State biologists are forecasting another weak return of coho to the Columbia River in 2017, likely meaning limited fishing again off the coasts of Washington and northern Oregon.
The prediction is for 386,300 coho this year. That is almost identical to the 2016 forecast of 380,600, although the actual return was just 223,100.
“The 2017 preseason coho forecast is like a bad dream of 2016 all over again,’’ said Steve Watrous of Vancouver, Washington sport fishing representative on the Salmon Advisory Subpanel of the Pacific Fishery Management Council. “The SAS (subpanel) will once again be required to use every creative tool in the toolbox to structure an ocean season. Something similar to the 2016 season is a very real possibility.’’
In 2016, there was no coho retention north of Leadbetter Point on the north end of the Long Beach Peninsula. The ports of Westport, LaPush and Neah Bay were limited to chinook-only fisheries.
Last year, the Columbia River ports between Leadbetter Point and Cape Falcon on the Oregon coast had a meager coho quota of 18,900.
Fishing did not open until July 1 and closed on Aug. 28 when the coho quota was nearly reached. Many years, salmon seasons go into or through September off southern Washington and northern Oregon.
Much of the 2016 ocean season anglers off the Columbia River mouth averaged less than a salmon per rod.
For 2017, the forecast calls for 231,700 early coho destined for the Columbia River and 154,600 late coho. The actual return in 2016 was 127,000 early coho and just 96,100 late stock.
Early coho enter the Columbia River from early August until mid-September. When coho fishing is good at Buoy 10, it is fueled by strong numbers of early coho.
Early coho tend to migrate south of the Columbia River mouth.
Late coho enter the river between mid-September and November. They tend to migrate north of the Columbia River mouth.
In 2016, anglers in the popular Buoy 10 fishery in August in the Columbia River estuary caught just 9,182 coho, down from 36,920 in 2015 and 54,744 in 2014.
Although coho fishing was poor at Buoy 10 in 2016, the catch still was better than a streak of bad years from 2010 through 2013.
Most coho caught in the lower Columbia River are caught at Buoy 10. The harvest upstream of Tongue Point in 2016 was 1,500 coho kept and 500 released.
Jimmy Watts of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the average annual coho catch upstream of Buoy 10 is about 2,000, with the record being 5,700 in 2014.
Salmon forecasts for the Columbia River, coastal Washington and Puget Sound will be presented at a public meeting beginning at 9 a.m. Feb. 28 at the General Administration Building auditorium, 210 11th Ave. S.W., Olympia.
A discussion lead by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will look at potential fishing opportunities for 2017 following the forecast presentation.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council will adopt a range of sport and commercial fishing options for the ocean March 7 through 13 at the Hilton, 301 W. Sixth St.
State and commercial fishermen will meet with the Department of Fish and Wildlife beginning at 9 a.m. March 24 at the Water Resources Education Center, 4600 S.E. Columbia Way, to develop preferred seasons for the Columbia River, including Buoy 10
The Pacific Fishery Management Council will adopt the 2017 seasons when it meets April 7 through 12 in Sacramento, Calif.