Coho runs are cratering because of poor ocean conditions. A coastwide closure of all fishing is one option to protect struggling coho runs.

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Alarmed by dwindling coho runs hammered by poor ocean conditions, state and tribal fish managers are proposing shutting down the recreational and commercial coho and chinook fishery in the ocean for the 2016 season.

A decision will be made by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) at its April meeting. The commission will consider a range of options, including a coastwide closure in Washington, proposed Sunday by state, tribal and federal fishery managers.

The consideration is part of the annual season-setting process for the West Coast. Two options would permit some salmon fishing this year, but one would close all recreational and commercial ocean fisheries for chinook and coho.

More information

• Learn more about how poor ocean conditions have persisted and hurt coho: http://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/research/divisions/fe/estuarine/oeip/g-forecast.cfm

• Learn more about The Blob and its effects on ocean species: http://www.pcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/D1a_NMFS1_2016_IEA_SoCC_FINAL_MAR2016BB.pdf

• Learn more about the proposed seasons: http://www.pcouncil.org/

• Read more from Seattle Times outdoors reporter Mark Yuasa: http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/ocean-salmon-fishing-options-set-and-includes-a-no-summer-fishery-alternative-to-protect-dismal-coho-returns/

“In many instances returns will likely be far below minimum levels needed to produce the next generation of salmon,” said Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which comanages salmon runs with the state. “Conservation must be our sole focus as we work to rebuild these stocks.”

Tribes can only fish in their legally designated areas, so they would be hard hit by closures; they couldn’t just fish in another place. “We won’t have fish on the table, it really hurts the whole community,” Loomis said.

Part of what is driving the situation is a disaster unfolding on the Queets, a wild river with no dams on the Olympic Peninsula that, nonetheless, is predicted to see only 3,500 coho come back this year — when a minimum of 5,800 are needed to allow a fishery. No matter how pristine a river, if the ocean can’t provide food, the fish won’t make it home. And conditions have been poor in the ocean for years now.

“It’s the marine conditions, and it could start happening more often,” said Kyle Adicks, a salmon-policy analyst for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Climate change could be piling on top of normal, decadal cycles in the ocean, creating a double whammy fish can’t manage on top of habitat degradation once they get to fresh water.

In the ocean, warm water depresses populations of cold-water plankton, the nutritious animals at the base of the food chain that salmon and forage fish need to fatten up and grow. Coho that went to sea during what has come to be called as The Blob — an extraordinarily persistent, large swath of warm water from Baja to the Gulf of Alaska that began building off the West Coast in late 2013 — either did not survive at all, or came back much smaller than usual.

Water temperatures were as much as 7 degrees above normal and have not yet declined to baseline. “It’s still warm out there,” said Nick Bond, Washington state climatologist, and a senior research scientist with the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) of the University of Washington and an affiliate associate professor with the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the UW. Temperatures remain as much as two to three degrees above normal on the outer coast, enough to affect productivity through many layers of the food chain, Bond said.

Coho also made a poor showing last year, with only about 242,000 — compared with a predicted 770,000 — returning to the Columbia River, where some stocks already are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. This year the situation is worse, with forecasters predicting about 380,000 Columbia River hatchery coho will return to the Washington coast — about half of last year’s optimistic forecast.

“Those wild runs are especially precious, for the diversity, and for environmental stewardship we want to have some of the world the way it’s been for a while,” Bond said. “For the fisheries, especially in the Pacific Ocean, they have been carefully managed and we want to try to do what we can.”

A total closure would be a drastic option. “We have communities like Westport, Ilwaco, and Neah Bay that are really driven by ocean fishing; a closure is a really big deal economically for those communities,” Adicks said. But it’s not without precedent: all ocean fisheries were shut down off the coast of Washington and Oregon in 1994 because of record low salmon returns.

More information

• Learn more about how poor ocean conditions have persisted and hurt coho: http://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/research/divisions/fe/estuarine/oeip/g-forecast.cfm

• Learn more about The Blob and its effects on ocean species: http://www.pcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/D1a_NMFS1_2016_IEA_SoCC_FINAL_MAR2016BB.pdf

• Learn more about the proposed seasons: http://www.pcouncil.org/

• Read more from Seattle Times outdoors reporter Mark Yuasa: http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/ocean-salmon-fishing-options-set-and-includes-a-no-summer-fishery-alternative-to-protect-dismal-coho-returns/

The seasons set by the PFMC establish fishing rules in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific Coast. A public hearing on the three alternatives will be held March 28 in Westport.

Comments are also being taken by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife online .