All posts by Andy Walgamott

Westport, La Push, Neah Bay Halibut Season Extended

THE FOLLOWING ARE EMERGENCY RULE CHANGE NOTICES FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Recreational halibut fishing to open for additional day in Marine Area 2

Action: Opens recreational halibut fishing on Saturday, June 29 in Marine Area 2 (Westport).

WITH ENOUGH ROOM STILL IN THE QUOTA, WDFW HAS ADDED MORE HALIBUT FISHING DAYS TO WASHINGTON’S MIDDLE AND NORTH COAST. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Effective date: Immediately.

Species affected: Pacific halibut.

Location: Marine Area 2 (Westport).

Reason for action: There is sufficient quota to open recreational halibut fishing for an additional all depth fishing day in Marine Area 2. Poor weather continues to contribute to low catch in Marine Area 2 and opening another day will provide anglers additional time to catch the remaining sport quota.

Additional information: The following is a summary of open sport halibut days for all marine areas.

Marine Area 1: Nearshore: Open seven days per week.

Marine Area 2: Open Saturday, June 29.

Marine Areas 3 and 4: Open Saturday, June 22; Thursday, June 27; and Saturday, June 29.

Puget Sound (Marine Areas 5-10): Open Saturday, June 22; Thursday, June 27; and Saturday, June 29.

Marine Area 5: It is permissible for halibut anglers to retain Pacific cod caught while fishing for halibut in waters deeper than 120 feet on days that halibut fishing is open.

Retention of lingcod and Pacific cod seaward of 120 feet is not permitted on halibut days in Marine Areas 6-10.

Marine Areas 1-10: Daily limit of 1 halibut per angler, with no minimum size limit. Annual limit of 4. All catch must be recorded on WDFW catch record card. Possession limits remain the same.

Marine Areas 11-13 are closed.

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More sport halibut days to open in Marine Areas 3 and 4

Action: Open recreational halibut fishing on Thursday, June 27 and Saturday, June 29 in Marine Areas 3 (La Push) and 4 (Neah Bay).

Effective date: Immediately

Species affected: Pacific halibut

Location: Marine Areas 3 and 4.

Reason for action: There is sufficient quota to open additional days for the sport halibut fishery in Marine Areas 3 (La Push) and 4 (Neah Bay). Adding these days will provide Washington sport halibut anglers with more fishing days and maximize the opportunity to catch the remaining sport quota.

Plan Would Stave Off Closing Skagit-Sauk Steelheading Next Spring

Don’t hang up your Skagit-Sauk spoons, pink worms, plugs, jigs and flies again quite yet.

State fishery managers appear to have a gameplan for how to keep the rivers’ wild steelhead catch-and-release fishery open next spring, a U-turn from just a few weeks ago when it was set to be eliminated after the license fee bill that would have funded it wasn’t passed.

KEVIN RAINES AND ANDY MOSER DRIFT FISH THE MIDDLE SAUK ON A FINE SPRING DAY WITH WHITEHORSE IN THE BACKGROUND. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

With initial support from the Fish and Wildlife Commission earlier this month, WDFW would ask state lawmakers for the money to monitor the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

They’re looking to include $547,000 in a supplemental budget request for next January’s short legislative session. A final go-no go decision will come in August.

But it’s not a slam dunk either.

If the money isn’t appropriated by the legislature, WDFW would have to scavenge from other programs to cover the federally required monitoring next year, and 2021’s season would either be reduced or eliminated.

Still, the turn-around will buoy fans of the iconic North Cascades fishery that had been closed for nine years starting in 2009 due to low runs and as they picked back up, was the subject of much work and lobbying by the Occupy Skagit movement and other anglers to get a management plan written to reopen the waters.

After an initial 12-day season in 2018, this spring saw a full three-month fishery, and while the catches weren’t great, it was still wonderful to be on the rivers again during prime time.

“Almost universally people were excited to be there, happy to be there, and extremely thankful for the opportunity to be there,” angler advocate and retired North Sound state fisheries biologist Curt Kraemer reported to the commission last weekend. “(Among the) probably 100 people I talked to, that was the commonality, and I don’t hear that a lot about outdoor recreation in this state, whether it be hunting or fishing, and I do a lot of both.”

But even as the sun shone brightly over us gear and fly, and boat and bank anglers working the glacial, mountain waters this spring, storm clouds were brewing in Olympia.

