Limits on these salmon will affect local fisheries this summer

State fisheries managers are again setting limits on Nooksack River chinook because of projected low returns, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Closures of local fisheries for threatened chinook include the San Juan Islands in August and Deception Pass in December and January, according to the Fish and Wildlife statement.

“Reducing fisheries is not a long-term solution to the declining number of chinook salmon,” said Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind.

“The department will continue working with the co-managers, our constituents and others to address habitat loss. Without improved habitat, our chinook populations will likely continue to decline,” Susewind said in the statement.

Susewind said that the limits will have an indirect effect on the health of southern resident orcas, whose primary food source is chinook, by reducing boat noise and competition for food.

Chinook salmon already were facing threat from warming temperatures, low snowpack and possible summer drought, said Rachel Vasak, executive director of the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association.

“It looks like we are taking our normal summers and extending them into spring,” Vasak told The Bellingham Herald last month.

Early snowmelt affects both streamflow and water temperature for adult chinook, which need cold water with deep pools to thrive, Vasak said.

“An extended drought is going to complicate that, particularly for the spring chinook, which which is the primary food for orcas,” she said.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.