That was the assessment of Pat Pattillo, the salmon policy lead for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, after a meeting Friday at which salmon forecasts for the coming year were released.
The forecasts will be the basis of negotiations over the next month leading to establishing recreational, commercial and tribal fishing seasons.
The bright spots for Puget Sound anglers this year will be pink and coho salmon.
More than half of the 6.2 million pink salmon expected to return to the Sound will come to the Green, Puyallup and Nisqually rivers. Pink salmon return on odd-numbered years.
The Puyallup River should see a significant increase in the number of pinks returning, with a forecast of 1.24 million, up from about 900,000 forecast to return in 2011.
The Green River run was forecast at more than 2.1 million pink salmon in 2011, but is expected to be about 1.35 million this year.
Overall, the pink forecast of 6.23 million fish is up from 5.98 million in 2011.
“We can’t tell you why we have so many pinks. Let’s just enjoy them,” Pattillo said. “It’s pretty phenomenal.”
“Coho is another big story for Puget Sound, but it’s mixed,” he added. “Hood Canal, for example, is a head scratcher.”
The forecast for wild chinook returning to Hood Canal is 36,800 fish, less than half the forecast for 2011 and 2012. The forecast for hatchery coho is 68,600 fish, about the same as in previous years.
The coho forecasts are similar for the South Sound, including the Puyallup and Nisqually rivers. The wild fish forecast is 36,000 fish, and the hatchery forecast is 151,000 fish.
“Last year, we had a great year for coho, but mostly in the North Sound,” Pattillo said. “We’re expecting another good season, because there are good survival rates.”
The concern for Pattillo is the South Sound chinook fishery.
“I wish there was better news,” he said. “There is something happening to the hatchery fish. Why aren’t we getting stronger returns to Marine Area 11 (Tacoma) since we’re seeing good returns to the Nisqually?”
Pattillo said he has heard and understands anglers’ frustration.
“I don’t know why South Sound (chinook) fishing isn’t doing better, especially based on the Nisqually run. Why are they just zipping by Tacoma?” Pattillo said. “That’s the constant question these days. Why is fishing so good in the North Sound and not the South Sound?”
As for ocean fisheries, Pattillo thought the range of options would be similar to last year.
“The numbers of lower river chinook are slightly down from last year, but it’s still a pretty good return,” said Doug Milward, ocean salmon fishery manager. “Add to that the expected increase in lower Columbia River coho numbers, and we should see great fishing opportunities in the ocean this summer.”
State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet next week in Tacoma with the Pacific Fishery Management Council to develop options for this year’s commercial and recreational ocean fisheries. The council sets fishing seasons in waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.
Among the issues the department might discuss with its tribal co-managers is reducing the minimum size for chinook in certain areas from 22 inches to 20.
Final decisions on fishing seasons for the Puget Sound region, Columbia River and ocean fisheries will be made April 6-11 in Portland.