GLACIAL FLOUR FROM THE SUIATTLE RIVER CLOUDS THE SAUK BELOW GOVERNMENT BRIDGE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Funding for two years’ worth of creel sampling, enforcement and a biologist to oversee the fishery over the strong but still Endangered Species Act-listed winter-run stock was part of WDFW’s 15 percent license fee increase proposal.

But it was also on the “enhance fishing” side of the ledger, which essentially made it optional compared to things on the “maintain” side.

When the fee bill failed, tangled in issues 200 road miles to the south of the Skagit-Sauk confluence — Columbia River gillnetting policies — WDFW had to figure out how to rebalance its budget.

Even though lawmakers gave the agency $24 million in General Fund dollars to make up for not passing the license increase or Columbia salmon-steelhead endorsement, what initially was just a $7 million shortfall grew to $20 million as they heaped on new unfunded costs.

On May 30, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind sent out an email that “the current Skagit catch and release fishery will not receive funding and thus that opportunity will be eliminated.

The next morning during a Fish and Wildlife Commission conference call alarms were raised.

“It’s about as clean a fishery as you can imagine. I would really, really object to that being eliminated,” said Chairman Larry Carpenter of nearby Mount Vernon.

That got the wheels turning again.

This is about the time of year that state agencies begin to prepare their supplemental budget requests for the upcoming legislative session, and at last week’s regular meeting of the citizen oversight panel, WDFW staffers presented proposals for discussion.

It included $271,000 to monitor the 2020 Skagit-Sauk fishery, $276,000 for 2021.

“There was Commission support for that approach,” Nate Pamplin, WDFW policy director, told Northwest Sportsman this morning.

The proposal also includes $833,000 in 2020 and $854,000 in 2021 to patch up what he’s termed a “significant shortfall” in funding to monitor Puget Sound and coastal salmon fisheries — another victim of the fee bill failure.

“This request will fund staff to provide the greatest fishing opportunities possible while satisfying ESA and conservation needs,” commission documents state.

BOBBER AND SPOON RODS AWAIT EMPLOYMENT ALONG THE SAUK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Money for both Skagit-Sauk steelhead and salmon monitoring is listed as coming from the state General Fund, under the proposals.

If it doesn’t pan out, though, WDFW would be left lifting couch cushions to figure out how to pay for the former fishery.

“If we don’t secure the supplemental in the first fiscal year, it’s a bit more challenging,” says Pamplin. “We’ll have already spent some money on the fishery since it opens in February and we’ll not receive final word on the supplemental budget from the legislature until mid-March. Thus, we’d need to find reductions elsewhere in the fourth-quarter of the first fiscal year to cover the expenses already incurred for opening the fishery.”

The fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.

“For the second fiscal year, it’s fairly straight-forward.  If we don’t secure the supplemental, the fishery would be proposed to be reduced/eliminated,” Pamplin adds.

Meanwhile online, Wayne Kline of Occupy Skagit issued a “Three Minute Steelhead Challenge” to fellow fans of the fishery to contact their legislators to build support for funding it.

From this page on the Legislature’s site you can find your district and then your state representatives’ and senator’s email addresses.

SW WA, Lower Columbia Fishing Report (6-19-19)

THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION WAS FORWARDED BY BRYANT SPELLMAN, WDFW

Lower Columbia Mainstem Sport June 10-16

Salmon and steelhead:

Bonneville bank: 5 anglers with 1 released adult Chinook and nothing else
Camas/Washougal bank: No report
I-5 area bank: 1 angler with nothing
Vancouver bank:  17 anglers with nothing
Woodland bank:  36 anglers with nothing
Kalama bank: 17 anglers with 1 jack Chinook and nothing else
Longview bank: 171 anglers with 1 adult Chinook released, 14 steelhead kept and 3 steelhead released
Cathlamet bank: 11 anglers with 2 steelhead kept and nothing else
Private boats/bank: 15 anglers with 2 steelhead kept and 1 steelhead released

Bonneville boat: 4 anglers with nothing
Camas/Washougal boat: No report
I-5 area boat:  No report
Vancouver boat:  10 anglers with 7 adult Chinook released and 2 steelhead released
Woodland boat: No report
Kalama boat:  3 anglers with nothing
Cowlitz boat: No report
Longview boat:  72 anglers with 3 adult Chinook released, 19 steelhead kept and 6 steelhead released
Cathlamet boat:  4 anglers with 8 steelhead kept
Private boats/bank:  5 anglers with 2 steelhead kept

