by Mark Yuasa
The process of setting the salmon fishing season for inside marine waters of Washington went smoothly at this week's meeting in Sacramento, and both the state and tribes seemed pleased with the outcome.
"I think this year was a benchmark in negotiations between the state and tribes," said Tony Floor, a sport-fishing advisory-board member and director of fishing affairs for Northwest Marine Trade Association. "Everything went smoothly compared to past history."
Setting the fishing seasons from the Strait of Juan de Fuca into Puget Sound was a breeze for two reasons.
First, the state and tribes agreed on no new impacts on Puget Sound chinook stocks, some of which are listed on the Endangered Species Act.
Second, they agreed not to expand creation of selective fisheries -- in which anglers target only hatchery-marked salmon -- in 2006.
"Those two guidelines really produced the road to a relatively easy North of Falcon process for inside waters of Puget Sound," Floor said, referring to Cape Falcon in northern Oregon, which marks the southern border of active management for Washington salmon stocks.
While the sport salmon fishing seasons in Puget Sound pretty much mirror those from last year, there were a few adjustments.
The eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca (Area 6) will be open for salmon fishing in October (for one chinook and unmarked coho with a two-fish daily limit) but be closed in November. Southern Puget Sound (Area 13) will be open in June but closed in February. North Sound-Admiralty Inlet (Area 9) will be open for coho during the last two weeks of July.
There were also some cutbacks to inside marine salmon sport and tribal fisheries for this season.
The inner-Elliott Bay chinook fishery will open one week later than last year, and fishing will be closed on Mondays.
This summer, the bay will open July 21, and fishing will be allowed Friday to Sunday only.
The Puyallup River also will be closed for sport salmon fishing in August, and the tribes will curtail their fishery in the river, too. The Skokomish tribal net and sport fisheries also had to be reduced to protect chinook stocks.
"I wouldn't say it was a world record in achievement for Puget Sound, but it was pretty darn close to it," Floor said. "We waited for a white mushroom cloud, but it never happened. I'm pleased with the outcome, the state is and so are the tribes. We protected the stocks we needed to, and it was extremely cooperative."
The tribes agreed the salmon-season talks went smoothly, but they say the road to recovery is still very long and arduous.
"Harvest is not the problem. It is a failure to protect and restore salmon habitat," said Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
"I hope we can continue this comprehensive plan, but we can't just manage the Northwest coast," Frank added. "We have to manage it clear down to Sacramento River and beyond to bring the ocean back to life. Salmon are our meter and tell us whether we are doing good or bad."
While everything looks rosy for Puget Sound, the final outcome on fishing seasons in southern Oregon and California could have a domino effect on Washington coastal and Columbia River salmon fisheries.
"The ocean fisheries will not have as liberal seasons as they have enjoyed in the past," Floor said. "Chinook returns are down, and coho will be down significantly. Last year, everywhere from Neah Bay to Ilwaco was open through Labor Day; but if I was a betting man, I'd say none of those ports will see that this summer."
The final salmon fishing seasons for the coast and Puget Sound were expected to be announced today.
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