If you thought last year’s salmon returns along the coast and Puget Sound were bad, 2016 isn’t going to look any better.
Last year, tribal fishermen (along with their state-managed counterparts) were forced off the water because fewer salmon came back than expected. Those unexpectedly small runs had a massive impact on tribal economies and cultures:
“The closure will hurt our fishermen and reduce opportunity to harvest hatchery coho and other species, but the situation was so dire that Quinault Nation felt that even incidental impacts to wild coho need to be avoided at this point in the season,” said Ed Johnstone, QIN policy spokesman.
The reason for the low returns was the lasting impact of the Pacific Ocean blob. Even though the blob finally dissipated earlier in the winter, this year’s forecast returns look as bad or even worse than last year.
Joe Peters, the Squaxin Island Tribe’s natural resources representative, wrote recently on their blog:
This year’s forecasts for coho coming back to the deep South Sound show the lasting impact of poor marine survival caused by the recent Pacific Blob, a large area of warm ocean water. For example, this coming year, only 1,800 coho that originated from the Squaxin Island Tribal net pens program are expected to return.
Usually over 25,000 Squaxin net pen coho return yearly from 1.8 million released.
Poor marine survival threatens the return of hatchery fish too, and will continue to hurt the tribe’s fishing-based economy and local sport fisheries. The Squaxin net pens program releases 1.8 million coho each year. When these fish (return) as adults, they contribute to both sports fisheries throughout Puget Sound as well as tribal fisheries.
This decline in coho is devastating for both tribal and state-managed fisheries.
Regionwide, we can see a huge decline in coho returns, to the point that several key stocks fall into a category that fisheries managers consider “critical.”
What this means for this year’s salmon fisheries is not known yet. Next week, tribal and state salmon co-managers will begin negotiating those seasons. Compared to recent fishing seasons, it probably won’t look good.