THE BIG RUN OF SHAD CONTINUES, WITH NEARLY 5.7 MILLION OVER BONNEVILLE AS OF JUNE 18, AND 1.23 MILLION AT MCNARY DAM SO FAR. THE LATTER AREA IS WHERE RENEE MORTIMER AND HER DAD PAUL CAUGHT THIS TRIO, PLUS A WALLEYE EARLIER THIS MONTH. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Shad:

Bonneville bank: 272 anglers with 1,758 kept and 151 released
Bonneville boat: 9 anglers with 97 kept and 15 released
Camas/Washougal bank: No report
Camas/Washougal boat: 5 anglers with 3 kept
I-5 area bank: No report
I-5 area boat: No report
Vancouver bank: No report
Vancouver boat:  1 angler with nothing
Woodland bank: 1 angler with nothing
Woodland boat: 4 anglers with 5 kept
Kalama bank:  No report
Kalama boat:  No report
Cowlitz bank: No report
Cowlitz boat: No report
Longview bank: 1 angler with nothing
Longview boat: 6 anglers with 14 kept

Sturgeon:

Bonneville bank: No report
Bonneville boat: 4 anglers with 2 sublegals released
Camas/Washougal bank: No report
Camas/Washougal boat: No report
I-5 area bank: No report
I-5 area boat: No report
Vancouver bank: No report
Vancouver boat: 5 anglers with 20 sublegals released and 1 legal released
Woodland bank: No report
Woodland boat; No report
Kalama bank: No report
Kalama boat: No report
Cowlitz bank: No report
Cowlitz boat: No report
Longview bank: No report
Longview boat: 7 anglers with 2 sublegals released, 2 legals released and 1 oversize released
Cathalmet bank: No report
Cathlamet boat: No report
Chinook/Elochoman bank: No report
Chinook/Elochoman boat: No report
Ilwaco bank: No report
Ilwaco boat: No report
Ilwaco charter: No report

almon/Steelhead:

Columbia River mainstem

During Saturday’s flight 58 salmonid boats and 122 Washington bank anglers were counted from Skamokawa upstream to the I-5 Bridge.

Shad:

Effort is holding steady with nearly 400 shad anglers counted on the Washington shore just below Bonneville Dam during Saturday’s flight (6/15).  Yesterday’s dam count (June 17) was just over 200,000 fish, which pushes the season total over 5.4 million to date.

Salmon/Steelhead:

Columbia River Tributaries

Cowlitz River – I-5 Br downstream: 4 bank rods had no catch.  2 boats/4 rods had no catch.

Above the I-5 Br:  7 bank rods had no catch.  19 boats/65 rods kept 15 steelhead and released 1 steelhead.

Tacoma Power employees recovered 51 spring Chinook adults, 10 spring Chinook jacks, 15 mini jacks, and 36 summer-run steelhead adults during five days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.

During the past week Tacoma Power employees released six spring Chinook adults and five spring Chinook jacks into Lake Scanewa located in Randle.

To date, Tacoma Power employees have recycled 130 summer-run steelhead to the lower Cowlitz River.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 2,940 cubic feet per second on Monday, June 17. Water visibility is 11 feet and the water temperature is 50 F.

Kalama River – 15 bank anglers had no catch.

Lewis River – 1 bank angler had no catch.  2 boats/3 rods had no catch.

Klickitat below Fisher Hill Bridge – 1 bank angler had no catch.

Klickitat above #5 Fishway – 1 bank angler had no catch.

 

  •      Tributaries not listed: Creel checks not conducted.

 

Pikeminnow Sport – Reward Fishery Program:

The program operates from May 1 to September 30 in the lower Columbia River (mouth to Priest Rapids Dam) and the Snake River (mouth to Hells Canyon Dam).  http://www.pikeminnow.org/

Oysters Reseeded At 2012 Penn Cove Oil Spill Site; Rec Harvest Expected In 2-3 Years

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Earlier this month, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) contracted with the Hood Canal Oyster Company to plant Pacific oysters on public tidelands at West Penn Cove off Whidbey Island.

WDFW EXPECTS THESE BABY OYSTERS TO BE HARVESTABLE IN A FEW YEARS. (WDFW)

This is the first of at least three oyster plantings to compensate for the recreational shellfish harvest closures that occurred during the response to a 5,000-gallon oil spill in May 2012, caused by the sinking of a fishing vessel in Penn Cove. Details about that incident are available at https://incidentnews.noaa.gov/incident/8446#.

