If you’re looking for a highlight at first glance it would be that nearly 2 million silvers overall are expected back to the Columbia, coast and inside waters, well up from last year’s forecast.
“The expected return of 670,200 (Puget Sound) hatchery and wild coho is up about 15 percent from the 10-year average,” a WDFW report adds. “It’s also an increase of 113,000 fish from the projected returns for 2018. Bright spots include mid- and South Sound rivers such as the Green, Puyallup, and Nisqually as well as marine areas 11 and 13.”
However, Hood Canal expectations are lower and exploitation rates are dropping from 65 percent to 45 percent and that may affect fisheries, and the escapement goal for the Snohomish is being bumped up to 50,000 due to concerns about recent years’ returns, and that may impact fisheries.
On the Coast, WDFW says, “The number of coho returning to Grays Harbor is forecasted at 135,900 fish, up from 93,800 in 2018. Fishery managers expect coho fisheries in Grays Harbor will be more robust in 2019 than last year.”
To the south, just over 900,000 coho are predicted back to the Columbia (537,000 earlies, 359,000 lates), about three-quarters of a million more than actually did in 2018, and allowing for a higher exploitation rate in the ocean and river — “I’m kind of excited for the first time in three years,” says WDFW’s ocean manager Wendy Beeghley — but accessing them in the Columbia may be tricky.
“The total forecast – including upriver brights and tules – of fall chinook to the Columbia River is 340,400 fish,” WDFW reports. “That’s about half of the 10-year average and is down slightly from 2018’s forecast of 365,600. Approximately 290,900 fall chinook actually returned last year. Fisheries for fall chinook will likely be limited in several areas of the Columbia River due to low returns both of fall chinook and ‘B-run’ steelhead bound for the Columbia and Snake river basins.”
The B-run forecast is 8,000, “a player in a our Columbia River discussions,” according to WDFW manager Ryan Lothrop. Recent years saw rolling restrictions to protect the Idaho-bound stock.
Just under a quarter million wild and hatchery Puget Sound Chinook are expected, just slightly down from the 2018 forecast.
“The projected return of 217,000 hatchery chinook is down 13,500 fish from 2018 but 11 percent above the 10-year average,” WDFW reports. “Continued low returns to mid-Hood Canal and Stillaguamish will continue to limit fisheries.”
As for accessing Skokomish River hatchery kings, which have been off limits for several seasons now over a boundary dispute, Puget Sound manager Mark Baltzell says that WDFW is still talking with the Skokomish Tribe about access and that getting anglers back on the water “is a goal of ours.”
Lake Washington sockeye are expected at 15,000 and change, “down 82 percent from the recent 10-year average,” and less than HALF of 2018’s lowest run on record, but Baker River reds are better, 33,737, “up 6 percent over the recent 10-year average, makes a fishery a possibility,” WDFW says.
As for pinks, it looks very poor, some 604,146 to Puget Sound streams, down from 2017’s preseason forecast of 1.5 million, but about 100,000 more than actually came back. Still, it would be among the lowest runs on record back to 1959, due to the hit the fish took at sea during the height of The Blob and poor river conditions when they returned to natal streams.
“We’re digging out of a pretty big hole,” said Aaron Dufault, a state stock analyst.
“We’re probably not going to have our bonus bag limit in the salt and in some of our rivers,” added Baltzell.
The Sound forecast of 1.035 million fall chum is down from 2018 but in line with 2017.
“Several areas, such as north Puget Sound rivers, are expected to have very low returns of wild chum, similar to recent years. Anglers should not expect to see chum fisheries in these areas,” WDFW reports.
But things are brighter for chums in the South Sound and Hood Canal.
Briefing meeting-goers, the agency’s Marissa Litz spoke to multiple blobs, El Ninos and La Ninas since 2013 leading to “a lot of instability across food webs” for salmon, including lower body sizes and fecundity for many stocks, but also surprisingly high returns in places, namely Alaska.
The release of the forecasts, drummed up by state and tribal fishery biologists over the winter, marks the first step in setting recreational, tribal and commercial spring, summer and fall seasons in Washington waters.
This year’s NOF — the 35th since the process was initiated in 1984 — will have a focus on what fisheries can be held without jeopardizing southern resident killer whales, according to the state agency’s Fish Program manager Ron Warren at the outset of today’s meeting at the Lacey Community Center.
“We’re working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for orcas,” he said in a press release last week. “These upcoming meetings provide opportunities for the public to understand the steps we’re taking to protect orcas this year.”
Prompted by a question from Norm Reinhardt of the Kitsap Poggie Club during the meeting Warren expressed caution that efforts to increase hatchery Chinook production — 24 million in Governor Inslee’s proposed budget — would lead to more fishing opportunities, noting that underlying impact rates on ESA-listed wild kings still govern seasons.
That makes river fisheries all the more important, angling advocate Frank Urabeck pointed out.
“Let’s do better for sportfisheries in the terminal areas,” he stated.
As for how the new Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada will affect this year’s seasons, Phil Anderson, the chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council was hesitant to say that reductions in northern interceptions would increase fishing opportunities in Puget Sound but would instead “alleviate” impact rates on stocks in our southern fisheries.