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The salmon fishing seasons for 2017-18 have been finalized with drastic cutbacks necessary on fisheries in response to meet wild fish stocks of concern, and the feelings are mixed when talking with all parties involved.

“It is like buyer’s remorse (with a new car) as you look out in the driveway and felt like you didn’t get the best deal,” said Jim Unsworth, the state Fish and Wildlife director as he spoke to fishing constituents on a Tuesday conference call. “We are reaching the bottom of fish lows. I know next year will be another very tough one from the summer drought of 2015.”

“I am a strong believer in marked selective fisheries, and it is not lost forever and will come back,” Unsworth said. “Lessons have been learned and some fisheries (lost) frustrated us.”

The sun rises over the Astoria-Megler Bridge near Buoy 10 at the Columbia River mouth, which could be a hotspot in later summer for kings and hatchery coho. Photo by Mark Yuasa
The sun rises over the Astoria-Megler Bridge near Buoy 10 at the Columbia River mouth, which could be a hotspot in later summer for kings and hatchery coho. Photo by Mark Yuasa

Wild chinook stocks of concern in Puget Sound this season are the Nooksack, Lake Washington (Cedar), Skagit, Dungeness and Nisqually rivers.

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The main finger pointing for these lost opportunities can be put on Mother Nature as a result of El Nino-like conditions in 2015 and 2016 fostered by the “Blob” – a detrimental warm-water condition – which situated itself off the northern Pacific Coast within that time frame.

“Every angler will have to decide for themselves if this fishing season package is OK or not,” said Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association in Seattle. “Catches in the winter Strait of Juan de Fuca chinook fishery will be a lot less, but summer fishery catch levels have gone up in Puget Sound areas from Port Townsend to Vashon Island.”

The salmon fisheries taking the biggest hit are the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Sekiu and Port Angeles (Marine Catch Areas 5 and 6).

Big Sekiu blackmouth are not uncommon during April as Brett Ferris, Tumwater, hoists this nice 15-pound chinook caught in Clallam Bay. Photo courtesy of Tony Floor.
Big Sekiu blackmouth are not uncommon during April as Brett Ferris, Tumwater, hoists this nice 15-pound chinook caught in Clallam Bay. Photo courtesy of Tony Floor.

Both Sekiu and Port Angeles will see a brief window in summer for hatchery kings from July through mid-August. Only Sekiu will remain open in mid- to end of August for a fishery that targets mainly pinks and hatchery-marked coho (losing all of September), and reopens for hatchery-marked chinook from mid-March through April 30.

Port Angeles will suffer the most with a closure from mid-August through February of 2018, and then reopen for hatchery-marked chinook from March through mid-April. Pinks and hatchery-marked coho fishing would be allowed from July through mid-August only, and will lose the entire month of September.

In the San Juan Islands (Marine Catch Area 7) it will be open in July for hatchery-marked chinook, but not in October and December as originally planned in an earlier proposal. That will be followed by a hatchery-marked chinook fishery from January through April of 2018. Area 7 will be open for pinks only from July through September, but off limits for all coho.

Photo of a nice catch of hatchery chinook from the San Juan Islands. Photo by Mark Yuasa, Seattle Times staff reporter.
Photo of a nice catch of hatchery chinook from the San Juan Islands. Photo by Mark Yuasa, Seattle Times staff reporter.

The east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2) would be closed during the summer, and the southern section (8-2) would be open for pinks and hatchery-marked coho from August through early September. A winter hatchery-marked salmon fishery will be open in those two areas from November through April of 2018.

In northern Puget Sound (9), the first half of July is now closed – in past seasons it was open for hatchery-marked resident coho – but open for hatchery-marked kings in mid-July through mid-August (the catch quota is 5,599 compared to 3,056 last year). Then it reverts to pinks and hatchery-marked coho only from mid-July through early-September. It will also have a window for hatchery chinook in November, and mid-January through mid-April of 2018.

Places like Point No Point in northern Puget Sound should have a decent summer season for hatchery chinook. Photo courtesy of Mark Yuasa.
Places like Point No Point in northern Puget Sound should have a decent summer season for hatchery chinook. Photo courtesy of Mark Yuasa.

Some in the sport-fishing community are up in arms after losing a June salmon fishery in central Puget Sound (10) that targeted resident coho. State fisheries says the cost of monitoring this small fishery proved difficult.

