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Salmon Fishing Season Shrinks

by Greg Johnston
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 8, 2006

Diminished runs in state's rivers prompt changes

A virtual shutdown of ocean salmon fishing off northern California and most of Oregon made the biggest waves, but state and federal fish managers also on Friday announced sharp reductions in fishing seasons along the Washington coast to protect weak Columbia River runs.

Meeting in Sacramento, Calif., the Pacific Fishery Management Council established catch ceilings for chinook and coho off Washington at 31,000 and 73,200 respectively, down from 43,250 and 121,800 last year. The reductions were ordered because of increased concern for federally protected Snake River chinook and lower Columbia River coho, as well as predictions for a much smaller chinook run in the Columbia this year.

The smaller quotas will likely mean shorter recreational salmon fishing seasons this summer off the Washington coast. State fish managers also announced a package of salmon seasons for Puget Sound and other inland marine waters at levels similar to last year's, with a few twists.

"It's very likely the quotas will result in shorter seasons this year," said Pat Patillo, biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "(But) it's impossible to predict, because availability of fish in the ocean is really different from abundance."

Added Tony Floor, recreational fishing representative for the Northwest Marine Trade Association: "It's unlikely any of the ports will achieve their goal of getting the salmon seasons through Labor Day. It depends on the number of fish available and the number of anglers."

Earlier, the council adopted the smallest ocean fishing season in history along 700 miles of the California and Oregon coasts, due to forecasts of small chinook returns this year to the Klamath River system in northern California. The council also took the unusual step of calling for the removal of four dams on the Klamath to help restore those runs.

On the inland waters of Washington, fishing will again be restricted to protect wild chinook salmon, which are listed by the federal government as a threatened species. However, the seasons announced Friday will still allow significant fishing time in Puget Sound and elsewhere for primarily hatchery chinook and both hatchery and wild coho.

"We still have the chinook fishery in the south sound, area 11, which has quietly been very good the last couple years; the Elliott Bay chinook fishery, which will be like it was in 2004; status quo in the San Juans and good opportunities in the Strait (of Juan de Fuca) and Hood Canal," Floor said. "There's plenty of fishing opportunity."

There will be a handful of changes from last year:

Catch-and-release only salmon fishing in the northern part of marine area 10 locally for the entire month of June; last year it was only during the last two weeks of June.

Salmon fishing will be open all October in marine area 6 off Port Angeles, the eastern strait. The limit will be two salmon, only one of which may be a chinook, and neither chinook nor coho must be marked (hatchery) to be kept. In exchange for that fishery, the area loses its November "blackmouth" season.

Salmon fishing will open in marine area 9, the north sound, beginning July 16, instead of Aug. 1 like last year. This is basically a return to 2004 seasons. It's primarily a coho-only fishery, since chinook and chum must be released and this is not a pink salmon year.

Elliott Bay chinook fishing will be reduced from last year's level to that of 2004. It will open July 14-Aug. 20, Fridays through Sundays. Last year it was open July 8-Aug. 22, Fridays through Mondays. A smaller chinook run is expected this year in the Green River.

Although the inside seasons represent little expansion in catch, some anglers took encouragement from the increased fishing opportunity, such as the area 10 catch-and-release season in June. "Most people want to catch and keep fish, but more and more of us are fine with catching and releasing,' said Keith Robbins, operator of Spot-Tail Guide Service. "I want to see it used as a tool to avoid full closure in the future. This will be a good opportunity for anglers to learn how to properly handle and release fish for potential future selective fisheries."

Greg Johnston
Salmon Fishing Season Shrinks
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 8, 2006

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