Salmon fishing closed Harborwide
By Kyle Mittan The Daily World
Salmon fishing in Grays Harbor and along all of its
tributaries has been closed three months early after catch data suggested that
the return of coho salmon would be significantly less than predicted, according
to a press release from the state Department of Fish &Wildlife.
The closure, announced on Friday, began Monday. The
season was slated to run through Jan. 31, 2016.
The department, along with technical staff with the
Quinault Indian Nation, uses catch data and other information to jointly
predict the forecast for each year’s upcoming season, said Steve Thiesfeld,
regional fish program manager with Fish &Wildlife. The system isn’t
perfect, he added.
“It’s not just one party pulling a number out of the
air. There’s actually lots of working together with the best info,” Thiesfeld
said. “It’s not an exact science.”
Still, the predicted numbers were far more optimistic
than what current catch data has shown, forcing the department to call off
salmon fishing in the Harbor and along the Humptulips, Hoquiam, Chehalis,
Wishkah, Wynooche, Satsop, Black, Skookumchuck, Johns, Elk and Newaukum rivers
and Van Winkle Creek, a statement from the department says.
Thiesfeld said he couldn’t give an exact diagnosis
for the shortage, but a good guess, he said, was that survival rates in the
ocean have ebbed.
“The tools that we had in front of us weren’t able
to pick up what appears to be a systematic decline in ocean survival rates. …
At least for right now, that’s what it appears to be,” he said. “We have known
that we were entering a period of lower ocean productivity, but we’re a little
surprised it’s caught us this hard this quickly.”
Dave Hamilton, a local recreational fishing
advocate, feels the Quinaults and Fish &Wildlife did not communicate
effectively to determine an accurate forecast. Now fishermen across the board,
Hamilton said, are paying for it.
He believes the tribe may have over-harvested what
was already a thin salmon run for the season.
“The reason we’re closed is not because there wasn’t
any salmon left to harvest,” Hamilton said. “The reason we’re closed is because
WDF&W and the Quinaults harvested them up and would not recognize that the
run was smaller and that all indications were it was going to be smaller.”
Ed Johnstone, a policy spokesman for Quinault
fisheries, did not return a message asking whether the tribe would close its
fisheries to correspond with the Fish &Wildlife closure
Hamilton contends that Quinault fishermen have
provided their catch data later than usual this year. Thiesfeld said that
treaty or non-commercial fisheries are required by law to fill out “fish
tickets,” and that the data typically makes it into the state’s database within
six days of it being reported.
Quinault fishing data, he added, is even more
“We were pretty aware of where the Quinault Tribe
was on their catch,” Thiesfeld said. “I’m not aware of any lack of
A more important issue, Thiesfeld said, was
interpreting the data mid-season. The in-season update that ultimately led to
the closure, Thiesfeld said, “hasn’t been done for quite some time in the
“The dilemma in fisheries management is, if the catches
are low, does it mean the run is not coming back as you predicted or does it
mean the run is late?” Thiesfeld said. “Conversely, if you have really good
catches, does that mean run is early or the run is big?”
Poor salmon stocks, Thiesfeld said, have affected
much of the state, including Puget Sound and the Columbia River.