are expected to limit numerous Washington salmon fisheries in the upcoming season, state fishery managers announced recently.
The state’s 2020-21 salmon fishing seasons, developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty tribal co-managers, were tentatively set today during the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (PFMC) meeting, which was held via webinar due to concerns related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
”These seasons were determined with the goal of meeting conservation objectives while offering opportunities whenever possible, but we had some tough decisions to make this year,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind.
“We appreciate the hard work of co-managers and everyone else who sat through long teleconferences and webinars to determine these seasons.”
“This was another difficult year with so many depressed stocks as a result of lost and damaged habitat,” said Lorraine Loomis, Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
“I am especially encouraged by efforts this year to include habitat recovery in fisheries planning. Salmon continue to decline because their habitat is being lost faster than it can be restored and protected. Working together to change that trend is the most important thing we can do for salmon recovery.”
Season recommendations now move forward for approval by the National Marine Fisheries Service and final rulemaking, including additional opportunity for public comment and consideration of those comments.
Low returns of Stillaguamish and mid-Hood Canal Chinook, as well as Snohomish coho limited a number of Puget Sound fisheries in 2019, and created even greater constraints in 2020. That includes closing fishing for winter Chinook in East Juan De Fuca Strait (Marine Area 6), the San Juan Islands (Marine Area 7), Deception Pass and Port Gardner (areas 8-1 and 8-2), Admiralty Inlet (Marine Area 9), Tacoma-Vashon Island (Marine Area 11) and Hood Canal (Marine Area 12), with some exceptions for Chinook non-retention in Hood Canal in November and December.
Summer seasons in Deception Pass and Port Gardner are also closed to protect coho.
Susewind said the department recognizes that many of these fisheries have seen continued declines in opportunity in recent years.
“This is never the outcome we hope for, but until these stocks rebound, this is an unfortunate reality,” Susewind said. “We continue working alongside the public and tribal, state, and federal partners to address all the factors impacting these critical runs.”
This summer, Chinook fisheries are expected to be largely similar to last year, with most Puget Sound marine areas opening for Chinook retention beginning in July or August. Summer Chinook fisheries are expected to begin July 1 in marine areas 5, 6, 7 and 11.
The summer salmon fishery will again be closed to summer Chinook retention (including jacks), though stronger forecasts allow for sockeye retention in 2020, a change from last year. That fishery will need to be closely monitored in-season if returns come in lower than expected, said Kyle Adicks, salmon fisheries policy lead for WDFW.
Fall Chinook fisheries will be open under various regulations. Waters from Buoy 10 upstream to the Puget Island will be open Aug. 16-27 for Chinook, and will remain open for coho afterwards. Most of the waters upstream will open Aug. 1, but Warrior Rock to Bonneville Dam will open Fri., Sat., and Sun. from Aug. 7 through Sept. 6.
Steelhead fisheries in the Columbia and Snake rivers this season will again be very limited and additional protective measures will be in place due to continued low returns of steelhead.
Washington’s ocean waters
Initial ocean fisheries reflect a reduced coho quota due to significantly lower projected returns in 2020. All four of Washington’s marine areas are scheduled to open June 20 for a Chinook-only fishery, then transition to a Chinook and coho fishery beginning June 29. Daily limits and days of the week open to salmon fishing vary between areas.
COVID-19 remains a factor going into the upcoming summer and fall fishing seasons, with the potential to continue impacting fisheries as the year continues, said WDFW Director Susewind. Many of the conversations during this week’s PFMC meeting included consideration of ongoing coronavirus impacts.
“The coronavirus remains the biggest unknown as we move ahead in the 2020 and 2021 fishing seasons,” Susewind said. As with every aspect of life these days, we’ll have to be flexible to respond to any public health concerns.”
Additional information about this year’s sport salmon fisheries and the North of Falcon process can be found on WDFW’s website at wdfw.wa.gov/nof.
For information on tribal fisheries, contact the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.