Anglers will have opportunities to fish for salmon in the ocean and Columbia River this year, although recreational and non-tribal commercial salmon fisheries in Puget Sound may be closed through much of the season.
After lengthy negotiations, state and tribal fishery managers could not reach an agreement on salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound. An agreement must be reached in the next few weeks or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty tribes in western Washington will each need to secure separate federal permits required to hold fisheries in Puget Sound waters where there are protected fish stocks.
That decision was made yesterday at the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s meeting in Vancouver, Wash. Salmon fishing seasons for Washington’s ocean waters and the Columbia River were adopted during the federal panel’s meeting. A summary of those fisheries is available on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/news/attach/apr1516a.pdf
Jim Unsworth, WDFW director, said potentially forgoing salmon seasons in Puget Sound isn’t a decision the department took lightly.
“We realize that closing salmon fishing in Puget Sound for the foreseeable future is not only disappointing but is detrimental to many communities across the region,” he said. “As we work to secure the necessary federal permit, we hope to continue discussions with the tribes. I believe co-management can work, and we will do our part to improve the process of setting salmon seasons in Washington.”
This is the first time the state and tribes have not reached an agreement on salmon fishing seasons while working as co-managers, which began about 30 years ago. In previous years, the co-managers have been authorized to fish for salmon under a joint federal permit.
Ron Warren, head of WDFW’s Fish Program, said the department will begin working with NOAA Fisheries to secure a federal permit for salmon fisheries in Puget Sound. However, it is uncertain the department will receive federal authorization in time to hold salmon fisheries this summer, he said.
“We knew setting salmon-fishing seasons would be challenging this year due to the poor forecast for coho,” Warren said. “Our staff worked really hard to put forward a set of proposed fisheries that met agreed-to conservation goals. Unfortunately, we were not able to reach an agreement.”
About 256,000 coho are expected to return to Puget Sound in 2016. That’s about one-third the size of run predicted in 2015.
During the salmon season-setting process, state fishery managers consulted with numerous members of the department’s Puget Sound sportfishing advisory groups, who supported the department’s decision.
Puget Sound marine and fresh water areas that currently are open to salmon fishing – including marine areas 5, 11, 12 and 13 – will close to fishing May 1, if not scheduled to close earlier in the 2015-2016 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet.