For the people of Olympia and other cities in Washington state, salmon fishing is both a recreational activity and commercial business. Unfortunately, fishing in open waters off the Pacific coast could be shut down for the 2016 season due to low returns of Coho salmon to the Columbia River.
Until the Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes in April, no final decision will be made. Along with a complete shutdown, this federal panel is considering three options, one being a partial shutdown specific to Coho.
According to biologists, roughly 380,000 Coho salmon from various Columbia River hatcheries will be returned to the Washington coast but compared to forecasts from last year, that is about 50 percent less. Last year, approximately 242,000 Coho stocks were returned to the river with some of those protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Washington state, like other North American regions is experiencing problems due to warmer water temperatures. This along with the effects of El Nino and a lack of forage fish are key contributors to the lower number of Coho Salmon.
Although fishing for Coho salmon was dramatically reduced in 2008, a complete shutdown has not occurred in more than 20 years. As stated by Butch Smith who owns CoHo Charters and Motel, a seasonal shutdown would be devastating since all of the coastal fishing communities depend heavily on tourism, which includes salmon fishing. In addition to tourism, commercial fishers of Coho Salmon would be hit hard.
Obviously, for the people who live in and visit Washington state to enjoy Coho salmon fishing, as well as commercial fishers, a shutdown of the 2016 season is not what anyone wants. While this is certainly a very real possibility, a number of experts believe there is enough Coho salmon for partial fishing.
As stated by Tony Floor, Northwest Marine Trade Association’s director of fishing affairs, at least for the recreational industry, Coho salmon needs to be protected. However, he and others feel that fishing for hatchery Coho should be permitted since the number of Coho and Chinook in 1994 was far less than today.
Chinook going back to the Columbia River this year should be robust. A representative from the Department of Fish and Wildlife said that ocean Chinook have been the foundation for recreational fishing in Washington state and with around 223,000 fish coming from local hatcheries, fishing for this particular species should be excellent this year.