After a two month delay, NOAA Fisheries has given state Fish and Wildlife the approval to reopen sport salmon fisheries effective immediately.
“This opening puts the year’s salmon fisheries back on track,” John Long, a state Fish and Wildlife salmon policy coordinator said in a news release. “I know it has been a frustrating start to the salmon season for anglers fishing in waters around the Sound.”
The negotiations that began in early March between state and tribal fishery managers was the most protected in history, stretching far deeper into the spring than in the past three decades of such talks, and one of the most contentious.
Talks broke down in mid-April which lead to a stalemate, and threatened to close all of Puget Sound’s marine waterways for salmon fishing as well as many lakes and rivers on May 1.
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The heated issue stemmed from how to carve out fishing seasons while putting an emphasis to help conserve weak runs of Puget Sound wild coho and chinook listed under the federal endangered species act. Both the state and tribes finally came to an agreement on May 26.
Now that federal guidelines have been achieved and the permit processed, marine areas like south-central Puget Sound, southern Puget Sound and the Tulalip Bubble Fishery are open for hatchery chinook only, and anglers must release all coho and wild unmarked chinook.
Many other marine waterways will open on July 1 including the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Sekiu and Port Angeles for hatchery chinook fishing.
A change for the San Juan Islands is a hatchery chinook only directed fishery from July 1-30, and then for all chinook Aug. 31 to Sept. 30.
Most year-round piers in Puget Sound are open for salmon fishing, but anglers must release all coho. Anglers fishing from piers within Sinclair Inlet are only required to release wild coho.
Many marine areas will see extended closures in late summer and fall to protect a weak return of coho to Puget Sound. In fact, Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish will be closed to all game-fish from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31.
Freshwater areas open now include the Skykomish and Cascade rivers for hatchery chinook and steelhead; and Skagit River for sockeye, and hatchery chinook and steelhead.
The ruling also reopens lakes that have been closed to all fishing including Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish.
To view what is open in marine waters, rivers and lakes, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01726/. For any exceptions, anglers should also check the state fisheries webpage at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/.
The coastal salmon fisheries were unaffected by the issue, and a federal fishery council in mid-April approved a limited summer sport ocean salmon fishing season set to begin July 1 at Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay.
The overall ocean sport quota this season is 35,000 chinook (64,000 last year) and 18,900 hatchery-marked coho (150,800).
Tribal officials, during the negotiations pressed the need to refocus on restoring the Puget Sound salmon runs and habitat throughout the region.
During negotiations in May with the tribes, the state agreed to close the sport-fishing season on the Puyallup River during peak chinook arrival time; closing central and northern Puget Sound once the summer hatchery chinook quota has been achieved; increase monitoring during the catch and release fishery in central Puget Sound during June and northern Puget Sound in early July; and close the winter salmon fishery in south-central Puget Sound – known as Marine Catch Area 11 in the Tacoma area – from November through January.
In turn the tribal fishery managers agreed to reduce the Makah tribal winter troll fishery off the western edge of the Strait of Juan de Fuca from a catch quota of 8,500 to 4,500 chinook; and reduce their coho netting time on the Puyallup River.
Fishery officials are pointing the finger at poor salmon returns on ocean survival, which 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.
When the state and tribes failed to come to an agreement during the normal salmon-season setting process from March through mid-April, it essentially closed many fisheries that fed into Puget Sound and created some friction among sport fishermen.
Various sport-fishing organizations and fishermen took to protesting a Swinomish tribal spring chinook gill-net fishery on May 4 in the Skagit River, followed by another protest May 5 at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/National Marine Fisheries Service Office in Lacey that drew an even larger crowd of 100 protesters.