While many areas are closed to coho salmon fishing this time of year, folks who read the rules closely enough should find alternative options.
The forecasted poor Puget Sound coho salmon returns have created a roadblock in marine area fishing opportunities during late summer and fall, but those who read the rules closely enough should find alternative options.
“If you want to go salmon fishing there are some choices, but it’d be wise – especially if you aren’t absolutely sure – to visit our website for all the significant changes,” said Ryan Lothrop, the state Fish and Wildlife recreational salmon manager. “There are significant marine closures that are primarily to protect coho; the exception is Area 12 (Hood Canal), where coho retention is allowed and there is a four-fish daily bag through December.”
The complications came to light when fisheries managers developed extremely lean seasons that will help conserve Puget Sound chinook salmon runs listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as weak wild coho runs.
This year just 255,944 Puget Sound coho are forecast to return compared to 891,854 last year. While final figures for last year’s returns haven’t been made, it appears the coho forecast was about 25 percent of the previous year.
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This year’s negotiations between the state and tribal fish managers, usually agreed upon in mid-April, faced one of the most contentious in history, and stretched far deeper into the spring than in the past three decades of such talks.
Once both parties agreed on fishing seasons in late May, it also created some confusion on what would be open or closed in the months ahead.
“In the fall you’ll have places to fish like the Tulalip terminal fishery, Sinclair Inlet, Hood Canal and Area 13 (southern Puget Sound),” Lothrop said. “The San Juan Islands are the place to go for chinook for those who want to get out this fall.”
Another exception to all the coho closures is the Dungeness Bay (open Oct. 1-31), which has a hatchery-marked coho-only fishery. It is primarily a hatchery run, and the fishery will minimize interaction between hatchery and wild fish.
Lothrop said both Hood Canal and southern Puget Sound remain mostly intact during chum fishing seasons that occur in late fall and early winter.
If you go
Here is a rundown on where you can and can’t wet a line in saltwater areas:
• The western Strait of Juan de Fuca off Sekiu (Marine Catch Area 5) is closed for salmon fishing now through Feb. 15. This area and south-central Puget Sound (Area 11) took a big hit, with both areas facing one of the longest closures since the ESA’s listing of chinook in 1999.
• The eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca around Port Angeles (Area 6) reopens Dec. 1 through April 15 for hatchery chinook only. The season could close sooner if the catch guideline is achieved.
• In the San Juan Islands (Area 7), hatchery chinook fishing is open through Oct. 31, then reopens Dec. 1 through April 30.
• The Bellingham Bay salmon fishery is open now through Oct. 31. Up to two chinook may be kept daily through Sept. 30, then wild chinook released Oct. 1-31. All coho must be released.
• Skagit Bay and Saratoga Pass (Areas 8-1 and 8-2) reopen for hatchery chinook from Nov. 1 through April 30. The Tulalip terminal fishery for hatchery chinook is open Fridays through noon Mondays of each week until Sept. 5, then switches to weekends only through the rest of September.
• Northern Puget Sound (Area 9) opens its doors from Nov. 1-30 for hatchery chinook fishing. It reopens Jan. 16 through April 15 for hatchery chinook, and could close sooner if the catch guideline is achieved. The Edmonds Pier is closed for construction work. While the pier reopens Sept. 2 it will be closed for salmon fishing until Nov. 1.
• Central Puget Sound (Area 10) reopens Nov. 1 through Feb. 28 for hatchery chinook, and could close sooner if the catch guideline is achieved. Sinclair Inlet is open for hatchery chinook and hatchery coho now through Sept. 30.
• In Elliott Bay, Piers 86 and Seacrest Boathouse Pier are open through Aug. 31, then reopen Nov. 1. The Waterman Pier, Bremerton Boardwalk and Illahee State Park Pier are open year-round, but anglers must release wild unmarked coho.
• South-central Puget Sound (Area 11) reopens Feb. 1 through April 30 for hatchery chinook. Elsewhere, the Dash Point, Les Davis, Des Moines, Redondo and Point Defiance Boathouse piers are open for chinook and chum only through Aug. 31, then reopen Nov. 1. “Anglers (off piers) can fish/crab following normal rules” for flounder, perch and other bottom-fish species excluding rockfish, Lothrop said. “Crab is open through Sept. 5, so there would be a few days for folks to toss out their traps.”
• In Hood Canal (Area 12), fishing is open for coho only north of Ayock Point now through Sept. 30, and is open for coho and hatchery chinook south of Ayock Point through Sept. 30. During this time period, anglers must release all chum. The entire area is open Oct. 1 through April 30 for hatchery chinook, coho and chum.
• The Hoodsport Hatchery Zone in Hood Canal is open now through Dec. 31. The peak time for chinook is usually the middle of this month, and anglers may not keep chum until Oct. 16 as the peak occurs around Thanksgiving.
• Southern Puget Sound (Area 13) remains open through Aug. 31, then reopens Oct. 1 for hatchery chinook and chum only. The Fox Island Pier is open until Aug. 31, then reopens Nov. 1 for chinook and chum only.
Word from Columbia River is mixed
There are plenty of good, bad and strange stories coming from the Columbia River, according to Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.
The good news is the 44,229 adult fall chinook counted at Bonneville Dam from Aug. 1-22 is the third-highest count dating to at least 1938. The record is the 48,817 fish counted in 2013.
On the gloomy side, just 86,813 steelhead have been counted at Bonneville Dam since July 1, which is the lowest since 1998 when only 69,158 fish were tallied. Around 2,000 were being counted daily at Bonneville, well below the 10-year average of more than 5,000. Steelhead counts at McNary Dam were averaging fewer than 300 daily.
On the strange side, one chum salmon was counted at Bonneville Dam, and one chum returned to the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery. Small numbers of summer chum return to the Cowlitz Hatchery annually.
And on the total “what the heck is happening?” side, two pink salmon were sighted on the Columbia at Bonneville Dam, of which one had already crossed The Dalles Dam. In addition, one pink has been confirmed caught from the Deep River commercial fishery.