A powerful new eye is peering into the microscope that Puget Sound coho are being watched under this year.
As state fishery managers continue to carefully monitor the runs for any signs of possible angling opportunities, state Sen. Kirk Pearson (R) of Monroe sent a terse letter to WDFW asking why the agency wasn’t doing the test fishing on the Snohomish that Director Jim Unsworth stated last Saturday he wanted to do.
“As Chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee, I urge you, in the strongest way possible to devote the necessary resources to immediately gather the information you need to make a decision on this question, and I urge you to make that decision much sooner than later,” Pearson wrote Sept. 20 .
A WDFW spokesman late this afternoon said Unsworth has not replied to the senator and was reflecting on a response, but the broadside came a day after it was reported that the good signs which the director had mentioned on a Seattle radio show last weekend have subsequently soured.
“Over the weekend we thought we might get another push of coho, and that didn’t happen,” biologist Laurie Peterson told a newspaper reporter earlier this week. “It looks like that early push isn’t sustaining and growing. A dip occurred and there could be just pulses of fish moving in, and will see what happens over the course of the run. We are taking it day-by-day, and looking for every opportunity to get anglers out.”
This year’s forecast was for low returns of coho throughout most of Western Washington, and so WDFW has been very conservative and barred salmon fishing on Puget Sound and many rivers in August, September and October.
However, anecdotal reports in recent weeks from the salt and then streams suggested there were more coho coming back, and that they were fat and sassy.
In-season updates from the Lake Washington and Duwamish earlier this month found enough are returning for commercial tribal and recreational fisheries to occur on both.
As of yesterday afternoon, there were no indications of softness to either run, either.
But while those two systems are basically managed for hatchery production of earlier returning fish, it’s a different case on the Snohomish and to the north, where wild coho command the decision-making process and tend to arrive a bit later.
They’re not listed under the Endangered Species Act — at least not yet — but it’s inherently more risky to get it wrong, and after 2015’s run disaster, managers’ first goal this year is ensuring enough get back to the gravel.
After intense discussions throughout today with the comanagers, a decision on opening the Skagit was put off until next week.
It appears that test results are improving there, but this week’s was also the first with a “meaningful” sampling. A little more time and more testing could back up those positive early indications, or help determine if there’s a hole behind the jumpers in the river now and at the check-ins, like may be the case on the Snohomish.
By that time more of the best fishing will have passed.
A protest fishery will have been held at Monroe.
And no doubt, the gaze of Senator Pearson will be all the more steely.