Based on preliminary numbers, South Sound anglers can expect the 2012-13 fishing season to be similar to last season.
That was the consensus of state Department of Fish and Wildlife staff members Tuesday as they released forecasted salmon runs for waters from the South Sound to the ocean coast.
It sounds like there will be plenty of coho and chinook off the coast. Waters such as Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, and coastal rivers such as the Queets are expected to see large runs of coho as well. The Nisqually River should see another good run for chinook.
For the waters off Tacoma and Olympia, fishing “should be very similar to last year,” said Steve Thiesfeld, Puget Sound salmon manager.
The forecasts – developed by the state and treaty tribes – are the starting point for developing the upcoming seasons for sport, commercial and tribal fishermen in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington’s coastal waters. The process will conclude with the Pacific Fishery Management Council meetings April 1-6 in Seattle.
“Coastal coho fishing should be really good,” said Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for the department.
“I can remember years ago on the Queets thinking we wouldn’t get the 2,000 fish needed for (successful spawning),” he said. “This year the forecast is 37,000 wild fish, about three times the run last year.”
Overall, the coastal return of coho is forecast at 595,265 fish, 33.8 percent higher than the 2011 forecast. At Willapa Bay, the estimate is 170,099 fish, up 51.2 percent from last year. The Grays Harbor forecast is 198,012 fish, up 48.8 percent.
“There will be a lot of people from the Puget Sound region heading to Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor to fish for coho,” said Frank Urabeck, a sports fishing proponent from Federal Way.
Another bright spot is the Nisqually River, where the forecast calls for a run of 36,106 hatchery and 1,496 summer and fall chinook.
“We have a large amount of hatchery chinook moving through Marine Areas 11 and 13, but no one is catching them,” Thiesfeld said. “It could potentially be better this year if the salmon are willing to bite.”
Off the popular fishing destination of Westport, the chinook fishing should be good again.
Almost 191,000 hatchery chinook are expected to return to the lower Columbia River. Those fish make up the majority of fish caught in the recreational ocean fishery. The 317,000 coho headed for the Columbia also are a significant portion of the ocean catch.
“I think we can expect fishing like we had last year, maybe with a little more stabilization in regulations,” said Mark Cedargreen, executive director of the Westport Charter Association, citing in-season changes in the regulations. “Last people were asking, ‘Is it open or not?’”
Affecting much of what the department can do to expand fishing opportunities is the state’s continuing budget dilemma.
Department Director Phil Anderson said he expects the agency to face another $10 million budget cut by next week. That would drop the agency’s general fund support from more than $110 million to about $57 million in three years’ time.
Anderson also expects significant reductions in federal funding that supports the agency’s native fish recovery, fish production, fisheries management and enforcement efforts.
Thiesfeld estimated that the state spends more than $1 million each year to monitor and enforce selective fisheries on Puget Sound alone.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640