Washington state anglers can expect a mixed bag of salmon fisheries this year with increased coho opportunities in the ocean and the Columbia River, but additional necessary restrictions to protect Chinook in Puget Sound.
The state’s 2019 salmon fishing seasons, developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and treaty tribal co-managers, were finalized April 17 during the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s meeting last week in Rohnert Park, Calif.
This year’s fisheries were designed to take advantage of a higher number of coho salmon forecast to return to Washington’s waters as compared to recent years, said Kyle Adicks, salmon policy lead for WDFW. However, projected low returns of key Chinook stocks in Puget Sound prompted fishery managers to restrict fisheries in Puget Sound.
“We’re able to provide more opportunities to fish for coho in some areas, particularly in the ocean and Columbia River, than we have been able to do for several years,” Adicks said. “But continued poor returns of some Chinook stocks forced us to make difficult decisions for fisheries in Puget Sound this year."
For the Columbia River, the summer salmon fishery will be closed to summer Chinook (including jacks) and sockeye retention due to low expected returns this year.
Fall salmon fisheries will be open under various regulations. Waters from Buoy 10 upstream to the Hwy. 395 Bridge at Pasco will open to fall salmon fishing beginning Aug. 1.
“While we anticipate a robust coho fishery in the Columbia River this year, we’re taking steps to protect depleted runs of Chinook and steelhead,” Adicks said.
Steelhead fisheries in the Columbia and Snake rivers this season will be similar to those in 2017, when a similarly low run was projected, he said.
In Washington’s ocean waters, “we expect some good opportunities for fishing in the ocean this summer,” Adicks said.
For 2019, PFMC adopted a significantly higher quota for coho, and a similar quota for chinook compared to last year. All four of Washington’s marine areas will open daily beginning June 22.
Notable changes to this year’s Puget Sound sport salmon fisheries can be found on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/management/north-falcon, where information on recreational salmon fisheries in ocean waters and the Columbia River also is available.
Again in 2019, fishery managers projected another low return of Stillaguamish, Nooksack and mid-Hood Canal Chinook and took steps to protect those stocks. Notable closures of popular fisheries include: the San Juan Islands (Marine Area 7) in August; Deception Pass and Port Gardner (areas 8-1 and 8-2) in December and January; and Admiralty Inlet (Marine Area 9) in January.
WDFW Director Kelly Susewind acknowledged the reductions in Puget Sound salmon fisheries are difficult for both anglers and the local communities that depend on those fisheries.
“Reducing fisheries is not a long-term solution to the declining number of Chinook salmon,” Susewind said. “The department will continue working with the co-managers, our constituents, and others to address habitat loss. Without improved habitat, our Chinook populations will likely continue to decline.”
Limiting fisheries to meet conservation objectives for wild salmon indirectly benefits southern resident killer whales, said WDFW in a press release. “The fishery adjustments will aid in minimizing boat presence and noise, and decrease competition for Chinook and other salmon in these areas critical to the declining whales.”
Anglers will also have limited opportunities to fish for pink salmon in Puget Sound due to projected low returns this year. There are no “bonus bag” limits for pink salmon in 2019.