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 for a week ending Saturday in California and developed three options for this summer. Two of the options would permit minimal salmon fishing, but one would close recreational and commercial ocean fishing for chinook and coho.
The closest thing to a total closure in the ocean was in 1984, when seasons were severely restricted.
A final decision will be made when the council meets April 9-14 at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, 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 council’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 ocean in 2015 are the likely culprit.
“Even with zero fishing in the ocean, we still don’t achieve spawning escapement in more streams than I can remember offhand,’’ 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 council’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 coastwide in the summer and hatchery coho fishing just between Cape Falcon, Ore., and Leadbetter Point. The coho allocation is 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.’’
In 2015, there were slightly fewer than 108,000 ocean salmon angling trips in Washington. About 38 percent of those were from the Columbia River ports of Astoria, Warrenton and Hammond in Oregon and Ilwaco and Chinook in Washington.
Ocean salmon fishing is a key piece of the coastal tourism-based summer economy.
By comparison, Buoy 10 season inside the mouth of the Columbia River in August generated 94,400 angler trips. Fishing in 2015 on the lower Columbia between Tongue Point in Oregon and Bonneville Dam generated 132,000 trips.
Sport and commercial fishermen will meet 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 council. “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 only 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.