The chance that this year’s Washington sport salmon fisheries might have to be resolved in court appears to have been powerful motivation for state managers to pull a U-turn on a very popular Puget Sound Chinook season.
Last week’s move was a stunner that one longtime observer of the salmon world likened to A Certain Short-yardage Pass at the end of That One Game Last February, and it left Evergreen State saltwater anglers angrier than I’ve seen them in some time.
So Jim Unsworth, WDFW’s new director, took to the air this Saturday morning to try his best to explain how Area 10’s mark-selective summer king fishery was scrubbed.
Asked point blank on The Outdoor Line why, if state data showed that the closure wasn’t needed to protect wild fish and that modeling indicated it would save all of nine of them, WDFW yielded to tribal comanagers’ desire to close it, Unsworth said, “I think the ultimate reason was, we were at such loggerheads that it looked like we were not going to get an agreement, and that would have put us in uncharted waters about how to have a fishery at all.”
“If we don’t get a deal, we don’t get a permit from NOAA, and we don’t have a fishery at all,” he added on Northwest Wild Country.
WDFW and the tribes have emerged from the North of Falcon salmon-season-setting negotiations without agreements on certain fisheries — Puyallup and Skokomish River seasons in 2013 — but not the whole thing.
Unsworth told the hosts of both Seattle-based shows that going through a dispute process and court probably would have taken too long to reach a resolution.
Even if he’s a recent transplant to the Evergreen State from Idaho, Unsworth is catching on fast. He called Area 10 an “amazing fishery” right outside the door of the largest concentration of anglers in the state.
It’s also one of the keystone fisheries in the modern era of mark-selective Chinook opportunities, and in the work-up to the final North of Falcon meeting last week in California, WDFW had once again proposed a summer season in the waters off Seattle, Bainbridge and Shoreline, albeit it one with a conservative quota because of a down forecast.
As it discussed seasons with sport anglers, the agency’s thoughts on the shape of the fishery were visible on its website, but Unsworth says that it appeared to him like his staff and tribal comanagers had been talking past each other about it right up until the end of the meetings.
“It happened at the 12th hour, and that’s not a good way to do management,” Unsworth told The Outdoor Line.
Still, noting that the tribes were on a conservation footing this year, he told Northwest Wild Country that in the end the state made a “good solid decision” based on lower expected Chinook returns, abnormal ocean conditions and forecasted eggtake shortfalls at some Lake Washington system hatcheries.
Questioned about another shortfall — WDFW’s $10 million funding gap over the coming two years — and how in the face of Area 10’s closure anglers were supposed to support what might include a two-year license surcharge to bridge the difference, Unsworth said he could understand why folks were angry, but that fewer hatcheries and fewer officers makes problems worse.
At the moment there’s not much movement in Olympia on a final budget.
As it stands, Area 9, in Admiralty Inlet to the north of Area 10, will see a summer season, but the quota of just under 2,500 kings isn’t expected to last long.
There’s also a nice slate of coho fisheries and a big return of pink salmon expected. But for many anglers, Central Sound Chinook is the thing.