Working with the Washington Department of Ecology, Department of Health, and other members of the Resource Damage Assessment Committee, WDFW conducted a study to determine the amount of lost shellfish harvest opportunity caused by the oil spill incident. The study concluded that 1,996 harvest days were lost, with a monetary value of $97,722.

The owner of the sunken vessel was billed for these damages, but payment was never received. WDFW made a claim to the National Pollution Fund Center, as allowed under provisions of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, to secure funding to restore shellfish populations.

“This is the first time we have made a successful claim to the National Pollution Fund Center for lost recreational harvest opportunity,” said Don Noviello, WDFW oil spill planning and response specialist. “Preventing oil spills is the best solution for preserving our natural resources, but we are happy that we have been able to get funding and take actions to compensate shellfish harvesters for the 2012 Penn Cove oil spill damages.”

Oyster planting is performed by spreading oyster shells that are seeded with larval oysters. The planted oysters grow in place to legal size and will mature and be ready to harvest in two to three years. By 2021, shellfish managers expect these plants to add approximately 300,000 harvestable oysters to the Penn Cove recreational fishery.

Recreational oyster harvesters are required to shuck oysters on the beach and leave shells at the same tide height where they were harvested. Leaving shells on the beach increases the ability for new oysters to colonize the area. The legal daily limit for recreational oysters is 18 per person, with oysters eaten on the beach counted toward the daily limit.

For more information on shellfish harvesting in Washington, visit https://wdfw.wa.gov/places-to-go/shellfish-beaches.

The Mountain Goat That Wouldn’t Go

Whatcom County Farmer’s Lassoed Billy Was To Be Part Of 1925’s Olympic Peninsula Introductions

There’s goat roping, and then there’s mountain goat roping.

Yes, the latter is as much of a cluster as it sounds.

(DETAIL, “MOUNTAIN GOAT,” 1951, UNKNOWN PHOTOGRAPHER, GENERAL SUBJECTS PHOTOGRAPH COLLECTION, 1845-2005, WASHINGTON STATE ARCHIVES, DIGITAL ARCHIVES, HTTP://WWW.DIGITALARCHIVES.WA.GOV, ACCESSED JUNE 19, 2019)

With Washington’s various wildlife managers just about to begin year two of an effort to move the wild goats in the Olympics over to the species’ home range in the Cascades, I want to draw your attention back to the mid-1920s and the veritable “fifth Beatle” of the peninsula’s original quartet.

As she works on her genealogy projects, my mom occasionally forwards me old newspaper articles about Northwest fish and wildlife back in the day.

(You may remember last year’s Great Elk Drive Of Snohomish County).

Mom’s latest finds detail the capture of what would have been one of the first five members of the OlyPen’s herd, a particularly ornery — not to mention wayward — billy.

She happened across the stories while researching friends of her grandfather on her mother’s side. My great-grandpa Smith Miller worked for various local logging outfits back in the first half of the 1900s, down in National, up on Lake Shannon, and while in the North Cascades he became acquainted with the Galbraith clan.

They were a collection of tough hombres — timber cruisers, mill builders and farmers, as well as Mom says “inveterate hikers and woodsmen who would race up the slopes of Mt. Baker” as part of a short-lived local marathon that became the inspiration of today’s Ski to Sea relay.

Joe Galbraith won the inaugural race in summer 1911, which also included a road rally from Bellingham, and during the final weather-marred run to the top of the volcano and back down two Augusts later, his cousin Vic (who would years later give my uncle, then an infant, a backpack as a present) had to be rescued from a 40-foot-deep crevasse.

A SCREENSHOT OF A HEADLINE AND STORY FROM A JANUARY 1925 EDITION OF THE SEATTLE DAILY TIMES, NOW THE SEATTLE TIMES, DETAILS THE CAPTURE OF ONE OF THE ORIGINAL MOUNTAIN GOATS RELEASED IN THE OLYMPICS FROM THE NORTH CASCADES. (GENEAOLOGYBANK.COM)

THIS PARTICULAR TALE OCCURRED IN 1925, when Joe lived on his farm outside the town of Acme, which is east of Bellingham and north of Mt. Vernon, and it involves a mountain goat that inexplicably turned up in his back 40.

Details come from the pages of the Bellingham Herald and the Seattle Daily Times, today’s Fairview Fannie, as well as the journal The Murrelet.

According to reporters’ stories, on January 4, the first Sunday of 1925, Galbraith spotted the billy lying in one of his fields and immediately set out to lasso it, per the Herald.

