OLYMPIA, Wash. - Anglers, commercial fishers and others interested in Washington state salmon fisheries can get a preview of this year's salmon returns and proposed fishing seasons during a public meeting March 3.

Kicking off the annual salmon season-setting process, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will present initial forecasts - compiled by state and tribal biologists - of 2009 salmon returns. The meeting is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the General Administration Building Auditorium at 11th Ave. and Columbia St. on the Capitol Campus.

Those attending the meeting will have an opportunity to talk to fishery managers about the pre-season forecasts and participate in work sessions focusing on key salmon-management issues in the region.

Public review of WDFW's pre-season salmon forecasts marks the start of the annual "North of Falcon" season-setting process. Throughout March and early April, state, tribal and federal fisheries managers will meet to establish salmon seasons for Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas.

"Public input is an important part of this process," said Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for WDFW. "I encourage people who have an interest in recreational and commercial salmon fisheries to get involved in these discussions and take part in the development of upcoming fishing seasons."

Leading up to this year's North of Falcon, WDFW held two public workshops to discuss legal, technical and policy issues regarding the salmon season-setting process. The workshops were designed to help broaden the understanding of the development of fishing seasons, particularly the importance of conservation, said Pattillo.

Although anglers likely will have a range of fishing opportunities this year, restrictions will be needed in some areas to protect wild salmon, including those listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

"Our first priority is protecting and recovering wild salmon," Pattillo said. "That can be accomplished while still providing significant fishing opportunities on abundant hatchery fish and healthy wild populations."

The North of Falcon process is held in conjunction with public meetings conducted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), which establishes fishing seasons in ocean water three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

Final adoption of the 2009 salmon fisheries is scheduled for April 9 at the PFMC meeting in Millbrae, Calif.

More information about the North of Falcon process is available on WDFW's website at (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/index.htm) , which will be updated periodically throughout the salmon season-setting process.

Other key North of Falcon meetings, all open to the public, are as follows:

? March 4 - Grays Harbor fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main St., Montesano.

? March 5 - Willapa Bay fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Raymond Elks Lodge, 326 Third St., Raymond.

? March 8-13 - Pacific Fishery Management Council, Seattle Airport Marriot Hotel, 3201 S. 176th St., SeaTac.

? March 11 - Puget Sound commercial fisheries discussion, 10 a.m.-noon, WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.

? March 11 - Puget Sound recreational fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.

? March 16 - Columbia River fisheries discussion, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, 4600 S.E. Columbia Way, Vancouver, Wash.

? March 17 - First North of Falcon meeting, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave. S.E., Lacey.

? March 19 - Final Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay fisheries meeting, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia.

? March 19 - North of Falcon salmon fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Benton PUD, 2721 W. 10th Ave., Kennewick.

? March 30 - Pacific Fishery Management Council public hearing, 7 p.m., Chateau Westport, 710 W. Hancock St., Westport.

? March 31 - Second North of Falcon meeting, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Embassy Suites Hotel, 20610 44th Ave. W., Lynnwood.

? April 4-9 - Final Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting, 1 Old Bayshore Highway, Millbrae, Calif. 


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