Another lean year for coho, but some positive signs

EVERETT — It’s going to be another lean year for salmon fishing, with expected low returns of coho continuing a trend set in 2015.

Most significantly, there will be no recreational salmon fishing at all in the Stillaguamish River this year, and no coho fishery in the Skagit River watershed.

“Coho really were the constraining stock for us in the Skagit system and the Stillaguamish system, and conservation actions were needed,” said Ron Warren, the assistant director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s fish program.

Tribes that fish those watersheds are limiting themselves to ceremonial and subsistence coho fishing only. Biologists estimate fewer than 9,000 coho are expected to return to the Stillaguamish and 11,000 to the Skagit.

“All of our salmon stocks are coming back below escapement levels,” said Shawn Yanity, chairman of the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians. He said that historically more than 30,000 coho returned to the Stillaguamish River.

The state and other tribes all made cuts to ensure that some fish will make it back into the Stillaguamish this year, he said.

Even so, the tribe only will be able to catch 110 total coho and about 30 chinook for ceremonial and subsistence purposes, Yanity said.

“We expect more runs like this because 2015 just really did the Skagit in, and it’ll take a bit of time to recoup,” said Lorraine Loomis, the chairwoman of Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

In 2015, fishery managers were taken by surprise when the number of returning coho salmon fell far below forecasts. That forced them to implement drastic restrictions for the 2016 season, including canceling the commercial and tribal coho ocean fisheries.

The negotiations between tribes and state took an acrimonious turn, leading to demonstrations and accusations of unfairness. An agreement wasn’t reached until late May.

This week, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is composed of federal, state and tribal managers, finished setting the coming season without last year’s drama.

The ocean recreational fisheries have shown some signs of improvement over last year, Warren said, and there will be more robust fisheries in the south Puget Sound area, but by and large, depressed coho returns continue to have an effect throughout the region.

The recreational quota is set at 45,000 chinook salmon, compared to the 2016 limit of 35,000. The quota for marked coho has been set at 42,000, up from 18,900 last year.

The spring commercial fishery quota of 27,000 chinook is up slightly from 19,100 last year. The summer quota includes 18,000 chinook and 5,600 coho.

Coastal tribes’ fisheries have quotas of 40,000 chinook and 12,500 coho this year, similar to past years.

Mark Baltzell, the Puget Sound salmon manager for Fish and Wildlife, said that much of Marine Area 8, which includes those parts of Puget Sound around Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties, will be closed to recreational fishing to protect coho and pink salmon returning to the Stillaguamish and Skagit rivers.

A limited shore-based fishery for hatchery coho will be allowed at Possession Point on Whidbey Island from Aug. 1 through Labor Day, he said, and the “Tulalip Bubble” just off Tulalip Bay will be open to normal chinook and coho fishing starting May 26.

Throughout coastal Washington and northern Oregon, the total allowable non-Indian catch of 90,000 chinook and 42,000 hatchery coho are both higher than the 2016 levels.

Other details of the local season agreed to this week include:

• On June 1, the Skagit, Cascade and Skykomish rivers open for chinook. The limit on the Skagit is four fish, including two adults, through July 15. The Skykomish is open through July 30 with the same bag limit.

• The Skagit is open for sockeye June 16-July 15, with a three-fish limit.

• Baker Lake is open for sockeye July 6-Sept. 7, with a limit of four sockeye.

• The mouth of the Snohomish River opens Aug. 1 for both hatchery and wild coho and pinks, and mandatory release of chinook and chum. The limit is three salmon total.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

Learn more

Full details of both ocean and inland fishing seasons will be published in Fish and Wildlife’s annual rules pamphlet, which is expected to be available online soon at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations.

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