Updated 11:32 a.m., Sept. 27, 2018
State fishery managers are closing a large portion of traditionally one of the strongest coho systems in Western Washington due to a low return of wild fish.
The Snohomish River, Snoqualmie River and Skykomish River above the mouth of the Wallace River will close to salmon fishing effective this Saturday, Sept. 29, according to an emergency rule-change notice out from WDFW this morning.
“In-season run size updates indicate that the Snohomish wild coho run is lower than the pre-season forecast. These measures are needed to protect future runs of coho by increasing chances wild spawner escapement goals are met,” the agency stated.
The Skykomish from its mouth to the Wallace and the Wallace, where hatchery coho are headed, will remain open but only for adipose-fin-clipped silvers.
If fish numbers improve, there’s a chance the rivers could reopen, according to WDFW. On Facebook, anglers were reporting good numbers in the system, and state catch stats showed strong saltwater catches in early September.
In the background is a move earlier this year by the National Marine Fisheries Service that listed Snohomish coho as an “overfished” stock.
That’s a determination that means “the stock is depressed and signals conservation concern. Under these conditions, a rebuilding plan must be developed to improve the escapement, generally rebuilding the stock within 10 years,” according to NMFS.
Escapements during a recent three-year period fell short of goals, triggering a recommendation that harvests be reduced. Federal, tribal and state biologists are working to understand the reasons why the run has been weaker, the agency says.
In the meanwhile, last Sunday marked the last day to fish for coho off the mouth of the Snohomish, Marine Area 8-2, and Sunday is the final day for waters further out, Areas 5, 6, 8-1 and 9.
This year has seen a number of lower than expected returns due to recent years’ ocean conditions and drought, including Columbia River Chinook and steelhead, Willapa Bay kings, and Cowlitz and Washougal Rivers fall Chinook, leading to closures or reduced limits.
WDFW also today announced that the limit on adult salmon in Drano Lake was being reduced to one a day.
At least one closure, however, was in part to try and collect more fall king eggs to benefit orcas in future years, Samish Chinook.
In 2016, when the Snohomish system was closed from the outset of the season, managers were able to open fisheries in mid-October when it became apparent there were enough returning.