The chinook salmon sought by anglers are fewer than in years past because of climate conditions that have reduced their rate of survival.
The sport anglers’ catch of chinook salmon off Washington’s coasts will drop sharply this year under a measure approved Tuesday by the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
The overall harvest for recreational fishermen off Washington will be capped at 27,500 fish, a nearly 40 percent drop from the past year.
This conservation measure results, in part, from the difficult ocean conditions that the chinook faced as juveniles in 2015 and 2016 when a rise in ocean temperatures off the Northwest coast knocked back their prime food supplies and reduced their survival rates.
“We know that the warm-water conditions were not favorable, so that almost certainly was a factor,” said Peter Dygert, chief of the salmon-harvest management branch of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
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Harvests of coho, the other major ocean target for salmon anglers, also will be down substantially from more bountiful years. In 2009, the limit for sport fishermen in that same zone was set at more than 176,000 coho. This year, the council set the catch at 42,000 marked hatchery fish for the recreational fleet that includes charter boats.
Pacific salmon, a mix of wild and hatchery stocks, are a prized catch, and the recreational and commercial fisheries help drive the economy of Westport and other coastal communities in southwest Washington. The regional harvests are worked out each year through a lengthy process that involves tribal, state, federal and other officials.
The West Coast’s wild salmon, which include numerous runs listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, are the focal point of a decades-long rebuilding effort. Harvest managers must protect weak runs of wild fish as they give fishermen opportunities to harvest stocks of hatchery and healthy wild runs.
“The council has recommended ocean-salmon seasons … that provide important protections for stocks of concern, including Lower Columbia River chinook, Puget Sound chinook, Washington coastal coho and Sacramento River fall chinook,” said Chuck Tracy, the council’s executive director, in a statement released Wednesday.
Under the plan approved by the council, commercial fishermen who are not part of tribes will be able to catch 27,500 chinook, the same number as for sportsmen.
Tribal ocean harvests north of Cape Falcon will be set at 40,000 chinook. This tribal allocation is the same as last year, according to Jennifer Gilden, a council staffer. But it is down from years past when the runs were more abundant.
In addition to warmer ocean conditions, some salmon populations suffered from the 2015 drought that reduced water flows in fresh water drainages, making it more difficult for fish to reach upstream spawning grounds.
The season for the inside waters of Puget Sound has also been set. It is developed through joint talks each year between the Department of Fish and Wildlife and tribal officials. The harvest allocations are guided by the 1974 Boldt decision in federal court, which reaffirmed tribal rights to an equal share of the harvestable salmon that return each year and established tribal comanagement of the Puget Sound fishery runs.
The negotiations have been contentious at times. In 2016, state and tribal officials were initially unable to reach a joint plan in advance of the Puget Sound season. But this year, the state and tribe have come to an agreement.
“Having seen it fall apart, everyone realized that’s not an option,” said Kyle Adicks, a salmon-policy leader for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We all care about these fish populations.”
Adicks said that forecasts call for improved runs of coho salmon returning to the Skagit and Stillaguamish rivers and that has boosted some fishing opportunities.
A statement released Tuesday by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife highlights the sport salmon season. It includes:
*Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) will be open July through September with a chinook limit of 6,563 fish, which is similar to last year’s quota. Maine Area 10 (the waters of Seattle and Bremerton) will be open June through mid-November for coho. In that area, hatchery chinook can be kept mid-July through August.
*Freshwater anglers can fish for coho in the Nooksack River, as well as the Skagit and Cascade rivers.
*The Buoy 10 salmon fishery in the Columbia River will be open from Aug. 1 through Aug. 24, with a daily limit of one chinook, hatchery coho or hatchery steelhead. After that date, the limit is two salmon, but chinook must be released.
More detailed information about the Washington salmon season can be found at this state website. https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.
There is hope for improvement in salmon harvests in the years ahead. In 2017, the warm-water condition — known as the blob — eased, and that could help boost survival rates for chinook salmon that return as adults in future years, according to Dygert, the federal fishery official.
The large size of chinook makes them a big draw for charter boat operators. But the smaller coho also are a great fish to catch and eat.
“They are both important. We will make the best of whatever we have,” said Geoff Grillo, owner of Advantage Charters in Westport.