DECEMBER 1, 2015 ANDY WALGAMOTT- northwest sportsman
Citing less than adequate numbers of wild coho back into the Grays Harbor system, a state salmon manager says there won’t be a reopener anytime soon.
“We’re going to hold where we’re at at the moment,” WDFW’s Steve Thiesfeld in Montesano said this afternoon, disappointing guides and anglers who had hoped to salvage December.
GRAYS HARBOR SYSTEM WILD COHO ANGLERS WILL BE DISAPPOINTED BY NEWS THAT SEASON WON’T BE REOPENED SOON BECAUSE MANAGERS SAY RETURNS SO FAR ARE EXPECTED TO BE 8,000 FISH BELOW ESCAPEMENT GOALS. DEAN INGLIN CAUGHT THIS ONE SEVERAL YEARS AGO ON THE ‘NOOCH WHILE FISHING A JIG UNDER A FLOAT. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)
In late October, all fishing on Grays Harbor and in the Black, Chehalis, Elk, Hoquiam, Humptulips, Johns, Newaukum, Satsop, Skookumchuck, Wishkah and Wynoochee Rivers and Van Winkle Creek was closed as it became apparent this year’s coho run was below forecast.
Stream surveys last week after mid-November’s big flood continue to bear that out.
“We took a look at the spawner surveys and on the Chehalis side we have between 20,000 and 22,000 wild spawners,” Thiesfeld said. “The goal is 28,500. Basically, we’re not going to make escapement.”
While mid-November’s announcement of a set of Quinault Nation netting periods on the lower Chehalis had anglers wondering if sport fishing could resume, last Sunday’s opener yielded only six coho and one steelhead, though that tally could have been impacted by debris in the water that netters didn’t want to deal with, Thiesfeld said.
KING 5 is also reporting on the issue; the station’s Alison Morrow today tweeted:
Alison Morrow ?@AlisonMorrowK5 5h5 hours ago
On Chehalis with frustrated fishing guides, wondering why Coho are off limits to some but not all as river level rises.
As it stands, some river stretches near hatcheries have been surgically reopened to target clipped coho, and Thiesfeld says he hopes to be able to open the Wynoochee and Humptulips to steelheading by mid-December and other tribs as returns transition away from coho to winter-runs.
He acknowledged that salmon anglers will be disappointed by the news that wild coho will continue to be closed. But with as many as 8,000 fewer adult fish than needed to make escapement goals, WDFW is taking a conservation-first stance.
“There would be impacts to wild coho — admittedly, not as many as other fisheries, but there would be some,” Thiesfeld said.
What’s affecting Grays Harbor silvers is the same as what’s hit Puget Sound, North Coast and Columbia stocks: the warm blob in the Northeast Pacific appears to have really mauled this year’s class of fish.
“I’m really hopeful it’s just a 2015 issue, but if folks aren’t looking at Chinook and chum next year, they’re fooling themselves. It’s potentially affecting other species that come back next year,” Thiesfeld said.
That can be seen most clearly on the Columbia, where an all-time record of 954,737 fall kings have been counted at Bonneville, but only 37,203 coho were — nearly 100,000 fewer than the 10-year average.
This year’s returning kings were at sea a full year earlier than were the coho, which went to the ocean with the blob at its maximum extant. In Puget Sound, many silvers came in sharply undersized; the average caught in the Everett Coho Derby was just 41/2 pounds versus 8-plus some years, and managers there also had to halt salmon fisheries in hopes of getting enough wilds on the gravel.
“Normally we have surplus coho. That’s just not the case this year,” Thiesfeld said.