The Pacific Fishery Management Council will consider three alternatives for ocean salmon fishing off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California at its April meeting, including one option that would close commercial and recreational salmon fishing north of CapeFalcon, in northern Oregon.

The federally chartered council manages ocean fishing seasons from three to 200 miles offshore.

Kyle Adicks, salmon fisheries policy lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said this year’s options are largely driven by the low numbers of coho expected to return to the Columbia River—forecast to be the lowest in more than 20 years. “There just aren’t that many fish out there,” he told Clearing Up.

The last time ocean fishing for salmon was closed off Washington’s coast was in the early to mid-1990s, he said. However, the fishery council has considered a closure as recently as 2016, he said.

The option, he said, “sends a signal that yes, things are bad. But it lets us look at what the ecological and biological effects of closing the fishery will be. I don’t think that’s where we’re going to wind up,” he said.

The other two options include smaller quotas for coho. Option 1 would allow recreational fishermen to catch 30,000 Chinook and 29,400 marked coho, and Option 2 would allow them to catch 22,125 Chinook and 22,500 marked coho. Last year, recreational quotas allowed 159,600 coho and 26,250 Chinook.

Negotiations are underway for tribal quotas, and options for commercial fishing quotas are also reduced compared with last year, including a potential closure.

Adicks said the impact of the fishery on endangered southern resident killer whales is also part of the considerations. In January, the Wild Fish Conservancy notified NOAA Fisheries of its intent to sue the agency due to what it claims is an overharvest of Chinook salmon in the ocean. The council created a workgroup, which recently developed a risk assessment looking at the impacts of salmon fishing on orcas. The workgroup expects to issue its recommendations soon.

The public is invited to comment on the options prior to the council’s meeting in Vancouver, Wash., on April 5-10.

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K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.