RAYMOND — The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has closed Willapa Bay and its surrounding tributaries to all salmon fishing for the second year in a row.
According to WDFW Analyst Chad Herring, the closure was implemented because of record low native coho returns.
“Right now we have a run size update that is suggesting we are seeing only about 40% of what was predicted preseason,” Herring said. “So we have downgraded the run.
He continued, “with the catch that we have in hand plus what is likely to occur throughout the rest of the season, it put us in a situation where we felt the management objective of reaching natural-origin coho escapement would not be reached.”
Natural origin in WDFW’s term for hatchery salmon that have reestablished spawning beds in local rivers. Agency policy attaches greater importance to these fish.
The preseason run size for natural-origin coho was anticipated to be 56,366 and the updated run size as of Nov. 7 is 22,479 natural-origin coho.
“When you look at the catch we have in hand already in the commercial fishery of just about 3,000 fish and then you estimate what you would get in freshwater fisheries,” Herring said. “If they were to remain open, we predict we would just have around 1,000 fish over escapement.”
He continued, “now there is some uncertainty in these management models. It’s not like you can just put it in and it’s going to give you exact numbers. It operates on a range and we are talking strictly point values here. If we were to go with a full closure, we are estimating just shy of 18,000 fish on the spawning grounds.”
Herring held a conference call with members of the Willapa Bay Salmon Management Advisory group on Thursday, Nov. 7 to discuss options for what should be done.
“We walked through all this data and the majority of the input from the advisory group was to err on the side of caution, given we haven’t met the coho natural origin escapement in three out of the past four years,” Herring said. “We got a lot of input from the advisory group and decided to err on the side of caution and close the fishery for now.”
WDFW staff is expected to continue surveying the spawning grounds and decide at a future time whether the season can be reopened or if it should continue to remain closed.
The closure has infuriated both recreational and commercial fishermen who stated that the fishing had just picked up for the first time in weeks and decent-sized fish were being hauled in.
On Tuesday, Nov. 12 dozens of fishermen lined the banks of the Willapa River in the Riverdale portion of Raymond. Several more were observed fishing along the bank farther down State Route 105 toward Baleville.