South Sound anglers this year should see local salmon fishing seasons similar to 2009, with some exceptions.
As for ocean fisheries, the focus this year will be on chinook salmon because of a sharp decline in coho runs.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife gave that general assessment Tuesday when staff members offered preseason run forecasts for Puget Sound, the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.
The forecasts – developed by state and tribal fish biologists – will help 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.
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“We’re looking at 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 federal Endangered Species Act. Fishing is allowed as long as managers keep effects on wild fish within established limits.
Constraints in a new Puget Sound chinook management plan might affect the popular Skokomish River fishery, Pattillo said.
Higher average catch rates of about one fish per rod would exceed the proposed 50 percent cap in the proposed plan, he said. 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, fishing opportunities might be reduced to stay under the 50 percent cap.
Additional closures on the Puyallup River might be needed to avoid safety issues that arose last season. In one incident, several recreational anglers were trapped in a tribal net and swept down river.
“Any new closures would be mostly safety driven,” Pattillo said. “The tribe hasn’t felt it’s had an opportunity to fish unimpeded.”
Pattillo said he understands any closure would not be popular with sport anglers. The state closed the Puyallup for two days in August to lessen 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 of 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 in June while extending the coho season through Labor Day.
The season options for ocean fishing are to be released next week.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640