Fishing prospects look bright this year for chinook in Washington's ocean waters and the Columbia River, according to preseason salmon forecasts released today at a public meeting in Olympia.
Opportunities for anglers also look good in Puget Sound, where coho and pink salmon runs are expected to be strong this year.
Forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon mark the starting point for developing 2013 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. The forecasts were developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and treaty Indian tribes.
Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings over the next few weeks to discuss potential fishing opportunities before finalizing seasons in early April. A meeting schedule, salmon forecasts and information about the salmon season-setting process are available on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/ .
Salmon fisheries developed through this extensive process will once again be driven by the need to rebuild depressed wild salmon populations while protecting healthy stocks, said Phil Anderson, WDFW director.
"This year's preseason forecasts point to a number of opportunities for us to design some exciting fishing opportunities in waters across the state, while staying true to our conservation principles," Anderson said. "We look forward to working with our constituents in designing salmon fisheries."
As in past years, salmon-fishing prospects in 2013 vary by area:
Columbia River: Nearly 678,000 fall chinook are expected to return to the Columbia River this season. About 80 percent of those fish are "bright" stocks, most of which are destined for areas above Bonneville Dam, including the Hanford Reach and Snake River.
Brights are really the foundation of the recreational fishery, "and with the numbers we are expecting there is good reason to be optimistic about this season," said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy coordinator for WDFW.
Columbia River fisheries also are expected to benefit from a significant increase in coho numbers. The abundance of Columbia River coho is forecast to be about 501,000 fish. That would be better than the five-year average and total nearly three times as many fish as last year's actual abundance.
Washington's ocean waters: Chinook salmon returning to the lower Columbia River will also contribute to fisheries off the coast, said Doug Milward, ocean salmon fishery manager for WDFW.
About 126,000 lower river hatchery chinook are expected back this season, about 15,000 less fish than last year's return. Those salmon, known as "tules," are the backbone of the recreational ocean chinook fishery.
"The numbers of lower river chinook are slightly down from last year, but it's still a pretty good return," Milward said. "Add to that the expected increase in lower Columbia River coho numbers, and we should see great fishing opportunities in the ocean this summer."
Coastal bays and rivers: For the second-straight year, fishery managers are expecting a strong return of wild coho salmon to many of Washington's coastal streams, including the Queets and Quillayute rivers, as well as those flowing into Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay, said Ron Warren, regional fisheries manager for WDFW.
"Coho fishing started off slow in those areas last year - likely due to the lack of rain - but picked up later in the season," Warren said. "If this year's coho runs come in at forecast and the weather cooperates, I expect fishing to be good throughout the entire season."
Puget Sound: Another strong run of coho salmon will boost fisheries in Puget Sound, where millions of pink salmon also are expected to return this year.
About 880,000 coho are forecast to return to Puget Sound streams, about 150,000 more fish than last year's forecast. "Fishing for coho was really good last season, and we expect much of the same this summer," said Ryan Lothrop, Puget Sound recreational salmon fishery manager for WDFW.
In addition, more than 6 million pink salmon are expected back to the Sound this year. Most pink salmon return to Washington's waters only in odd-numbered years.
"It's a pink year, which is a great time to introduce a friend or family member - especially children - to salmon fishing," said Lothrop. "Fishing this summer should be similar to 2011, when anglers were catching limits of pink salmon throughout the Sound and its rivers."
Summer/fall chinook salmon returns to Puget Sound are expected to total about 264,000 fish, similar to the last few years. Most chinook fisheries in Puget Sound, where the bulk of the return is hatchery chinook, will be similar to last year, Lothrop said.
Meanwhile, a Lake Washington sockeye fishery is unlikely this year. The sockeye forecast is about 97,000, well below the minimum return of 350,000 sockeye needed to consider opening a recreational fishery in the lake. However, fishery managers will once again consider sockeye fisheries in Baker Lake and the Skagit River, Lothrop said.
One fishing rule on the agenda this year is a proposal to lower the minimum size limit from 22 inches to 20 inches for chinook salmon in Puget Sound sport fisheries. For years, anglers have requested that WDFW consider making that change in the Sound's marine waters, said Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for WDFW.
"Now that the majority of our recreational chinook fisheries focus on abundant hatchery salmon, we decided it was time to discuss the size limit," said Pattillo.
State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 6-11 in Tacoma with the Pacific Fishery Management Council to develop options for this year's commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries. The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.
Additional public meetings have been scheduled in March to discuss regional fishery issues. Input from these regional discussions will be considered as the season-setting process moves into the "North of Falcon" and PFMC meetings, which will determine the final 2013 salmon seasons.
The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 6-11 meeting in Portland. The 2013 salmon fisheries package for Washington's inside waters will be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC's April meeting.