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Low Coho Returns Have Wash. State Considering First Full Closure Of Salmon Fisheries Since 1994

Salmon returns in the Northwest are on many people’s minds this week as fisheries managers meet in Vancouver. They’re considering what might be the first full closure of ocean salmon fishing in nearly 22 years.

But you might not notice much change in what’s for sale in local markets. Step up to a seafood counter looking for salmon and you’ll likely find a lot to choose from.

Kira Derito is co-owner of Olympia Seafoods, where she says they’re well supported by people looking for healthy choices such as the wild-caught fish they have on offer.

“The main three are king salmon, coho salmon and sockeye salmon,” Derito says. “And coho, also called silver -- we most often refer to it as silver – is something that we almost always have in the summertime, when salmon are fresh and in season, coming out of the ocean.”

But this summer, it’s looking like there will be a lot less coho to go around, especially if fisheries managers decide it’s too risky to let any be caught. Derito says she’ll still have plenty of fish to sell coming from Alaska.

“But, yeah, it’ll be a tough time for the charter boat fishermen and the trollers, who rely on that salmon for their livelihood.”

Derito comes from Westport, so she knows a lot of people in that boat, including her father and two brothers, who are all commercial fishermen.

Even if some fish are allowed to be caught, she says it could be tough, because reduced allowances for Coho will mean reduced by-catch for other species such as Chinook salmon that swim alongside it and have to be thrown back.

“Because there’s a fifteen percent mortality rate, on average, as far as I know, with hook and line fishing. So that will have to be factored in to the available surplus,” she said.

A full closure is just one of three options fisheries managers are considering, as part of the federal season-setting process for the west coast. Two other options would set lower quotas for coho and Chinook this summer.

Marine biologists have found that coho are especially sensitive to runoff from urban pollution, because they spend more time than other salmon species in rivers and estuaries. This may provide some explanation of this year's poor returns on Puget Sound runs, as well as the possible influence of warmer surface temperatures in the ocean last summer off the West Coast due to the patch of warmer water in the Pacific known as "the blob."  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to