Strong chinook salmon runs predicted

Fishing prospects look bright this year for chinook in Washington's ocean waters and the Columbia River, according to preseason salmon forecasts recently released.

Opportunities for anglers also look good in Puget Sound, where coho and pink salmon runs are expected to be strong this year.

Forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon mark the starting point for developing 2011 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas.

The forecasts were developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and treaty Indian tribes.

Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings over the next few weeks to discuss potential fishing opportunities before finalizing seasons in mid-April.

The only meeting in eastern Washington is Wednesday, March 23, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Benton PUD, 2721 W. 10th Ave. in Kennewick. The focus will be public discussion of potential recreational and commercial salmon fisheries statewide.

Phil Anderson, a fish and wildlife director, said department staff will work closely with tribal co-managers and constituents to develop fisheries that meet conservation objectives and provide fishing opportunities on abundant runs of wild and hatchery fish.

"We will continue to design fishing seasons that not only meet conservation goals for salmon, but also minimize impacts to other species," said Anderson. "It is important that we take into account the entire ecosystem when managing our fisheries."

Anderson noted that state budget reductions are also a factor in designing fisheries that can be managed effectively with a reduced staff. State general-fund support for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was reduced by 30 percent in the current budget and is expected to drop even further over the next two years.

As in past years, salmon-fishing prospects in 2011 vary by area:

- Columbia River: About 760,000 fall chinook are expected to return to the Columbia River this season. That's about 112,000 more chinook than last year's return and would constitute the fifth largest run since 1948.

- More than half of the chinook forecast - about 398,000 salmon - is expected to be "upriver brights" headed to the Hanford Reach area and the Snake River. That would be the second largest run of upriver brights since 1964, when fishery managers began keeping records.

While the chinook run is expected to be up, the forecast of 362,500 Columbia River coho is similar to last year's projection.

- Washington's ocean waters: Anglers can expect an ocean fishery for chinook and coho salmon this summer similar to that in 2010.

Nearly 250,000 hatchery chinook are expected to return this year to the lower Columbia River. Those salmon, known as "tules," traditionally have been the backbone of the recreational ocean chinook fishery.

The 362,500 coho salmon bound for the Columbia River also account for a significant portion of the ocean catch.

- Puget Sound: Coho and pink salmon returns to Puget Sound are expected to be strong this year. About 980,000 coho are forecast to return to Puget Sound streams, about 367,000 more fish than last year's forecast.

In addition, nearly 6 million pink salmon are expected to return to Puget Sound this year. That forecast is 3 million salmon below 2009's record return but still an abundant run.

Summer/fall chinook salmon returns to Puget Sound are expected to total about 243,000 fish, slightly higher than last year's projection of 226,000.


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