Snohomish Basin salmon, steelhead fisheries limited to protect wild Chinook

Chinook salmon. Photo by NOAA Fisheries.

For April 2024 updates, please see:

October 11, 2023 updates:

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Conservation and recovery of wild Chinook salmon returning to the Snohomish River and its tributaries was an important issue evaluated by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) staff and tribal co-managers during North of Falcon, including the Pacific Fishery Management Council salmon season setting meetings in early April.

Several factors necessitate the careful conservation and management of this vulnerable Chinook stock, including recently updated 2023 forecast modeling showing low numbers of Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed wild Chinook returning to the Snohomish, increased projected impacts on these Chinook during Canadian fisheries, 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 and steelhead fisheries in the Snohomish, Skykomish, and Snoqualmie rivers in the North Puget Sound Region are expected to be significantly reduced or closed unless opened in-season through emergency Fishing Rule Changes.

Tentative 2023 salmon season summaries are now posted at:

The Skykomish River hatchery summer Chinook and steelhead fishery is proposed to be open on May 27, 28, and 29 from the mouth of the Skykomish upstream to the Wallace River. Additional three-day fisheries will be considered pending evaluation of angler catch and wild Chinook encounters during the first opener.

Fishing for hatchery steelhead returning to Reiter Ponds Hatchery is planned to be open from May 27, 2023 through Jan. 31, 2024 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.

Fisheries for coho and pink salmon only are proposed in the Snohomish and Wallace Rivers during September and October 2023. The Snoqualmie River downstream of Snoqualmie Falls will remain closed to fishing for salmon in 2023 due to very low forecasted returns of wild Chinook. See the season summaries webpage for additional details on Snohomish Basin fisheries.

These season summaries are not meant to be comprehensive regulations; more details and regulations for each area will be included in the 2023–24 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, which outlines the regulations from July 1, 2023 — June 30, 2024 and will be available in early summer 2023.

Protecting ESA-listed Snohomish Basin wild Chinook

After the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of Chinook salmon 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.

Given the low return in 2019 — the year when dominant age class four-year old Chinook returning in 2023 would have been born — there is now significant concern for the forecasted poor return of wild Chinook to the Snohomish and its tributaries this year.

Another reason for the limited impacts available on wild Snohomish Chinook is that it is anticipated Canadian-directed fisheries will have a higher catch level of Snohomish-bound Chinook in 2023 according to the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the governments of Canada and the United States.

Canada has a larger Chinook catch limit in 2023 relative to 2022 because of increased returns of Columbia River Chinook, as well as Puget Sound and Canadian Chinook stock abundances. WDFW fishery managers project that Canadian and southern United States fisheries are expected to have a higher catch level on Snohomish Chinook than in 2022.

Marine fisheries in Washington areas were reduced in 2023 to meet several Chinook objectives, but near the end of the salmon season setting meetings the expected catch of Snohomish wild Chinook was still above allowable levels. To ensure enough wild Chinook return to the Snohomish catch quota reductions were made in Marine Areas 5, 9, and 10 (western Strait of Juan de Fuca at Sekiu, and northern and central Puget Sound).

Despite these reductions to 2023 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 avoid excess impacts 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 pink and coho directed recreational fisheries planned for this coming September and October.

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 Fishing Rule Changes if allowable wild Chinook encounters remain.

The Skykomish River near the town of Gold Bar.



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.