Hatchery Chinook fishing out of Sekiu in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca will close as of Saturday, April 9, state managers will announce tomorrow.
Marine Area 5 has seen high catch rates and high effort since opening March 1 for a season that was supposed to stretch through April 30.
Even though by state-tribal agreement monitoring was to be relatively light compared to other Puget Sound king fisheries, this evening Mark Baltzell, WDFW’s statewide salmon manager, said the agency was able to “cobble enough data together” to be “pretty sure we’re well over” preseason catch estimates.
That caused enough concern that state managers will err on the side of conservation with these “ESA-listed critters,” he said.
Ongoing 2022-23 salmon season negotiations with tribal comanagers also played a factor in the decision. Baltzell described it as “being responsible to the resource and the tribes.”
Still, it’s disappointing and frustrating because the fishery was billed as “a set season from start to finish without any worry of shutting down before you plan to go” in both this magazine’s March issue and on WDFW’s Medium blog.
But a reader who had scheduled a trip to fish Sekiu with a buddy next week contacted Northwest Sportsman today inquiring about a rumor they heard Area 5 would close for kings beforehand, leading to a flurry of questions to WDFW this afternoon.
Word first seeped out late last week on The Outdoor Line that changes might be ahead, with more indications expected today after a call with recreational advisors.
“We don’t take these decisions lightly,” Baltzell acknowledged.
He said catch rates were running from 1 to 1.5 Chinook per angler at times. Creel data shows a couple days even hit 1.73 and 2 per angler – the daily limit – though few fishermen were out on either of those particular days.
Photos posted by Mason’s Olson Resort in Sekiu show kings to 17.5 and 18.5 pounds weighed in this season, the latter labeled a springer.
Peak effort was on March’s last weekend, when 122 and 93 anglers came back in with 112 and 71 kings.
With fewer and fewer waters to work for Chinook, especially in winter, more and more fisheries are seeing higher effort, and that in turn quickly bumps up against allowable impacts on the Endangered Species Act-listed species.
“The reality is that Stillaguamish Chinook are a pretty constraining stock in Areas 5 through 9,” Baltzell said.
If there’s a possible silver lining, he said he feels optimistic about the new Puget Sound Chinook Management Plan’s buyback provision, which may allow for shifting unspent summer impacts to expand winter fisheries.