Snohomish Basin salmon, steelhead fisheries limited to protect wild Chinook

Conservation and recovery of wild Chinook salmon returning to the Snohomish River and its tributaries — including the Skykomish and Snoqualmie — was an important issue the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) staff and tribal co-managers evaluated during the 2024 North of Falcon process. The process concluded with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) salmon season setting meetings on April 6–11, 2024.

“This process takes the time to be thoughtful and thorough, so we make the best decisions using the best available science, with the close cooperation of tribal co-managers, other West Coast fishery managers, federal fishery representatives, and the public at large,” said Kelly Cunningham, the WDFW Fish Program Director.

Chinook salmon return to the North Puget Sound Region’s Snohomish Basin and its tributaries beginning in late-spring and continuing through September. For many years, this watershed has also hosted popular fisheries for hatchery summer Chinook returning to the Wallace River Hatchery near Gold Bar, hatchery summer steelhead reared at the Reiter Ponds Hatchery near Index, fall coho salmon in the Snohomish, Skykomish, and Wallace rivers, as well as light-tackle spinning and fly fishing for rainbow and cutthroat trout in the Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and their many smaller tributaries.

WDFW understands the value many anglers from various backgrounds and their families place on these fisheries given their accessibility and popularity for summer recreation. We also acknowledge the dedicated work of state and tribal hatchery staff in this basin, and the importance of these fisheries for local fishing guides and tackle shops. We know there will be impacts from fishing closures to the communities and residents of King and Snohomish counties.

In 2023 and 2024, several factors necessitate the careful conservation and management of the vulnerable Snohomish Chinook stock, including

· recently updated 2024 forecast modeling showing low numbers of Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed wild Chinook returning to the Snohomish,

· projected impacts on these Chinook during fisheries outside of the state’s management areas,

· and new guidelines implemented as part of the 10-year Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan submitted to federal fisheries managers in 2022.

As a result, salmon, steelhead, and trout fisheries in the Snohomish, Skykomish, and Snoqualmie rivers — and certain tributaries such as the Wallace, Pilchuck, Tolt and Raging rivers — are expected to be significantly reduced or closed this year unless opened in-season through emergency Fishing Rule Changes.

PFMC adopted the tentative 2024–2025 fisheries on April 11, and are now available online.

The Snoqualmie River downstream of Snoqualmie Falls to the mouth at the confluence with the Skykomish will be closed to all fishing including salmon, trout, and other gamefish species in 2024 through May 14, 2025, due to very low forecasted returns of wild Chinook. The Skykomish River will also remain closed in 2024 for Chinook-directed fisheries, including the summer fishery below the Wallace River.

The Snohomish River from its mouth near Everett upstream to the mouth of the Pilchuck River is scheduled to be open Sept. 21 through Oct. 31 for coho only. The Snohomish from the mouth of the Pilchuck to the confluence of the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers (and all channels) is scheduled to be open for coho only Oct. 1 through Oct. 31. All sections of the river planned to open are dependent on the in-season run-size update and may change during the summer and fall.

The Wallace River from the mouth to 200 feet upstream of the intake at the salmon hatchery is open Oct. 15–31 for coho only and is dependent on the in-season run-size update.

Fishing for hatchery steelhead returning to Reiter Ponds Hatchery is expected to be announced later through an emergency Fishing Rule Change. This includes areas from the Highway 2 Bridge (“High Bridge”) just upstream of Big Eddy Water Access Area east of Gold Bar to the confluence of the North Fork and South Fork Skykomish rivers near Index, and potentially additional areas depending on run size and available Chinook encounters.

These season summaries are not meant to be comprehensive regulations; more details and regulations for each area will be included in the 2024–25 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, which outlines the regulations from July 1, 2024, through June 30, 2025, and will be published and posted online in early summer of 2024.

An angler fishes for summer steelhead near the Reiter Ponds Hatchery east of Gold Bar, with the Cascade Mountains in the background. This stretch of river is expected to open for hatchery steelhead and gamefish later this summer through emergency fishing rule change.

