Ocean Salmon Fishery Opens June 1 With a Focus on Chinook, Conservation

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OLYMPIA – The sport fishery for salmon begins June 1 off the southern coast of Washington, where the first anglers of the season will cast off from Westport and Ilwaco a full month earlier than usual.

On June 3, salmon fishing begins on the north coast out of LaPush and Neah Bay.

This year’s early start will give ocean anglers an opportunity to catch hatchery chinook salmon before the bulk of the coho run arrives off the Washington coast, said Doug Milward, ocean salmon manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

That is a key conservation strategy in a year when fishery managers are predicting low returns of coho salmon throughout the West Coast, Milward said. In Washington, this year’s catch quota for coho will be the lowest in a decade.

But unlike California, where the collapse of the Sacramento River chinook run prompted a complete closure of that state’s ocean fishery, hatchery chinook are returning to the Columbia River in sufficient numbers to support a fishery off the Washington coast, he said.

In all, up to 20,000 chinook salmon – up from 16,500 last year – will be available for harvest by sportfishers in the state’s coastal waters.

“We could actually have a pretty good chinook fishery in June,” Milward said. “There will also be a season in July, but there’s a good chance we’ll have to close the fishery earlier than in previous years to meet conservation goals for coho salmon.”

Under this year’s rules, anglers are limited to one chinook salmon per day from June 1-28. All other salmon species – including coho – must be released during that period.

Starting June 29, the daily limit will increase to two salmon per day, including one chinook. As in past years, anglers may retain fin-clipped hatchery coho, but must release any unmarked wild coho they intercept.

Salmon fishing in Marine Area 1 (Ilwaco) opens June 1, seven days per week. Marine Area 2 (Westport) also opens June 1, but fishing is restricted to Sundays through Thursdays. On the north coast, fishing opens June 3 in marine areas 3 and 4 (LaPush and Neah Bay) five days per week, Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Additional fishing regulations, including minimum size limits and area catch guidelines are described in WDFW’s Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet, available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regs_seasons.html.

This year’s 20,350-fish coho quota – the lowest in a decade – will likely be a significant constraint on the fishery, Milward said. In contrast, last year’s quota was 117,500 fish.

The low coho quota this year reflects a forecast of poor coho returns to the Columbia River, which produces more of those fish than any river in the state, Milward said. According to preseason projections, only about 196,000 coho are predicted to return to the Columbia this year, compared to an actual return of 462,000 in 2007.

Fishery managers have attributed the low coho returns expected to the Columbia and other rivers to poor ocean conditions in 2005 and 2006.

“The limited seasons we have crafted this year are carefully designed to meet or exceed our conservation objectives while providing opportunities to harvest healthy hatchery chinook stocks,” said Phil Anderson, WDFW deputy director. “Anglers who want to participate in this year’s fishery off the Washington coast should plan to go early, because we’re likely to reach the limited catch quotas earlier than usual.”