The possible closure of salmon fishing in Puget Sound this summer could have a ripple effect that would better resemble a tsunami.
Some fishing-related businesses are predicting a 30 percent loss if the closure occurs, with some estimates putting the overall economic hit of a summer-long closure at millions of dollars.
A closure looms because the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound treaty tribes were unable to reach an agreement on fishing seasons during annual negotiations
The tribes argued there should be no fishing on these stocks; the state said anglers should be allowed to catch hatchery fish.
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That impasse has led to the prospect of a closure covering the Sound and the waters that feed into it.
Whiles conversations continue, both sides have said they will seek federal permits that would allow fishing. Until the permits are in place, salmon fishing will shut down as of May 1.
That prospect has anglers and those in the fishing industry pondering their options and the effects of a closure.
“It will be a huge impact,” said Art Tachell, who has worked for 42 years at the Point Defiance Boathouse Marina in Tacoma. “The department (of Fish and Wildlife) isn’t going to sell a ton of fishing licenses, boat sales will plummet, people won’t rent boats, they won’t buy gas. It’s going to be a big time hit.”
Some people have been canceling orders. It’s easily been a 90 percent decline in local business since they announced the talks breaking off.
Kelly Morrison, co-owner of Silver Horde fishing supplies in Lynnwood
Keith Semprimoznik works in the fishing department at Big J’s Outdoor Store in Orting. He said the store has held off ordering fishing gear for the season as it waits to see what happens.
“We just can’t gear up to have a lot of fishing equipment,” Semprimoznik said. “You just can’t have it sitting there on the shelves.”
In Lynnwood, the phones are quiet at family-owned Silver Horde fishing supplies. The company is known for its salmon gear, including Coho Killer lures, Ace Hi flies and flashers.
“People we sell to in Puget Sound aren’t placing any orders at all,” said Kelly Morrison, a co-owner. “This is normally the time of year when the people in Puget Sound are gearing up for the season.”
In addition, he said, some customers have been canceling orders.
“It easily been a 90 percent decline in local business since they announced the talks breaking off,” Morrison said. That local business accounts for 20 to 30 percent of the company’s annual bottom line, he said.
As a result, the company has eliminated overtime for its staff of nearly 20.
At Sportco in Fife, the company is taking steps to reduce expenses as well.
“Those salmon seasons mean millions of dollars to our company, and we’re anticipating it will be off 30 percent or more,” said Gabe Miller, the outdoor retailer’s fishing and marine buyer.
Faced with that potential shortfall, Miller said Sportco halted plans to hire as many as a dozen seasonal employees. If matters get worse, workers could face a cut in hours.
A complete closure would affect smaller businesses, such as Puget Sound Fly Co. in Tacoma. Co-owner Anil Srivastava said the inability of fly anglers to fish from shore or on a boat could mean a loss of one-third of the shop’s business.
Culturally this is huge. I’m 60 years old, and I’ve been doing this all my life. I looked at my wife the other day and said, ‘Dang, we’re going to have to find something else to do this summer.’
Art Tachell at Point Defiance Boathouse Marina
It could be a boom for fishing charter boats and businesses in ports such as Westport and Ilwaco, as recreational anglers look for other options to catch salmon.
But the ocean fishery already faces a curtailment from recent years because the coho returning to the Columbia River will be down this year.
“The guys who go to the Straits, you will really see them go to places like Westport,” said Don Freeman, an Olympia area fishermen. “That is where you’re going to see the displacement.
“I don’t know if I would want to be on the boat ramps when those places start getting full.”
Rhett Weber, owner of The Slammer, a charter boat in Westport, said he expected to see changes this season.
“We’re going to see an increase in private boat traffic, and that will cut into our (ocean fishing) quota,” he said.
Despite the prospects of no fishing in the Sound this summer, or beyond, people such as Miller at Sportco believe the state agency is following the correct course.
“Most of our customers are supportive of the department, and so are we,” he said. “We feel the department made the right move. We’re hoping this short-term pain will mean a better future for our industry in the long run.”
For the short-term, however, people and business will have to adjust, said Tachell at the Point Defiance boathouse.
“Culturally this is huge,” he said. “I’m 60 years old, and I’ve been doing this all my life. I looked at my wife the other day and said, ‘Dang, we’re going to have to find something else to do this summer.’ ”
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Recapping the issue
The key factor: Preseason forecasts for coho salmon runs are very low for Puget Sound waters.
What happened: The state Department of Fish and Wildlife and its tribal co-managers were unable to reach agreement on fishing for 2016-17. The tribes argued there should be no fishing on these stocks; the state said anglers should be allowed to catch hatchery fish.
What it means: The current permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Fisheries expires at the end of April. After that, no salmon fishing will be allowed in Puget Sound.
The closure would affect other fisheries, such as coastal cutthroat trout, because of the chance of hooking a coho or chinook salmon, said Ron Warren, the state agency’s salmon policy lead. Fishing for rockfish would be allowed.
What’s next: State and tribal officials continue to have phone conversations, and it is possible a meeting could take place. Until an agreement is reached, the state agency and the tribes have said they will pursue their own permits through NOAA.