June Chinook fishery turned into a great experience

The third year of a June Chinook “selective” (hatchery only) fishery off Westport turned out to be very successful.

Although there were a few days that were devoid of evidence that there were salmon in the area, the overall daily catch rate per person was 0.97; almost one per person and twice the average of 2011. More than 5,500 anglers caught 5,403 Chinook salmon in a 15-day fishery. That’s about as good as it gets anywhere in our state. Most of the good fishing took place on the beach in 50-75 feet of water.

Currently, we are a couple of weeks into the all-species season. Both Chinook and coho may be retained. There is a sub-limit of one on Chinook, but they can be either wild or hatchery fish. The coho must be hatchery origin (healed adipose fin clip). The fishery runs five days per week, Sunday through Thursday. Catch rates continue to be around one per person.

Recently, the weather has been good and the seas relatively calm. Ferdinand Magellan rightfully named our huge western neighbor the ‘Mare Pacificum;’ well, part of the time anyway.

Have you ever wondered how salmon can be managed to protect the weakest stocks in a mixed-stock fishery?

A little device called a coded wire tag is implanted in the nose of a set percentage of juvenile hatchery fish before they leave the hatcheries. These tags identify the release date and origin of the fish when analyzed in the lab after capture. When anglers return to the marina with their catch, fisheries dock samplers use an electronic “wand” to detect the tag and remove the salmon’s nose to gather the information.

Over the years, and assuming that naturally spawned salmon act similar to their hatchery cohorts, there is a very accurate estimate of the source of the salmon population in any given area. This information is then used to set regulations every year to optimize fishing opportunity while protecting the weakest natural stocks.

You might be surprised to know that catch areas on the ocean and the areas of origin aren’t necessarily right next door to each other. The ocean fishery off our coast harvests a preponderance of Lower Columbia River salmon. Willapa and Grays Harbor Chinook are harvested primarily off Canada. Upper Columbia River Chinook are caught as far north as the Bering Sea. And, at times, Sacramento River Chinook are caught as far north as Westport. These patterns add to the complexity of fishery management and make it truly international in nature.

Our derby continues daily with our season leading Chinook weighing in at 25-3 dressed. The largest coho so far is 8-14 dressed. The lingcod leader is 35-5 in the round. With the exception of our leading (and sure to be winning) 117-pound halibut, these weights are sure to grow over the course of the season.

We’ll update you in a couple of weeks but in the meantime — let’s go fishing!

Mark Cedergreen is the CEO of the Westport Charterboat Association. For more information on the association, visit its website at www.charterwestport.com.