Area 10 will be open in early- to mid-July for hatchery coho, and a hatchery chinook fishery from mid-July through mid-August (with a 2,166 catch quota compared to 1,395 last year), and November through February. A pink and hatchery-marked coho fishery would occur from mid-August through October, release all chinook. Hatcher y-marked coho would be open from July through February.

In the Green River 16,362 chinook return (13,988 are of hatchery origin) will allow one Friday to Sunday inner-Elliott Bay chinook fishery for August, plus hatchery coho and pinks only for two other weekends in August as well as an opening the Green River for kings.

Anglers should note that catch guidelines will dictate on any early closures during some fall/winter salmon seasons for central and northern Puget Sound (9 and 10); east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2); San Juan Islands (7); and eastern Strait (6).

Tegan Yuasa of Mercer Island holds a nice 13 pound hatchery chinook caught in the outer banks of the San Juan Islands.
Tegan Yuasa of Mercer Island holds a nice 13 pound hatchery chinook caught in the outer banks of the San Juan Islands.

The Area 7 has a fall/winter catch guideline of 9,899, plus a 20 percent buffer catch allowed in the fishery (10,257 last year);  Area 8 is 5,492 (6,125); Area 9 is 11,053 (6,801); and Area 10 is 5,349 (2,596).

In south-central Puget Sound (11), the hatchery-marked chinook fishery would be open from June through April of 2018. All coho including pinks would be fair game from June through October, and then hatchery-marked coho from November through April of 2018. There will also be a terminal hatchery-marked chinook and coho fishery in Sinclair Inlet.

During the Area 11 June through September summer fishery the legal chinook encounter rate is estimated to be 7,199 compared to 2,122 last year. This has a different scenario last season since it was closed in September, but will definitely have a larger encounter number.

Hood Canal north of Ayock Point (12 North) is open for hatchery-marked chinook from October through April  of 2018, and all coho and pinks from August through April of 2018. South of Ayock Point (12 South) would be open for hatchery-marked chinook from July through April of 2018, and all coho and pinks from July through April of 2018.

Southern Puget Sound (13) will be open for hatchery-marked chinook and coho from May through April.

Certain piers in Puget Sound will also have year-round salmon fishing seasons most likely similar to previous years.

The coastal summer salmon fisheries will also look much better than last season if the forecasts come back as predicted with a sport chinook catch quota of 45,000 fish, which is 10,000 more fish than 2016’s quota of 35,000 chinook. A quota of 42,000 hatchery-marked coho for this season’s sport fishery is about 23,100 more fish than last year’s quota of 18,900 coho.

Seattle Times outdoors reporter Mark Yuasa holds an 18-pound hatchery coho he caught in the ocean off Ilwaco in August of 2016.
Seattle Times outdoors reporter Mark Yuasa holds an 18-pound hatchery coho he caught in the ocean off Ilwaco in August of 2016.

“We faced some significant challenges with Queets wild coho, and Stillaguamish and Skagit coho,” said
Wendy Beeghly, the state Fish and Wildlife coastal salmon manager. “Those three stocks most affected how we structured the ocean salmon fisheries. Like last year, coho really limited our access on chinook. Now with that said if the forecasts are right, then we should have a good chinook and hatchery coho fishery in the ocean.”

Ilwaco, La Push and Neah Bay will open for salmon fishing on June 24, and Westport will open on July 1. Fishing will remain open daily at all four coastal ports through Sept. 4 or until quotas are caught, whichever comes first.

The daily limit at Neah Bay and La Push is two salmon of either chinook or hatchery-marked coho. The daily limit at Westport and Ilwaco is two salmon, but only one may be a chinook.

The Neah Bay sport quota is 4,370 hatchery-marked coho and 7,900 chinook. At La Push the sport quota is 1,090 hatchery-marked coho and 2,500 chinook.

At Westport the sport quota is 15,540 hatchery-marked coho and 21,400 chinook. At Ilwaco the sport quota is 21,000 hatchery-marked coho and 13,200 chinook.

The backbone for ocean fisheries will be a Columbia River fall chinook forecast of 582,600 (951,300 was forecast last year with an actual return of 643,300). The total return is similar to last year, which was the fourth largest on record, but substantially down from the huge returns from 2013 to 2015.

