In every corner of our continent, fish struggle against an onslaught of harvest, predation, habitat loss, pollution and natural disasters. Those that have biology on their side continue to flourish; others nose-dive into trouble.
Species that prosper create a bright spot in a sometimes-dim environment. They prove that humans can manage their resources, and give us reason to hope that our sport will flourish.
To illustrate, we took a look at five species in five different locations. Some of these fisheries are just beginning to thrive after a long downturn; some appear to be succeeding regionally but might be counted in a larger population that remains near the brink.
In every case, anglers — including the authors of the following five articles — feel fortunate to enjoy this current bounty. For them, that’s the take-home message in a nutshell.
Central Puget Sound, Washington
By John L. Beath
With the help of fishery managers, hatcheries and concerned anglers, Pacific Northwest salmon runs stir high expectations each summer for a limited but spirited season. But that wasn’t always the case: The fishery cycled through boom and bust during the 20th century and now, finally, rises back to life.
In 1911, millions of wild Pacific salmon returned to Washington’s Central Puget Sound. That year, Seattle’s population grew to 240,000 people because of the area’s rich resources. The commercial salmon-fishing industry blossomed, and forever associated Seattle and Puget Sound to its legendary salmon runs.
All five species of Pacific salmon — chinook, coho, pink, chum and sockeye — returned to the Sound’s rivers and streams by the millions. Chinook salmon — because of their size, fight and superior taste — became the salmon of choice: the king of salmon.
During peak summer chinook runs in those early years, anyone with access to a wooden rowboat used hand lines or primitive fishing rods and reels with bait or lures to catch their share of prized kings. They also caught plenty of aggressive coho and pink salmon.
In 1931, the Ben Harris Seattle Star Saltwater Fishing Derby became the first of many annual Puget Sound salmon events. Competition for fish and habitat continued for decades and greatly reduced salmon populations. As more people moved to the region, fisheries managers relied on dozens of salmon hatcheries to enhance wild-salmon stocks.
In 1999, the National Marine Fisheries Service put Puget Sound chinook on the threatened-species list. In 2000, Washington’s legislature mandated the Puget Sound Recreational Salmon and Marine Enhancement Program to release 3 million yearling chinook each year to help bring the population back to 1970s and early ’80s numbers.
Over the past decade, fisheries managers continued the chinook-release program. And while results haven’t been as favorable as hoped, anglers continue to harvest. The release of larger, four-month-old chinook has proved more cost effective.
Gary Krein, owner of All Star Charters in Everett, Washington (www.allstarfishing.com), said charter anglers last summer averaged one chinook per angler per trip. “Without hatcheries, we would be shut down,” Krein says. “We have gone to a selective chinook fishery in Central Puget Sound year-round. Summer chinook fishing is excellent.”
Managers continue to work with the legislature to change old mandates and implement strategies consistent with more-successful and cost-efficient enhancement. The future of selective summer chinook sport fishing in Puget Sound should remain consistent for years to come as long as area hatcheries continue releasing chinook.
“Summer and 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,” says Steve Thiesfeld, Puget Sound salmon manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Most chinook fisheries in Puget Sound likely will be similar to last year.”
Coho and Pink Salmon
Puget Sound anglers can expect nearly 1 million coho and 6 million pink salmon to return this summer to local rivers and streams. During the 2011 season, salmon should exceed the area’s human population, just like the good old days. With these excellent salmon numbers, expect busy boat launches and full charter boats.
“This is shaping up to be a really good year in Puget Sound for both coho and pink salmon,” Thiesfeld says.
Additionally, another 17 million pink salmon are forecast to return to Canada’s Fraser River this year. “A portion of those Fraser River fish will make their way through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands, boosting opportunities for Washington anglers,” he says.
Krein expects a generous four-fish pink salmon limit this summer. In 2009, during the last Puget Sound pink salmon run, his guests experienced fast fishing and quick limits. And while anglers catch only about 50 percent of the bites, Krein says a charter of six fishermen should land two salmon each in two to three hours.
Phenomenal fishing is predicted for the entire shoreline from Mukelteo to the West Point entrance to Elliot Bay. With 30 percent to 40 percent more coho expected this year, Krein says they should be far more aggressive they bite better when mixed in with pinks.
Puget Sound Chinook and Coho Salmon Forecasts, 2009-2011
Adult chinook salmon preseason forecasts:
Adult coho salmon preseason forecasts:
Chinook: Mid-July through August (fin-clipped only)
Coho: August through October (peak time: September)
Pink: August through September (peak time: Aug. 10 to Sept. 1)
Two-salmon limit (release all wild chinook and chum).
During pink salmon season, managers will increase limits for pink salmon based on run size.
All information as of August 2011. For up-to-date seasons, rules and regulations, visit www.wdfw.wa.gov.
About the Author: John Beath has been fishing Puget Sound since age 8. He is an outdoor writer/photographer based in Monroe, Washington. Beath set the IGFA 6-pound line-class record for chinook salmon in 2002 with a 51.25-pound catch.