Salmon are giving Washington and Idaho anglers reason for high hopes this season.
Spring chinook appear to be headed to the Columbia system in fantastic numbers – the third-biggest run since 1977.
Fall chinook runs to the Hanford Reach are tentatively forecast to be considerably greater than last year, which was double the run of 2007.
It’s an odd-numbered year, so the North Coast will be flush with pink salmon.
And the largest number of coho salmon since 2001 is forecast to arrive off the coast this summer.
“We saw a wonderful ocean fishery (in 2001),” said Doug Milward, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department salmon resource manager, suggesting that angler quotas for salmon could be set higher this year when the Pacific Fishery Management Council meets April 4-9 in San Francisco.
State fisheries managers will unveil more specific salmon forecasts on March 3.
Last summer, the coho catch quota was so small that fisheries managers had a tough time trying to make sure enough Columbia River wild coho made it back to spawning grounds, while carving any type of fishing off Ilwaco, Westport and north to Neah Bay.
Even with the scrawny coho catch quotas, “last year we managed to stay open all season, but so few people were coming out and it was mainly because gas was almost $5 per gallon,” Milward told the Seattle Times.
“I don’t think we would be in that boat this coming season. People will come out when we put out a better prediction, and once people start catching their two fish it will lure others too.”
So what is behind this resurgence of coastal salmon?
“We had a marvelous upwelling and beautiful ocean conditions, and those young fish came out of the rivers and hit the ocean, found an abundant food source, and survived well from May clear into August,” Milward said.
The first flurry of salmon activity is about to begin for lower Columbia River spring chinook.
A huge return of 298,900 upper Columbia spring chinook is predicted. Unfortunately, this coincides with a poor forecast return of 37,000 Willamette spring chinook.
The Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commissions have been at odds over how many fish could be caught between the sport and commercial fishermen since December. Washington wanted a higher catch for the sport anglers while Oregon leaned toward a more liberal commercial catch.
Tentative agreements were reached on Feb. 11.
In all areas, anglers are required to release any chinook salmon not clearly marked as a hatchery-reared fish, since a portion of the wild upriver spring chinook run is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Unmarked steelhead must also be released. Hatchery fish can be identified by a clipped adipose fin with a healed scar.
Under a new rule approved by the Washington commission, anglers fishing below McNary Dam may retain two hatchery-reared adult salmon or steelhead (or one of each) per day. However, only one adult chinook salmon may be retained per day downstream from Bonneville Dam.