The lower river hatchery chinook stock of 92,400 and Bonneville Pool hatchery chinook stock of 158,400 – better known as “tule chinook” – are the most prized sport fish and a driving force in ocean fisheries off Ilwaco, Westport and at Buoy 10 near the Columbia River mouth.

(Morning scene from Buoy 10. By Mark Yuasa.)
(Morning scene from Buoy 10. By Mark Yuasa.)

The tule are a lower river hatchery run, which is close to recent five-year average, and Bonneville Pool hatchery run that looks to be the second highest return since 2004.

The all-time actual return record dating to 1938 was 1,268,400 adult chinook in 2013, which was 227 percent of the 2003-to-2012 average of 557,600 adult fish. In 2014, the actual return was 1,159,000, which was second-highest on record.

In the Columbia River, anglers will see salmon fisheries that are similar to last year, and the popular Buoy 10 fishery will open Aug. 1 while the chinook fishery on the mainstem from the Astoria-Megler Bridge upstream to the Hwy. 395 Bridge will be open from June 16 through July 31 for hatchery summer chinook and sockeye.

The highly popular Skokomish River chinook fishery will not be open this summer for the second year in a row.

“We need to work through a number of issues and did an amazing job trying to work to get folks on the river,” said JT Austin, a senior policy adviser for Governor Jay Inslee in Olympia. “We are absolutely committed to work with the tribes on all the concerns. We need to get access and that will be the focus.”

“The land issue is something the government can’t resolve andis a federal issue,” Austin said. “We have the right agency, director (Jim Unsworth) and staff to do that, and I am very disappointed that and sorry I cannot provide that this season.”

Those in the sport fishing community are scratching thir heads over this closure, and have reached out to the Skokomish Tribe many times since last June in an attempt to secure cooperation and partnership in mutually beneficial salmon harvest management.

“It is hard to understand the tribal position as there were nearly 19,000 surplus chinook that returned to the George Adams hatchery last summer and fall that provided little or no benefit to the state,” said Frank Urabeck, a longtime sport-fshing advocate in Bonney Lake. “I shake my head as the tribe in fact could have harvested more chinook than they did, had a recreational fishery been allowed as the department brought in a non-tribal beach seined commercial fishermen that harvested 4,000 to 5,000 chinook in front of the Hoodsport Hatchery. That fishery and the Skokomish bound chinook and coho fisheries are managed together.”

Urabeck says the Skokomish Tribe was unwilling to accept sharing the Skokomish River with non-tribal state citizens while the legal augments about the southern reservation boundary were decided in court. An Interior Department legal opinion had been issued in January 2016 that alleged that the reservation boundary extended river bank to river bank.

Since salmon are co-managed by the state and tribes, each party must agree on all fisheries in order for the seasons to be finalized while ensuring poor wild salmon stocks are given top priority.

During last year’s process poor coastal wild coho returns to the Queets, Quillayute and Hoh on top of the dismal Puget Sound coho stocks all played a big impact on how ocean fisheries were created, and was the first stumbling block in one of the most draconian Washington marine fishing seasons in recent history.

Gerald Chew of Mercer Island shows off a 10-pound hatchery coho caught on the Humptulips River.
Gerald Chew of Mercer Island shows off a 10-pound hatchery coho caught on the Humptulips River.

Last year, Puget Sound salmon seasons hit a stalemate after the state and tribal fishery officials couldn’t come to terms on how to craft fisheries due to what was expected to be a very poor Puget Sound coho return.

Salmon fishing seasons were eventually set at the end of May – more than a month later than usual – and led to widespread closures in Puget Sound although it was later determined that coho returns weren’t as bad as thought and some fisheries were reopened in late fall.

“We need to contemplate where we are, and last year at this time it was a much different feeling,” said Ron Warren, the state Fish and Wildlife head program fish manager. “To build the trust to have those relationships has made a good first step that we need with the Pacific Northwest Tribes.”

“Coming into the North of Falcon process we had a solid foundation in which we were going to build upon on how we were going to manage and put regimes in place. All of the fisheries we have in place meet those conservation objectives.”

“We have such a better fishery package than last year despite the conservation and objectives we have,” Warren said. “I’m very optimistic on where we are headed for the resources of the state. We can make differences in turning the trend lines around where we have those listed (fish) species.”

All fishing seasons for both marine and in-river will be posted soon, by going to the state Fish and Wildlife website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.