Anglers can break out their rods and reels, bait boxes and coolers: Recreational fishing on Puget Sound and most waters that feed into it opened Friday morning after a seven-week delay.
The National Marine Fisheries Service Friday approved the permit needed to allow the state to open recreational and nontribal commercial fishing.
Current fishing rules for Puget Sound, rivers and lakes will run through Thursday, with new regulations taking effect July 1.
It didn’t take long for the word to get out; by late Friday morning there were at least six boats trolling for salmon off the Point Defiance Marina. Of course, the opening coincided with the start of Taste of Tacoma, so parking for those using the Point Defiance boat ramp was at a premium.
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“We know Puget Sound anglers have been frustrated by the late start to this year’s salmon season,” John Long, salmon fisheries policy lead for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a prepared statement. “This opening puts the year’s salmon fisheries back on track.”
The state opted to seek its own permit after negotiations with tribal co-managers dragged beyond its traditional deadline in early April when the Pacific Fisheries Management Council met to approve ocean salmon fishing seasons. The two sides typically agree to fishing seasons at that annual meeting, and request the federal permit together.
It wasn’t until May 26 that an agreement was reached to allow fishing to proceed while reducing impacts on chinook and coho salmon stocks listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The state’s fisheries in the Sound have been closed since May 1 after its previous federal permit expired. Without the permit, the state could not allow any recreational or commercial fishing that could impact protected salmon stocks. That closure included the entire Sound, lakes including Cushman and Washington, and rivers such as the Puyallup and Nisqually.
Some tribes have been allowed to conduct fisheries under separate permits granted by the federal agency.
The impact of the closure has been felt from anglers stuck on shore to tackle shops with no customers.
“Even relatively small operations like ours have been suffering greatly,” said Scott Knox, supervisor of the Point Defiance Marina. “It’s cost us in the neighborhood of $1,600 a day.”
“It definitely slowed down things, even our boat sales were affected some. People were saying they were going to hold off,” said Ron Adams at Verle’s Sports Center in Shelton. “It was across the board, rods, lures, bait, licenses, boats, everything.”
George Harris, president of the Northwest Marine Trade Association, said the closure took a significant bite out of the local economy.
“The Puget Sound salmon sport fishery is an important economic engine in Washington, generating more than 500,000 angler trips and $100 million in economic value annually,” he said.
While the reopening is welcome news to recreational anglers, there are some aspects of the agreement between the state and tribes that will be viewed as bad news by South Sound anglers.
The Puyallup River will be closed all season, and the Carbon River will be open for just 15 days, Sept. 10-24, during which anglers can keep two hatchery chinook.
In Marine Area 11, the waters off Tacoma, salmon fishing will be closed in September and October to protect returning coho. Fishing for winter chinook will be closed from November-January, when it is normally closed just in January.
“I’m not thrilled about this fall and winter closure, but at least we’ll stay open through the summer,” said Art Tachell, a longtime employee at the Point Defiance Boathouse.
The Nisqually and Green rivers will be closed in September and October.
Despite those closures, there was a sense of relief and excitement at local tackle shops and boat ramps after news of the opening broke Friday morning.
Jim Dickinson runs the boat ramp at Point Defiance. On a normal summer Saturday, he is at work by 5 a.m.
“I’m planning to be here at 4 in the morning,” he said Friday afternoon, “because the fishermen will be chomping at the bit to get out there.”
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640