OLYMPIA - Anglers will get their first look at preseason salmon forecasts when the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) hosts a public meeting March 3 in Olympia.

This meeting kicks off the annual "North of Falcon" salmon season-setting process in which state, tribal and federal fisheries managers meet to establish salmon seasons for the Pacific Ocean, Washington coast, Puget Sound and the Columbia River.

The March 3 meeting, set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., will be in the General Administration Building auditorium at 11th and Columbia on the capitol campus. WDFW staff will give an overview of forecasts for salmon returns in 2003 and will discuss and answer questions about possible fishing seasons.

"Our goal during this annual process is to develop a complete, ocean-to-spawning grounds fisheries package that protects weak salmon stocks while providing excellent recreational and commercial fishing opportunities on plentiful hatchery and healthy wild stocks," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings.

"Recreational and commercial fishing activities in Washington in 2001 meant more than $1 billion to our state's economy," he said. "Protecting our natural resources, restoring weak fish stocks and maintaining the health of robust stocks is good science and good economic policy."

WDFW will once again have a North of Falcon web page. The page will be added to the WDFW website, at http://www.wa.gov/wdfw/ on the Internet and will include background information, proposed ocean fishing options and the North of Falcon / PFMC meetings schedules. The website will be updated frequently as new information becomes available.

The North of Falcon process occurs in conjunction with public meetings held by the federal Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), where decisions are made for fishing seasons in Pacific Ocean waters 3 to 200 miles off the Pacific coast. The PFMC meets March 10-14 in Sacramento with state and tribal managers and the public to establish a range of ocean fishing options for public review. The panel will finalize its seasons April 7-11 in Vancouver, Wash.

North of Falcon meetings, which are also open to the public, are set for March 20 in Olympia and April 2 in SeaTac.

Additional regional meetings to discuss possible fishing season options and to gather public input are set for Montesano, Mill Creek and Portland.

Koenings said key conservation issues this year will once again center on protecting and rebuilding weak wild salmon stocks, including Puget Sound chinook salmon and others protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.

Improving ocean-survival conditions, along with a conservation-based approach to establishing fishing seasons, have begun to show results, Koenings said.

"WDFW annually surveys about 8,000 miles of streams to count spawning fish. Between 1996 and 2000, 45 distinct spawning populations of ESA-listed salmon, representing more than half of those surveyed, increased in number.

"This data shows that we can rebuild fish populations while at the same time offer meaningful fishing seasons on hatchery and healthy wild stocks," Koenings said.

This is the complete list of preseason meetings:

March 3 - Preseason forecasts and fishery discussions - 9 a.m., General Administration Building Auditorium, 11th and Columbia, Olympia.

March 10-14 - Pacific Fishery Management Council, Sacramento

March 11 - Coastal fisheries discussion, 7-9 p.m., Montesano High School Commons, 303 North Church St., Montesano

Mach 13 - Puget Sound fisheries discussion, 7-9 p.m., WDFW Mill Creek office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek

March 18 - Columbia River fisheries discussion, Columbia River Double Tree Inn, 1401 N. Hayden Island Dr., Portland

March 20 - North of Falcon, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Room 172 WDFW-Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia

April 2 - North of Falcon, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., SeaTac Holiday Inn, 17338 International Airport Blvd., SeaTac

April 7-11 - Final PFMC and North of Falcon meetings, Red Lion Inn at the Quay, 100 Columbia St., Vancouver, Wash.

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