- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - State and tribal fishery officials said Thursday that after weeks of negotiations they’ve agreed on a plan that will allow for a 2016-2017 Puget Sound salmon-fishing season.

Recreational and non-tribal commercial salmon fishing in Puget Sound has been closed since May 1, after the state and tribes failed to come to an agreement over annual catch limits. That prompted concern that a fishing season might not happen this year.

The agreement still needs federal approval, but John Long, salmon fisheries policy lead for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said anglers can start planning to fish for salmon this summer.

“We plan to re-open those waters as soon as we have federal approval,” Long said. “We anticipate getting the new permit within a few weeks.”

Anticipated low numbers of salmon - especially coho - returning to Puget Sound made this year’s negotiations challenging, officials said. Low returns of chinook, chum and coho are expected.

The agreement between the state and tribal leaders must be approved by federal officials because some fish stocks are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The state and tribes typically submit a joint fisheries proposal to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which reviews it to ensure that fishing doesn’t harm protected fish.

The state and Puget Sound tribes have shared management of these fisheries for decades, following a landmark court decision that affirmed the right of tribes to half of harvestable salmon.

The co-managers will focus next on addressing long-term resource management concerns, such as restoring habitat and boosting salmon stocks.

“Habitat restoration and protection must be at the center of that effort,” said Lorraine Loomis, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission chairwoman. “There is a direct connection between salmon habitat and fishing opportunities. We can’t expect salmon to thrive while their habitat continues to be lost and damaged.”

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