Protecting ESA-listed Snohomish Basin wild Chinook

After the ESA listing of Chinook returning to Puget Sound rivers including the Snohomish in 1999, the Snohomish wild Chinook population saw an increasing trend until about the mid-2000s. Since then, wild fish returns have declined from a high of 10,602 in 2004 to a record low wild return of 1,023 in 2019 (569 in the Skykomish and 443 in the Snoqualmie), which was the lowest observed wild escapement since at least the mid-1980s. Poor wild Chinook returns are forecast to the Snohomish and its tributaries in 2024 and may be exacerbated by drought conditions.

Marine fisheries in Washington areas were also reduced in 2024 to meet several Chinook objectives, but Snohomish wild Chinook were the primary driving stock for marine area changes during the salmon season setting process. To meet conservation management objectives for Snohomish wild Chinook, catch quota reductions to summer fisheries were slightly adjusted compared to 2023 in Marine Area 5 (Sekiu and Pillar Point), Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet), and Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton Area).

Despite these reductions to 2024 marine area fisheries where Snohomish wild Chinook are most likely to be caught by salmon anglers, additional restrictions were required on in-river fisheries to meet conservation management objectives on wild Chinook. WDFW fishery managers reached an agreement with The Tulalip Tribes to manage very limited river fisheries in the Snohomish and Skykomish to avoid the predicted loss of wild Chinook, including impacts from encounters during both summer salmon and steelhead fisheries, and the coho directed recreational fisheries planned for this coming late September and October that are dependent on the in-season run-size update.

WDFW and tribal staff will monitor both the fisheries and spawning grounds as the fish return to allow for adaptive management of fisheries to stay within predicted impacts on the Chinook stock of concern. Additional fishing opportunities will be opened through in-season emergency Fishing Rule Changes if allowable wild Chinook encounters remain.

WDFW does not make these decisions lightly, typically consulting with the Puget Sound sportfishing advisory group and other members of the public. WDFW is committed to providing sustainable fishing opportunities balanced with salmon conservation needs, and we are continually working to improve fisheries management in the interest of salmon, fishermen and women, tribes, and all Washingtonians.

“The 2024–2025 salmon seasons brought about changes to several fisheries that won’t sit easily with everyone,” Cunningham said. “We don’t make these decisions lightly, typically consulting with our sportfishing advisory groups, along with other members of the public and tribal co-managers, prior to adjusting seasons.”

As part of the 2024–2025 salmon season setting process, WDFW created the “Salmon Daily Digest” blog. This blog provided regular updates of developments during the NOF process. The tentative 2024–2025 statewide salmon and steelhead fisheries now move forward for approval by the National Marine Fisheries Service and final rule making. Additional opportunity for public input will be available soon on the WDFW NOF webpage. Salmon fishing regulations will be adopted in early June.

For salmon season setting process materials and video presentations from all the meetings, refer to the NOF public meeting webpage. Visit our WDFW North of Falcon FAQs and Glossary Information for helpful key terms and suggested resources. You can read more about understanding Puget Sound fisheries management on our WDFW blog.

WDFW staff conducting surveys in the Snohomish River Basin, a large watershed in Snohomish and King counties.

Emergency drought declaration could also impact freshwater fisheries

While in-river fisheries are tentatively set, WDFW fishery managers are concerned over the current low mountain snowpack and an expected dry summer forecast, which brings the potential for drought conditions, high water temperatures, and low water level issues in rivers, including the Snohomish watershed.

These conditions could impact freshwater sport fisheries and salmon migration in late-summer and early-fall. The snowpack is a vital part of our state’s entire fish and wildlife ecosystem. According to the Washington Department of Ecology, the statewide snowpack currently sits at 68% of normal conditions, and a drought is declared when there is less than 75% of the normal water supply and a risk of undue hardship.

As climate change impacts Washington’s watersheds and ecosystems WDFW will monitor impacts and may need to adopt in-season management changes to address these conditions.



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.