The final projections for 2020 Columbia River and ocean salmon and steelhead are out, and once again fisheries will be restricted by low returns.
Following a trend for the last four years, there will definitely be short seasons and closures yet again.
Warming conditions in the Pacific Ocean continue to hamper species recovery, and that will leave anglers and guides frustrated.
The run projection releases are the first step in the North of Falcon process that gathers stakeholders together to hammer out fishing seasons for sport anglers, commercial fishermen, and tribal interests. The complicated process will conclude April 10 when the seasons are finalized and announced.
The WDFW will be working hard to find a balance between fisheries and conservation, according to Kelly Susewind, the director of the agency.
“Finding that balance is always a challenge,” Susewind said in a news release. “But we work with the co-managers to provide opportunities wherever and whenever we can, while meeting conservation goals.”
A projection of 233,400 upriver “Brights,” a fall Chinook stock, should return to the Columbia above Bonneville Dam. That is a small increase over last year’s return of 212,200 fish. The total Chinook return to the Columbia should be about 431,000 Chinook.
The Columbia River coho run is projected to be only 181,000 adults, the lowest return in many years. Last year over 900,000 coho were expected back to the ocean and Columbia, but only about a third of those showed up.
With the low returns of coho and Chinook, salmon fisheries will likely be constrained even more than last year. Also, the outlook is not good for coho seasons in the Pacific Ocean.
“There will probably be some level of harvest in the ocean,” said Ryan Lothrop, the Columbia River Fishery Manager, “though there could be no coho fishery. While there might be some coho harvest, it won’t be anything to brag about.”
Fishing guide Bill Monroe Jr. said: “Looking at how low the coho numbers are I don’t think a fishery is viable at this point. That is concerning.”
Monroe said that the repeated years of restricted fishing is having a chilling effect on the guiding industry. He believes the pressure could put some guides out of business.
“If we don’t have an ocean coho fishery, that really is going to put a damper on things,” he said. “That’s some of the (guides) bread and butter, that July fishery. If they don’t get it, they are in a world of hurt.”
Charter boat captain Butch Smith, the owner of Coho Charters and Motel in Ilwaco, has seen this all before, and is still optimistic about an ocean salmon fishery.
“We’ve had 2016 and 2008, which had a little bit better numbers, but different situations that kept us in low quotas,” Smith said. “We have some harvestable amounts of Chinook and harvestable amounts of Columbia coho, so it might be a limited fishery, but we can probably get through July and August.”
The Columbia River forecast of about 51,000 hatchery Chinook to the lower Columbia River is up from last year’s actual return. These “tules,” as they are known, are the foundation of the recreational ocean fishery.
Lothrop said the poor coho return could also constrain Chinook fisheries in the Columbia, although the low numbers of returning upriver brights could end up being the larger constraint.
Any hopes for an improvement in the summer steelhead runs in the Columbia have also been crushed. Returns will resemble last year’s dismal runs, and there will be season closures similar to the last two years.
About 86,000 “A” run steelhead should come back to the Columbia River, and about 9,600 “B” run fish should come back as well.
“There will be some significant level of steelhead restrictions,” Lothrop warned.
Rolling closures along the Columbia will be the norm again for 2020. Also, closures of certain tributaries, reductions in limits, and cold-water refuge closures will once again be needed to protect the fish.
North of Falcon process
The North of Falcon process will determine the upcoming ocean salmon seasons.
The first step is the meetings being held in Rohnert Park, Calif., through Monday (March 9). During these meetings the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) will offer options for salmon seasons.
The PFMC has jurisdiction over fishing seasons in the Pacific Ocean from 3 to 200 miles off the coast.
“Three options will come out on Monday,” Smith said. “There will be some fisheries in those options.”
Also, there will be additional public meetings around the state through March and into April to discuss regional fishing seasons.
As the North of Falcon process moves forward, the meetings will eventually end in the finalization of ocean salmon seasons on April 10. Fishermen and guides can then start making plans for the summer.
“There will be some Chinook opportunity, and some coho opportunity off the coast,” Smith said. “The gavel falls April 10.”
“It’s too early to put a nail in the coffin yet.”
Smith reminds anglers and visitors to the coast that no matter what happens with the salmon fisheries, there are lots of options for other species. There will be fishing for halibut, ling cod, rockfish, and albacore tuna this summer.
Bill Monroe Outdoors: (503) 702-4028
Coho Charters and Motel: (360) 642-3333