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Details Emerging On Puget Sound 2017 Salmon Fishery Deal

State and tribal salmon managers have reached an agreement on 2017 Puget Sound fisheries, a season that will see closures to protect northern coho stocks but also increased Chinook opportunities out of the Seattle area.

The deal was struck last night between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Westside tribes on how to split the harvestable surplus of salmon as well as conserve troubled runs.

Tony Floor of the Northwest Marine Trade Association initially termed it a “mixed bag” with “decent” fisheries in Areas 9 through 13, but “tough news” in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands.

A PAIR OF ANGLERS HOIST CHINOOK CAUGHT IN ELLIOTT BAY SEVERAL YEARS AGO NOW. THE SALTWATERS IMMEDIATELY OFF SEATTLE HAVEN’T BEEN OPEN FOR SUMMER KINGS IN MANY YEARS, BUT 2017 WILL SEE A BRIEF OPPORTUNITY THERE, AS WELL AS A MORE SUBSTANTIVE OPENER IN THE DUWAMISH RIVER AT ITS SOUTH END. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

An official press release from WDFW is expected soon, while the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission has posted theirs.

Following on 2016’s long, drawn-out negotiations that didn’t wrap up until late May, the agreement does provide surety of seasons much earlier in the year.

“Having seasons set on time in April is very important to the sport fishing community, including the businesses that are dependent on advanced planning,” said Pat Pattillo, who has been closely monitoring this year’s North of Falcon to brief the recreational angling community. “The staff at WDFW who work their tails off during this difficult season-setting process are true professionals and deserve a lot of credit for getting the job done. They made changes to improve the process this year that have paid off in outcomes.”

The retired WDFW salmon policy expert’s comments were echoed in part by the Northwest Sportfishing industry Association.

“We are pleased that the comanagers came to an agreement on time to avoid delays in our fisheries,” said executive director Liz Hamilton. “Sadly, protections for weak stocks dictated some really painful closures in certain areas. But with some of the outcomes for sports anglers improved over last year, we look forward to working with the agency to get the word out to help get anglers onto some good fishing opportunity.”

That said, the fisheries package delivers tough news, as extremely low returns of Skagit and Stillaguamish silvers will curtail late summer fisheries in the Straits, San Juans and Areas 8 and 9, where those stocks mix with healthier ones, as well as close the two rivers themselves and the Cascade.

That’s according to matrices produced yesterday and which represent broad views of seasons and closures more so than the nitty gritty details of actual fisheries. That sort of detail will emerge in the coming days and weeks.

About the only way for anglers to pick up coho from a stronger Snohomish River return will be during unique bank-only fisheries in Admiralty Inlet and Area 8-2 for marked coho in August and early September, and in the river system itself, which will be open for wild and hatchery silvers.

Further south, coho opportunities open up more, with Areas 10 and 13 open for fin-clipped silvers and Areas 11 and 12 open for hatchery and wild coho.

In freshwater, besides the Snohomish system, the Green-Duwamish, Puyallup, Nisqually and Quilcene will see any-coho fisheries, while those on the Dungeness, Nooksack and Samish will be hatchery only.

Overall on the coho front, it represents a big improvement over last year, when widespread closures were initially required due to low forecasts, though as more than expected actually returned, there were emergency openers in September and October.

On the Chinook side, there’s a brief mid-August nonselective opener in inner Elliott Bay, as well as a season in the Duwamish River.

Frank Urabeck was “very excited” both would be available after being closed for a number of years.

“I used to fish the bay every summer when it was open. In 1996 my wife and I played seven kings off Duwamish Head, taking home three – if memory serves me right,” the sportfishing advocate recalled.

We’ll also see the usual mid-July to mid-August window for Areas 9 and 10 hatchery kings.

According to Tom Nelson, host of 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line, quotas for those two saltwater fisheries are roughly 5,500 and 2,150, up from last year’s 3,000 and 1,400.

The Nooksack, Skykomish, Skagit-Cascade, Puyallup and Nisqually will see fisheries for hatchery springers or summer Chinook, while there will be an any-king fisheries in the Samish River and Tulalip Bubble.

Again, more specific details will emerge in the coming days and weeks.

Between last week’s WDFW meeting with sport anglers in Lynnwood to go over possible seasons and yesterday’s agreement reached in Sacramento with the tribes, there were a number of deletions from the matrices, including the loss of a month of coho fishing in late summer in the western Straits and a month and a half in the eastern Strait, restricting Area 9’s September bank fishery in Area 9 to only the first few days of the month and the loss of all coho retention in the San Juans and restriction of salmon fisheries in the islands to just July through September for Chinook.

That appears to have been a result of WDFW being stuck with pruning back sport impacts on Skagit and Stilly coho, where only 18,711 and 9,142 are expected — slivers of average.

Elsewhere, WDFW and the Skokomish Tribe do not appear to have reached a deal on nontribal fishing on the Skokomish River for the Chinook and coho headed back to the WDFW hatchery there. Supported by a federal solicitor’s opinion, the tribe contends the river is theirs from bank to bank in the lower end.

On a brighter note, a large forecasted return of Baker Lake sockeye will provide a month-long Skagit River fishery and at least six weeks in the reservoir.

The bonus bag on Puget Sound pink salmon will not be in effect this year, however, but Nelson believes that with the low forecast — around 1.3 million — the humpies that do make it back should have had less competition in the ocean, be fatter and put more eggs in the gravel for 2019’s fishery.

He believes that we’ve got one more “bitter pill” to swallow in 2018 due to the lingering effects of The Blob in 2014 and 2015, and he also issued a call to the recreational community to get over the bitter past and present with the comanagers.

“Here’s the thing: If we want better future seasons like what we saw in the recent past, the sportfishing community has to reach out and work with the tribes,” Nelson said.

That would include identifying chronically low stocks and the reasons behind them, a mix of habitat issues, but also other factors. Pointing to Lake Washington Chinook, Nelson asked if those fish really were an “ecologically significant unit” and noted the compromised character of its habitat in Seattle and suburbs.

“Let’s open the hatchery faucet in Lake Washington,” he said, something he felt the tribes would probably buy into.

That tone of working together with the tribes may not be widely shared among Puget Sound fishermen, especially coming out of last year, a sense that, increasingly, the tribes are the ones determining inside sport seasons, and calls for more transparency during the North of Falcon negotiations.

For their part, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission put out a press release saying that tribes’ three major types of fisheries would all be constrained as well.

The organization said that everyone’s fisheries wouldn’t need to be so restricted if the state put more effort into habitat. In a tweet, they pointed to levees in the Dungeness flats that have reduced access for young Chinook to the floodplain, and development in the Stillaguamish that has degraded habitat.

Long term problems, certainly, but for now, however, fishermen can begin planning their seasons in Puget Sound.