Strong fisheries management leads to harvest opportunity on Skagit River

MOUNT VERNON – For the first time in 16 years, recreational fishermen will be able to fish for Skagit River summer and fall chinook, thanks to a plan developed by tribal and state co-managers.

Each spring, the co-managers set fishing seasons during the cooperative North of Falcon process, named for the cape that marks the southern boundary of the tribal and state management area. Fisheries are designed to protect weak wild runs while providing limited harvest for treaty tribal and state sport and commercial fisheries.

“The tribes are committed to working together with non-Indian fishermen for the benefit of the salmon resource,” said Lorraine Loomis, Swinomish fisheries manager and the tribal North of Falcon coordinator. “This harvest opportunity on the Skagit River is the outcome of strong salmon management allowing us to share the resource.”

During the recreational fishery this summer, tribal and sport fishermen will divide the week equally, with each fishing for 3 1/2 days.

“Credit for putting together this historic recreational fishery opportunity should go the Phil Anderson, the interim director of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife,’’ said Scott Schuyler, natural resources director for the Upper Skagit Tribe. “This fishing package gives everyone a chance to fish.”

The Skagit River is the largest producer of wild chinook in the region. More than 23,000 wild summer and fall chinook are expected to return to the Skagit. The next largest runs of chinook to any Puget Sound river are fewer than 10,000 fish.

Recreational fishing on the summer/fall run has been closed since 1993. Sport fishermen share the tribes’ interest in sustaining harvestable numbers of fish, said Larry Carpenter of Master Marine in Mount Vernon. Carpenter represented anglers during the North of Falcon process.

“We’ve got to continue the run,” Carpenter said. “I grew up fishing the Skagit. Where else can you go along the I-5 corridor to catch a prize wild king salmon?”

A key factor to lasting salmon recovery is habitat restoration, Loomis said. “The largest reason for the decline of salmon is the loss and degradation of habitat,” she said. “The only way to lasting salmon recovery is to repair that damage.”

Restoration projects by the Upper Skagit, Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes so far have improved hundreds of acres of chinook rearing habitat in freshwater banks, backwaters, estuary channels and pocket estuaries.

For more information, contact: Scott Schuyler, natural resources director, Upper Skagit Tribe, at 360-854-7090 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, NWIFC, at 360-424-8226 or [email protected].