OUTDOORS: Salmon season projections unveiled

Coho runs up, chinook down

Salmon-season prospects for the 2021-22 fishing season were recently released by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and tribal co-managers in advance of North of Falcon season-setting meetings.

The forecasts cover expected returns of chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum to Puget Sound, the Columbia River and the coast.

Projected returns for coho in the state’s ocean waters are 241,800 fish, down from 2020’s 255,605. Low expected returns of coho to coastal rivers such as the Queets are expected to limit ocean fishing opportunities despite a large number of silvers projected to return to the Columbia.

About 73,100 hatchery chinook are expected to return to the lower Columbia River this year, similar to last year’s actual return. These fish are known as “tules” and make up a sizable portion of the recreational ocean fishery. The 2020 return came in above forecast but still only about 85 percent of the 10-year average.

You know it may be a rough year for salmon fishing when pinks are the lead species discussed for the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound.

Yes, 2021 is an odd year, triggering a forecasted return of 2.9 million wild pinks, similar to the 2019 run but down significantly from historical highs.

Hatchery and wild coho projections are set at about 615,000 fish, a rise from the 504,600 estimated to have returned to inland waters last year.

Puget Sound chinook and chum are expected to have another down year with Fish and Wildlife pointing to low returns of mid-Hood Canal and Stillaguamish River kings as potentially hindering recreational fishing opportunities.

The rosiest forecast comes from the Columbia River, which stands to see small gains in chinook return and a sizable improvement upon last year’s underestimate of coho.

About 354,200 upriver bright kings are expected to return to areas of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam, a sizable increase over the 299,300 fish that returned in 2020 but still below the 10-year average.

Coho runs are projected to reach 1.6 million in early and late runs up the Columbia; that’s a huge increase from the 363,000 that were estimated to return in 2020.

North of Falcon public meetings will all be held virtually this month ahead of April’s final season setting.

More information about the salmon season-setting process, including public meeting schedules and materials, are available at tinyurl.com/PDN-Salmon Season.

Steelhead closure

Citing low returns, Fish and Wildlife will implement a sportfishing closure in the Queets, Quinault, Humptulips and Chehalis river systems as well as tributaries of Willapa Bay to further protect wild steelhead populations. The closure takes effect Monday.

The Quillayute River system is not included in the closure, and steelhead fishing is expected to continue through March.

The department said it is planning a public meeting early this summer to debrief this past season with input from the state’s angling community.

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Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected] news.com.

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