Coho salmon return to Columbia improves prospects

A return of more than one million Columbia River coho salmon -- the largest run since 2001 -- should improve fishing prospects this year from the Washington coast to the Upper Columbia River.

Salmon forecasts also show strong coho runs to many of Washington's other coastal rivers this year and improved hatchery fall chinook returns to the Columbia River, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon mark the starting point for developing 2009 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through March before finalizing fishing seasons in early April.

Fishery managers still face a number of challenges in crafting fisheries that meet conservation goals for weak salmon stocks, said Phil Anderson, the department's interim director.

"Conservation of wild fish will continue to be our top priority," Anderson said. "We will work hard with tribal co-managers and our constituents to create fishing opportunities for hatchery fish while ensuring that we are successful in meeting conservation objectives for wild fish populations."

Catch quotas for chinook in the Columbia River and the ocean will likely be low because of the poor Bonneville Pool return and restrictions needed to protect wild salmon listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 8-13 with the Pacific Fishery Management Council to develop options for this year's commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries. The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters off the Pacific Coast.

Seven additional public meetings have been scheduled in March to discuss regional fisheries issues. Input from these regional discussions will be considered as the season-setting process moves into the North of Falcon and Pacific Fishery Management Council seasons.

One of the meetings, on March 19, will be from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Benton PUD in Kennewick, 2721 W. 10th Ave.

The fisheries council is expected to adopt the final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 4-9 meeting in Millbrae, Calif.

Preseason salmon forecasts, proposed fishing options and details on upcoming meetings will be posted as they become available on WDFW's North of Falcon Web site at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/.