State commercial fishing managers say they scrubbed a Puget Sound chum salmon fishery last week after the Squaxin Island Tribe expressed “deep doubts about the run.”
“We understand tribal concerns with their fisheries occurring in extreme terminal areas and closed the seine fishery to help address those concerns,” reads a WDFW statement sent out late Friday afternoon.
Squaxin Chairman Arnold Cooper had blasted the agency earlier in the week for planning to continue to fish despite low initial returns and the tribe deciding not to go out for chums.
“When the co-manager alerts you to a problem in real fish, they need to stop telling us that the computer model says there is plenty of paper fish and there is no problem,” Cooper said in a press release. “The state ignores the warning, on the hope that the rains will come, the rivers will rise, and the fish will show up. The tribe hopes that is so, but is not willing to risk the run.”
Cooper said that at the time returns to Kennedy Creek at the head of Totten Inlet was just 20 percent of usual.
WDFW acknowledged that fewer chums were showing up in streams that see early runs, but said there have been good signs to the north.
“Purse seine catch per landing in Areas 10 and 11 on Monday was the highest we have seen for this week since 2007,” the statement said. “Two weeks ago it was one of the lowest we have seen in recent years.”
WDFW reports that 165,000 chums have been caught in the nontribal commercial fishery off Seattle and Tacoma. It said that while there are still salmon available for state netters (~36,000), per a preseason agreement the fishery closed as of last Friday morning to protect Nisqually River winter chums.
Southern resident killer whales from J Pod have been feasting on chums off Vashon Island and elsewhere in the Central Sound since last week. Transient, or marine mammal-eating Bigg’s orcas, have also been in the area.
Chums were definitely in evidence in Seattle’s Pipers Creek over the weekend, where 40 had been counted by early afternoon on Saturday, ballooning the season total to 54.
WDFW says that surveyors spotted far more chums in Kennedy Creek, 3,524, on Nov. 7, though that figure is on the low side.
“While we may be below the 10-year average for this date of 9,033 chum, we are within the range expected during this time, especially given the lack of rain which typically serves as an environmental cue for fish to move onto the spawning grounds,” the agency statement said.
According to precipitation totals posted on KOMO’s website, November rainfall is one-third of average and running 1.25 inches behind since the start of the water year, Oct. 1.
The escapement goal for Kennedy Creek is 14,400 in even years, 11,500 in odds. According to WDFW, those figures have been met 27 years in a row.
The overall preseason forecast for Central and South Sound was 543,637. The state and tribes agreed to lower that to 478,000 two weeks ago, but WDFW test fishery and purse seine models last week spit out 643,566 and 538,330, figures the tribes didn’t agree to.