Chinook salmon runs at a low ebb. (Sonny Parker/Yukon News)

Chinook salmon runs at a low ebb. (Sonny Parker/Yukon News)

Salmon forecast predicts modest gains, overall downward trend

While the forecast for this season is up from last year, the numbers are still well below historical averages suggesting continued restrictions.

There’s good news and not-so-good news for local anglers.

The good news: In its 2022 salmon run forecasts, which were released last week, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife predicted some modest gains from last year among its Chinook, coho, sockeye and chum runs in Puget Sound and other Washington waters.

The not-so-good news: The numbers remain well below historical averages, suggesting continued restrictions are likely for this year’s fishing season.

“Overall the Chinook forecasts and coho forecasts are up relative to last year,” said Chad Herring, an anadromous resources policy analyst with the Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The Chinook are modestly so, while there are bigger gains in the coho forecast.

“But while it looks better than last year, the overall trend is down,” added Herring, who noted that wild stocks remain down about 40% from where they were listed in 1999.

The forecasts are the start of the North of Falcon process, which is used to set the commercial and recreational fishing seasons. The seasons are developed by state and tribal officials. The next step in the process is a series of public meetings, which this year are being held virtually. The salmon season is expected to be set by mid-April.

The forecasts are determined by scientific modeling using data such as ocean conditions, the numbers of juvenile salmon that migrated to marine waters, and the numbers of adult salmon that returned in past years.

The forecasts estimated that 250,440 Chinook and 666,468 coho will return to Puget Sound waters this season. Those numbers are up from the projections of 231,346 Chinook and 614,948 coho from 2021.

The prognosis is less positive for Snohomish County rivers. The Snohomish River’s forecast for Chinook (5,700) is down 774 and coho (86,777) is down 3,161 from last year’s forecast, while the Stillaguamish River’s forecast for Chinook (890) is down 22 and coho (26,829) is down 3,999 from 2021.

“There are a couple of stocks we’re really keeping a close eye on this year,” Herring said. “The Stillaguamish natural stock is one that’s been kind of perennially in poor shape, and that has been the main drive in constraining a lot of Puget Sound’s opportunity. The other one we’re really paying attention to this year is the Snohomish stock, there are some concerns there. Those forecasts are on the low side and that stock has been underperforming in recent years.”

Puget Sound’s Chinook population is listed by the state as “in crisis” under the Endangered Species Act. Fishing restrictions are part of the conservation effort for protecting at-risk species.

“Fishing is a critical part of Washington’s culture and economy, and we want to make sure people have plenty of opportunity to get out on the water in 2022,” Department of Fish and Wildlife director Kelly Susewind said in a press release. “When we set salmon seasons, we always have to start from a place that ensures this iconic resource will be available for future generations, and that means we sometimes have to make tough decisions in the present.”

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