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Sports >  Outdoors

Ocean salmon fishing closure mulled for this summer

Al Thomas Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)

State, federal and tribal officials are considering closing all salmon fishing off the Washington and northern Oregon coasts in 2016 to protect weak runs of wild coho.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council met last week in California and developed three options for this summer. Two of the options would permit some salmon fishing, but one would close recreational and commercial ocean fishing for chinook and coho.

A final decision will be made when the council meets April 9 through 14 at the Hilton Vancouver, 301 W. Sixth St.

“We know that severely limiting opportunities will hurt many families and communities that depend on these fisheries,” said Jim Unsworth, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. ”But conserving wild salmon is our top priority.”

Steve Watrous of Vancouver is the Washington sport-fishing representative to the PFMC’s Salmon Advisory Subpanel. He spent last week in Sacramento working on the salmon fishing options.

Wild coho returns to many coastal and Puget Sound rivers are anticipated to be dismal in 2016. Warm-water conditions in the Pacific Ocean are believed to be the main cause of the coho collapse.

“With zero fishing in the ocean, we still don’t achieve spawning escapement in more streams that I can remember off-hand,” Watrous said.

Forecasters expect 380,000 coho to return to the Columbia River in 2016. While not a good run, it’s not a disaster. Some coho stocks returning to the Columbia are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The PFMC’s three options for the Washington coast include:

- Alternative 1 – This includes early-season (June 18-30) fishing for hatchery chinook in Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay. It also allows a modest hatchery coho retention in all four marine areas during the traditional summer season, but the coho quota is just 37,800.

- Alternative 2 – This option allows no early-season for hatchery chinook, but allows chinook fishing coastwise in the summer and hatchery coho fishing just between Cape Falcon, Ore., and Leadbetter Point, Wash. The coho allocation is just 14,700. The season would start in late June.

- Alternative 3 – No commercial or recreational fishing off Washington.

Watrous said the zero-fishing option is not just a placeholder, but could happen.

“I’m hopeful we’ll have a fishery this year,” he said. “But I’m not certain we will. Everything we’re doing this year is uncharted waters.”

Sport and commercial fishermen will meet beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday at the The Heathman Lodge, 7801 N.E. Greenwood Drive, to discuss the ocean options along with summer and fall seasons in the Columbia River.

”The mix of salmon runs this year is unusual,” said Don McIssac, outgoing executive director of the PFMC. “In the north, the return of fall chinook to the Columbia River is forecast to be exceptionally high again, but expectations for wild coho runs to the Washington coast and Puget Sound areas can be be described as disastrous.”

A monster run of 951,000 fall chinook is predicted to enter the Columbia River in August, September and October. Exceptional sport-fishing at Buoy 10, the name given to the lower 16 miles of the Columbia, is expected, along with excellent catches upriver.

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