With the end of salmon season lurking like a fog bank on the horizon, anglers have launched an email campaign to reopen Marine Area 7 for coho and pinks next month as state managers also mull a decision.
WDFW abruptly suspended salmon fishing in the San Juans in early July after the hatchery Chinook quota was met and then some in just a week, but late summer brings increasing numbers of silvers through the islands and fewer kings.
The Northwest Marine Trade Association is calling that “unexpected closure … the latest blow to anglers and boating businesses alike – after years of continued reductions in angling opportunity” in an online petition posted this week.
To help try and prod some late-season fishing opportunity out of WDFW, the organization has come up with a form letter to send to the agency and its overseers on the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
NMTA says that even if you don’t fish the islands, you should still sign, arguing “it is still important for anglers all across Puget Sound to share their concerns with WDFW. Collectively this is how we will protect future mark-selective salmon fishing opportunity.”
An email blast this morning says that message has been sent to 3,500 regular Puget Sound anglers.
George Harris, NMTA president and CEO, told me earlier this summer that he doesn’t feel WDFW is inclined to advocate for mark-selective fisheries these days and he has been raising the alarms about that. Area 7 hatchery Chinook opportunity has gone from seven months as recently as 2017-18 to just seven days this season as fisheries are pruned to reduce impacts on select stocks.
Harris has been supportive of an Anacortes organization’s lawsuits against the state-tribal-federal salmon-season-setting process.
WDFW salmon fishing manager Mark Baltzell says his agency has been looking at reopening the San Juans since it closed, talking it over with sport angling advisors and tribal comanagers.
“I do not have an update today, but we are hoping to give anglers some notice either way the decision goes before the end of the week,” he said this morning.
It boils down to a question of Chinook presence in the islands.
“If we are looking at this through an ESA lens, we do not have available impacts to use because we went so far over on quota,” Baltzell said.
This summer’s quota of 1,382 legal-size hatchery Chinook encounters was exceeded by 185 percent, with an estimated 2,550 encountered by the time WDFW shut fishing down with all of an afternoon’s notice. The relatively low quota, pent up demand and good fishing was a recipe for a veritable king angling land rush.
“We know that encounters with Chinook are low in September, so we are hopeful to gain agreement on reopening,” Baltzell added.
WDFW catch record data shows that September is one of the best months, if not the best, for coho in the islands, with roughly 75 percent of summer 2018’s catch caught that month and nearly all of 2019’s. Pinks are more of a July and August catch, but during big runs action can slop over into the ninth month.