Low numbers lead to fishing restrictions on chinook salmon

Low numbers of chinook salmon are leading state agencies to cut back on fisheries and the fishing season.

The big news is that this summer, fishermen on the Columbia River will not be allowed to keep any Chinook salmon, (including jacks), or sockeye.

There will also be restrictions in the Puget Sound after projected low returns of key chinook stocks, according to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“The chinook, it's the preferred of the salmon. It is a very desirable product in sports, commercials, everybody wants it,” said Jorge Villarreal, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Hatchery Manager.

WDFW says the lower quotas will indirectly benefit southern resident orca whales with fewer boats and less noise, and decreased competition for salmon in areas where the endangered whales feed.

“This year things have gotten even more complicated because of the orca factor, which is a thing we all care very much about and we all want to provide for that,” said Villarreal.

The decisions were made after the Pacific Fishery Management Council's meeting.

"Reducing fisheries is not a long-term solution to the declining number of chinook salmon," WDFW Director Kelly Susewind said. "The department will continue working with the co-managers, our constituents, and others to address habitat loss. Without improved habitat, our chinook populations will likely continue to decline."

WDFW says the Bonneville Dam near the Columbia River Gorge saw less than 200 Chinook cross over by Friday. They typically see 2,400.

The news impacts fishermen, like Chris Giles.

"I think Columbia River fishermen are going to be very disappointed, but it's obviously necessary otherwise they wouldn't do it. I think the orcas are more important right now,” he said.

In 2017, low numbers led to similar fishing restrictions, and last year, some Seattle restaurants took Chinook off their menus.

"There are so many other species of salmon that we can serve and cook and provide for our guests, that it didn't seem necessary to continue to serve it,” said Seattle chef Renee Erickson.

Find information on Puget Sound salmon fisheries this year at this link, and for the Columbia River here.

More details will be included in the 2019-20 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, which will be available in June.