State and tribal fishery officials are again at an impasse over efforts to develop a joint plan for Puget Sound salmon fisheries, and it is uncertain when — or even if — a new season might open this year for sport anglers and nontribal, commercial fishermen.
The talks this year have been complicated by forecasts for extremely poor returns of wild coho, which require harvest cuts to protect the weak runs.
Rather than submit a joint plan for federal approval as in years past, both state and tribal officials now say they plan to submit separate management plans to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries.
Tribal officials expect they could get a permit in time to conduct limited salmon harvests that do not target the wild coho.
But it is unclear whether the state plan could gain approval in time for the new season, which begins May 1 and runs for 12 months for sport anglers and nontribal commercial fishermen.
“We had hoped additional conversations with the tribes would result in fisheries that were agreeable to both parties,” said Jim Unsworth, director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Unfortunately, that did not happen, but our door remains open.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Tony Meyer, a communication officer for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, confirmed that the talks had broken down. He said a separate tribal-management plan is expected to be submitted to NOAA Fisheries later this week.
Puget Sound tribes collectively are entitled — under the 1974 Boldt decision — to half of all harvestable salmon. And each spring, state officials meet with 20 Puget Sound treaty tribes to come up with a joint management plan that is then submitted to federal fishery officials for approval.
The 2016 talks ended with no agreement over what harvest cuts to make or what marine and river areas needed to see closures or cutbacks, and by whom, to protect the weak wild coho and chinook runs.
NOAA officials charged with approving salmon fisheries have said that a separate tribal harvest plan could gain quicker approval then a state harvest plan for recreational and nontribal commercial fisheries.
While the breakdown in talks leaves recreational fisheries at risk, a federal fishery council last week approved limited ocean-salmon harvests off the coast.
The fishing is set to begin July 1 at Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay.
The council set the overall sport and nontribal catch this season at 35,000 chinook (64,000 last year) and 18,900 hatchery-marked coho (150,800).