MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS: Ups, downs of salmon fishing

SALMON SNOBS HAVE reason to rejoice, sort of.

State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials expect an increase in chinook salmon returns on the coast and Puget Sound this year.

That means more of the most sought-after salmon for saltwater anglers, even if there will be decreases in coho from last year’s banner run.

In the case of the chinook, many of those are expected to be of the hatchery variety, which could push the state’s continued move toward selective chinook fisheries (translation: keeping hatchery chinook but releasing wild ones) even farther west.

Just don’t expect that expansion to include the eastern portion of Marine Area 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca).

“I don’t really think that this is a year where that is going to be a high priority,” state salmon policy coordinator Pat Patillo said of adding a chinook fishery east of Ediz Hook.

“In this [budgetary] climate it is very difficult to add.

“Also, we may not have the opportunity to open up new fisheries, even if it is selective.”

Forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon mark the starting point for developing 2010 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and the state’s coastal areas.

Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings during the next few weeks to discuss potential fishing opportunities before finalizing seasons in mid-April.

Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson said in a news release that fishery managers face new challenges this year in designing fishing seasons that not only meet conservation goals for salmon, but also minimize impacts on depressed rockfish populations in Puget Sound.

“It’s important that we take an ecosystem approach to managing our fisheries,” Anderson said.

“We must take into account and minimize impacts to other species.”

Coastal chinook

Approximately 653,000 fall chinook are forecasted to make their way along the coast to the Columbia River this season, or about 234,000 more than last year’s actual return.

Since those numbers are driven by abundant returns to Spring Creek and other Columbia River hatcheries, the state is looking into employing selective fisheries in the ocean — a first for the state.

That includes Marine Areas 3 (LaPush) and 4 (Neah Bay) on the Peninsula, Patillo said.

“Very definitely, there’s a possibility that we would use a chinook selective fishery in the mix of regulations in the ocean this year,” Patillo said.

“The success of a selective fishery is based on the expectation that you will have a good percentage of fish out there that are keepable.

“We think well over half of the fish will be keepable [hatchery fish on the coast].

“The other positive thing about it is we are able possibly to have more fishing [days] than the nonselective days.”

Forecasts also predict a slight bump in the number of chinook returning to Puget Sound (226,000 fish).

Yet the idea of including the eastern portion of Area 6 in the summer selective chinook fishery likely won’t fly due to budgetary concerns and possible restrictions under the state’s new Puget Sound chinook management plan, Patillo said.

“I doubt that the Strait area is one where we are looking at some new fisheries,” he said.

“In general we’ve been looking at places where we already have fisheries that we may want to convert to selective fisheries.”

Coho and more

Unfortunately, there will be less of a silver lining to this year’s coastal salmon seasons.

Columbia River coho returns are expected to decrease by more than 50 percent from one million in 2009 to 390,000 this year.

Puget Sound, meanwhile, should see a moderate increase of about 31,000 more fish (614,000 total).

Another strong fall chum salmon return is forecasted for Hood Canal and other areas of Puget Sound, where the run is expected to total about 1.3 million fish.

State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 6-12 in Sacramento with the PFMC — Pacific Fishery Management Council — to develop options for this year’s commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries.

Additional public meetings have been scheduled in March and April to discuss regional fisheries issues.

Here are dates for meetings near the Peninsula:

— March 11 ­– Coastal fisheries discussion, 6-8 p.m., Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main St., Montesano.

— March 16 — First North of Falcon meeting, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., General Administration Building Auditorium, 210 11th Ave. S.W., Olympia.

— March 25 — Puget Sound commercial fisheries discussion, 10 a.m.-noon, WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.

This meeting will be followed that evening by a Puget Sound recreational fisheries discussion from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the same location.

The PFMC is expected to adopt the final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 10-15 meeting in Portland, Ore.

The 2010 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters will be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.

Preseason salmon forecasts, proposed fishing options and details on upcoming meetings will be posted as they become available on Fish and Wildlife’s North of Falcon Web site at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/.

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Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column regularly appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected]

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