King salmon limits cut on coast, but some anglers see opportunities

SEATTLE -- On the surface, the news from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is not good.

Low returns of chinook and coho salmon are expected for the 2018 salmon fishing season.

Warm waters, flooding rivers and habitat loss have cut the number of salmon returning to the state's waterways.  Couple this with conservation goals to increase wild salmon numbers, in part to save the Southern Resident killer whale, means a lean year for sports fishing.

Quotas of chinook fishing off the Washington coast will be cut nearly 40 percent from last year.


But some local anglers and fish and wildlife officials are hesitant to paint a doomsday scenario.

Yes, king salmon fishing will be restricted.  But some new coho opportunities will open up. And restrictions on chinook are for the greater good of increasing the wild salmon stock.

"I don't know that our fisheries is any more restrictive this year than it was last year," said Carl Nyman, president of the Charter Boast Association of the Puget Sound. "In fact, we have an increase in opportunity because we have more coho salmon to access."

A down year?

The state's fishing guidelines are set each year after meetings between recreational fishermen, the state, federal officials and tribal anglers.

"It's critical that we ensure fisheries are consistent with ongoing efforts to protect and rebuild wild salmon stocks," said Ron Warren, head of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's fish program. "Unfortunately, the loss of salmon habitat continues to outpace these recovery efforts. We need to reverse this trend."

This year, catch quotes on the coast will be limited to 27,500 recreational king salmon, down 17,500 over last year. Coho quotas on the coast will remain at 42,000. Also notable, the San Juan Islands Marine Area 7 will close to chinook fishing about a month earlier than last year.

This is an attempt to help the Southerm Resident killer whale, and provide for less boat noise as the orcas feed, said Kirt Hughes, fisheries manager for WDFW.

Starting July 1, salmon fishing off of Washington's coast will be open Sundays through Thursdays, instead of the whole week. Hopefully, this will allow for a longer season before the salmon quota is met, Hughes said.

"Looking at a fisheries that's open five days a week instead of seven days a week could mean a longer season and provide flexibility to anglers," Hughes said.

More Coho opportunities?

Catching a king salmon is certainly a thrill.

"It's a thrill for the angler, especially the first time," Nyman said.

But for charter boat users and other recreational fisherman, the difference between catching a coho and a chinook isn't a big one. Many just like catching fish.

Still, tackle shops, boat stores and some resorts could see the negative results of limiting chinook.

"There's a real ripple effect," Nyman said. "Especially for destination resorts."

Most every angler -- whether recreational, tribal or commercial -- wants to see a healthy, responsible, fisheries Nyman said. Increasing hatchery production is great, but improving area habitat must always be front and center. Despite chinook restrictions this year, the end goal of improving the fisheries long-term must always be kept in mind.

"We want to grow the resource, we want to take care of it," Nyman said. "With responsible development and great habitat, we might have a chance. The salmon might have a chance."