Treaty tribes in western Washington will greatly restrict their fisheries this year to minimize impacts on record low returns of natural and hatchery coho. These restrictions will close all directed fisheries on returning coho salmon except in a few terminal areas where there are identified harvestable hatchery fish.

For example, the three tribes on the Skagit River will forgo all coho fishing, except for a small research fishery conducted by tribal biologists. A return of only 8,900 wild coho are predicted to return to the Skagit, well below the critical abundance threshold of 16,000 coho needed to sustain the run.

This will be the second year in a row that coho returning to western Washington have been well below spawning escapement goals. Last year 121,000 coho salmon were predicted to come back to the Skagit River, but only 5,600 made it to the spawning grounds.

This tribal fishing plan was submitted to NOAA Fisheries by the treaty tribes because they were unable to reach agreement with the state co-managers on a comprehensive package of fisheries.

“Unfortunately, the political leadership with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife did not provide a fisheries package that met the conservation needs of stocks of concern because of low abundance,” said Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “The treaty fishing package is a conservative and appropriate approach to this historically low return.”

NOAA Fisheries will consider the treaty package based on its compliance with agreed-upon conservation goals.

More than 1 million hatchery and wild coho return to western Washington most years, but this year’s run will only be about 370,000. Some hatcheries are not expected to meet egg-take goals needed to produce the next generation of coho.

“We have argued on the side of conservation and caution this year, and for the tribes that means closing fisheries,” Loomis said.

“These fisheries closures are the direct consequence of the state of Washington allowing the destruction of salmon habitat for decades,” Loomis said. “Dips in ocean survival will happen every so often, but we wouldn’t have to drastically cut back our fisheries if a better job was done protecting the habitat.”

Even though some western Washington salmon populations were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act over 15 years ago, the destruction of salmon habitat still outpaces its restoration. The treaty tribes have quantified this trend in the State of Our Watersheds Report (http://nwifc.org/sow/). A new edition of the report will be released this year.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Degraded nearshore habitat is unable to support forage fish.
  • Riparian forests are not recovering.
  • Impervious surface area impacts water quality and salmon habitat.
  • Floodplains are being overdeveloped.

“There is a direct connection between salmon habitat and how much everyone can fish: treaty tribal and non-treaty commercial and sport fishermen,” Loomis said. “We need to stop expecting salmon to thrive while their habitat continues to be lost.”

For more information, contact: Tony Meyer, NWIFC, 360-528-4325, ameyer@nwifc.org