OUTDOORS: State releases salmon-run estimates, conference call today

SALMON RUN ESTIMATES released recently by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife are expected to be lower this year compared to last season, including several key chinook and coho stocks. As a result, a number of fishing opportunities from Puget Sound south to the Columbia River likely will be restricted.

“We will definitely have to be creative in developing salmon fisheries this year,” said Kyle Adicks, salmon policy lead for Fish and Wildlife. “I encourage people to get involved and provide input on what they see as the priorities for this season’s fisheries.”

Adicks said the low salmon returns are the result of a variety of factors, including another year of poor ocean conditions.

The forecasts are based on varying environmental indicators, such as ocean conditions, as well as surveys of spawning salmon, and the number of juvenile salmon migrating to marine waters.

Washington’s ocean waters

A lower return of coho and chinook to the Columbia River, combined with a poor forecast of coho returning to the Queets River, will likely mean further restrictions to Washington’s ocean salmon fishery as compared to last year, Adicks said.

This year’s forecast of about 112,500 hatchery chinook expected to return to the Columbia River is down more than 50 percent from last year’s forecast. Those hatchery chinook, known as “tules” are the backbone of the recreational ocean fishery.

Puget Sound

The expected return of 557,150 Puget Sound coho is down about 6 percent from the 10-year average. Very low returns to certain areas, such as the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Snohomish River, could limit salmon fishing in those regions.

While the 2018 forecast of 227,400 Puget Sound hatchery chinook is up 38 percent from last year, continued low returns of federal Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed wild chinook to some rivers will limit fisheries this year.

Columbia River

Roughly 236,500 “upriver brights” are expected to return to areas of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam. That is down more than 50 percent from the most recent 10-year average.

An estimated 286,200 coho are projected to return to the Columbia River this year, down nearly 100,000 fish from the 2017 forecast. About 279,300 actually returned last year to the river, where some coho stocks are listed for protection under the ESA.

Some salmon fisheries in the Columbia River will likely be more restrictive than last year, Adicks said.

Sportfishing group

State fishery managers invite the public to participate in meetings and conference calls of the Puget Sound Sportfishing Advisory Group regarding the 2018-19 salmon fishing seasons.

A call is planned for 2 p.m. today. State salmon managers will provide updates about NOAA Fisheries’ guidance on 2018-19 conservation objectives for managing Puget Sound chinook. These objectives will influence salmon fishing seasons this year.

For instruction on how to join the call, visit the group’s website at tinyurl.com/PDN-SportFishingGroup.

Meeting announcements, agenda items, and a list of the advisers are also available on that site. Anyone wishing to receive email notifications of upcoming calls or meetings will be able to sign up for emails through the advisory group site in the near future.

“As we get closer to finalizing salmon seasons in mid-April, we’ll schedule more conference calls and meetings,” said Mark Baltzell, Puget Sound salmon manager. “We encourage the public to listen in on the calls and reach out to advisers with questions and concerns.”

A 10-year management plan for harvesting Puget Sound chinook salmon, initially submitted to NOAA Fisheries last fall, is being revised and likely will be resubmitted in late summer, Baltzell said. State fishery managers will provide updates on the plan to advisers in future conference calls.

More information on the plan can be found on the department’s website at wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/chinook/. Fish and Wildlife also will post NOAA’s guidance for this year’s fisheries.

Conservation objectives

With the population of Puget Sound wild chinook in decline, salmon managers are working to finalize conservation goals for managing chinook fisheries in 2018.

“We’ll have a better idea of how restrictive Puget Sound salmon fisheries will be this year when NOAA provides its guidance in March,” Adicks said.

NOAA also may ask for additional restrictions on fisheries as the federal agency weighs conservation measures for southern resident killer whales, whose population has been declining along with salmon. State, tribal and federal fish and wildlife managers, together with their Canadian counterparts, are discussing how to recover the whale population. Some options include limiting fisheries, increasing hatchery production for salmon, improving water quality, and reducing boating activities in key killer whale habitat.

Salmon managers will continue to discuss the issue at upcoming meetings.

Also at those meetings, state salmon managers plan to discuss with the public ways to simplify salmon-fishing regulations. Anglers are invited to share ideas for making salmon fishing rules less complex during public meetings or by using an online commenting tool.

Derby results

Nick Rutter claimed the Geoduck Restaurant and Lounge’s 36th annual Murray’s Salmon Derby’s $1,500 first prize with a 10.2-pound blackmouth caught last Saturday, the first day of the two-day event on Hood Canal.

“As expected, the derby fishing was excellent,” said Quilcene’s Ward Norden, a former fisheries biologist and owner of Snapper Tackle Company. “More fish were weighed in (over 30) than any of the last three derbies, and over double last year’s total.

“The fish weren’t big, with the biggest being only 10 pounds and most being about 6 pounds, but even on Saturday with a nasty north wind, over 20 were weighed in.

“After watching the weigh-ins, I am developing a theory that most of the chinook in the Hood Canal spend their first two years in salt water in the canal then migrate out for their last year to feed on something else which might explain the lack of larger fish.”

Norden said that, “as always, [last Sunday’s] awards ceremony was raucous and fun at the Geoduck Tavern.”

No crappie fishing

Norden said recent stretches of cold weather lowered water temperatures in Lake Leland back down to the mid-30 degree range, putting an end to his hopes for some early crappie fishing.

“In spite of the cold water, pier fishers are still getting some gorgeous fish on bait fished just above the bottom,” Norden said. “I saw one in a basket that was about 19 inches and the angler had another only slightly smaller. I had to remind him that the limit on those big trout over 15” is two, not five.

“As the weather warms this next week, the best tactic for boat anglers will be to head down to the opposite end of the lake which is shallower and warms earlier, double anchor the boat, and bobber fish with bait about 4-5 feet below the bobber.”

Multi-season tags

Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their names into the drawing for a 2018 multiple-season tag, which can greatly increase the opportunity for success in the field.

Fish and Wildlife will hold the drawing in mid-April, randomly selecting names for 8,500 multiple-season deer tags and 1,000 multiple-season elk tags.

Winners of the drawing can purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzle-loader and modern firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2018.

Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag can participate in general elk hunting seasons in both eastern and western Washington. Hunters may apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk.

A multiple-season application can be purchased from authorized license dealers, online at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov or by calling 866-246-9453. The application costs $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for nonresidents.

For more information, visit WDFW’s website at wdfw.wa.gov or call the Licensing Division at 360-902-2464.

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