For the second time in less than a week, state Fish and Wildlife and tribal fishery managers failed to come to an agreement on further discussing Puget Sound sport, non-tribal and tribal salmon fisheries for the 2016-17 seasons.
Both parties met at the Little Creek Casino in Squaxin on Tuesday, but talks came to an impasse after constituents couldn’t resolve what harvest cuts to make or what marine and river areas needed to see closures or cutbacks, and by whom, to protect the weak wild coho runs as well as chinook runs listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“We didn’t resolve issues (Tuesday) from the state’s perspective and the door certainly remains open,” said Ron Warren, the state Fish and Wildlife salmon policy coordinator. “We’ll see if the tribes reach out to us and this is a tough situation to be in.”
The suspended negotiations during the meeting, puts this year’s Puget Sound sport, tribal and non-tribal commercial salmon season at risk once again.
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In a news release, state Fish and Wildlife fishery managers have decided to separately secure the federal permit through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries required to hold salmon fisheries this season in Puget Sound.
“We had hoped additional conversations with the tribes would result in fisheries that were agreeable to both parties,” said Jim Unsworth, director of the department. “Unfortunately, that did not happen, but our door remains open to further discussions.”
State fishery officials also said in the release they are uncertain whether the department will have the permit in time to hold recreational and non-tribal commercial salmon fisheries in Puget Sound through much of the season. The permit is necessary to hold fisheries in Puget Sound where there are fish stocks protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
On Tuesday afternoon, Tony Meyer, a communication officer for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, confirmed that the talks had broken down. He said a separate tribal management plan is expected to be submitted to NOAA Fisheries later this week.
Puget Sound tribes are entitled — under the 1974 Boldt decision — to an equal share of the harvestable salmon. And each spring, state officials meet with 20 Puget Sound treaty tribes to come up with a joint management plan that is then submitted to federal fishery officials for approval.
Tribal officials expect they can get a federal permit approved in time to conduct limited harvests that don’t’ target wild runs of coho.
But NOAA officials have said that a separate state permit would require a much lengthier review process for recreational and non-tribal commercial fisheries.
Sport fishermen, who angle from shore and boats, say they also have been willing to take cuts to preserve the weak runs although some are reluctant to agree or disagree.
During the salmon season-setting process that began in early March, both the state and the sport-fishing advisory board members created what they believed was a solid package of fishing options that would have led to a 50 to 80 percent reduction from last year in time on the water.
“It’s really disappointing to the recreational fishing community that an agreement couldn’t be reached,” said Pat Pattillo, who spent three years as the state Fish and Wildlife salmon policy coordinator and now is a spokesman for 10 sport-fishing groups. “With the failure in the second round, it is very bad news, but the recreational community is still very supportive of (state fisheries) and also the governor’s office. Alternatives at this point aren’t clear by both the tribes and state.”
“It’s really just an unfortunate circumstance, and I hope people come to their senses soon, and even in the short window there is always a possibility an agreement could be met,” Pattillo said.
Resort owners especially along the Strait of Juan de Fuca who depend on income from mainly sport salmon fisheries could be faced with no season, and some could end up losing their investments especially at places like Sekiu where two resorts were recently purchased and are under new ownership.
“To look at the total economic impacts of individuals and their lives, including those that have been our advisors over the years it is extremely hard,” Warren said. “We will work diligently and as efficiently as possible to get a permit. Hopefully and I stress the word hopefully that we could end up having some fishing opportunities somewhere this year. We will try to move through this as quickly as possible.”
A few salmon fishing seasons remain open through April 30, and the new 2016-17 fishing seasons begin May 1 and runs for 12 months for sport anglers.
While Puget Sound fisheries remain unclear, a federal fishery council approved limited ocean salmon harvests off Washington’s coast last week with fishing set to begin July 1 at Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay.
The council set the overall sport catch this season at 35,000 chinook (64,000 last year) and 18,900 hatchery-marked coho (150,800).
The forecast this season calls for 549,200 coho to arrive off the Washington-Oregon coast, compared to a preseason forecast of 1,015,000 last year and an actual return of 322,100.
The Columbia River forecast last year was 777,100, but less than a third actually returned – 242,300.
The only highlight this summer is an expected Columbia River fall chinook return of 951,300, which would be the fourth largest on record dating back to 1938.
Scientists say the coho’s ocean survival was undermined by the blob, a vast area of warmer ocean water that altered the makeup of the food chain in the waters off the West Coast.
Many Puget Sound coho that went to the ocean either didn’t survive or came back in an unhealthy state.