What followed was described by the Daily Times as “an hour’s rumpus scattered over a ten-acre patch,” a battle that apparently left both the goat roper and ropee pretty banged up.

“Galbraith lassoed the goat with a forty-foot throw, but before he had subdued it he suffered skinned hands and shins, had bumped into stumps and had knocked over a fence post or two,” the paper reported.

It’s not clear why the billy had come so far down into the lowlands, but the Herald says it was believed to have been chased there, “possibly by coyotes or a cougar,” perhaps off of its winter range, or maybe it was stricken with the wanderlust males of a species get, or something else entirely.

Koma Kulshan — the native name for Mt. Baker — and its environs have long been a stronghold for Oreamnos americanus; in summer 2016, a whopping 90 were photographed on a single snowfield.

After subduing it, Galbraith tied the goat up and word of its capture quickly reached state game and fish managers.

They had just recently acquired four Canadian mountain goats via British Columbia from the Banff area (other records say the Selkirks to the west), and released them on New Year’s Day at the foot of Mount Storm King by Lakes Crescent and Sutherland outside Port Angeles.

“When the crates were first opened the goats refused to come out, being somewhat dopey from their long confinement. First one large one came out and (Olympic Forest Reserve ranger Chris) Morganroth (sic) attempted to photograph it. Down went the head and the goat made a plunge for Morganroth. Right there Morganroth proved that a man who can escape death by airplane can certainly beat a goat to safety. After the misdirected lunge the goat went up the rock cliff and found a crag satisfactory to him, and looked over Lake Crescent and surrounding country, going higher up a short time afterward.” —The Murrelet, January 1925.

Between J.W. Kinney, who supervised hunting and fishing in Washington at the time, local federal forestry officials and leadership of the Klahhane hiking club, it was believed the animals would do quite well in the peninsula’s rugged heights, according to The Murrelet, a local biological journal now published under another title.

So Kinney sent word for Joe Galbraith to hold onto his goat “until such time as it has regained its strength” following its flight out of the North Cascades and its battle with the farmer, and then arrangements would be made to ship it across Puget Sound.

Ultimately, 12 goats were set loose in the Olympics between early 1925 and some point later in the decade, according to The Murrelet, with most coming from Alaska as part of a swap for elk.

JANUARY 6 HEADLINE FROM THE BELLINGHAM HERALD. (GENEAOLOGYBANK.COM)

FAST FOWARD 90-PLUS YEARS AND TODAY’S state wildlife managers along with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and various tribes are gearing up to for another round of translocating the several hundred descendants of those animals roaming the slopes of Hurricane Ridge, Mt. Olympus and other peaks over to the Cascades.

The idea is to reduce the environmental damage the nonnative species is causing to plants and terrain in the Olympics and bolster herds in their native habitat along the spine of the Evergreen State.

“We’ll start captures on July 8, go for 12 days; then start again August 19 for another 12 days,” says WDFW’s goat manager Rich Harris.

He says that based on last September’s two-week effort that saw 98 successfully moved, twice as many could be caught and transferred to the North and Central Cascades this summer.

Overall 115 were captured in 2018, with eight dying in the process, three deemed to be unfit and were euthanized, and six parentless kids transferred to Northwest Trek.

The other 68 nannies and 30 billies were released at five sites, including two near Darrington, one north of Rainy and Washington Passes in the North Cascades, one northwest of Kachess Lake by Snoqualmie Pass, and one in the headwaters of the Cedar River southwest of Snoqualmie Pass.

Two radio-collared goats were taken down by cougars, Harris says, while at least one of the Cedar animals went for a walkabout and showed up on Rattlesnake Ledge near North Bend last fall.

The translocation is expected to continue again next year before lethal removal is considered for any remaining cantankerous holdouts.

THREE MOUNTAIN GOATS ARRIVE BY HELICOPTER AT A RENDEZVOUS POINT DURING SEPTEMBER 2018’S TWO-WEEK-LONG CAPTURE AND TRANSLOCATION OPERATION. (NPS)

SPEAKING OF, THAT GOAT-ROPING ESCAPADE was thought to be just a warm-up act for the back-pasture billy.

“… (A) row is expected when Galbraith’s goat faces the buck on guard there” in the Olympics, the Daily Times wrote.

But it never made the trip to join 1925’s other four on the peninsula.

A “week to the hour” after its capture, it found itself “seeking eternal rest and evergreen pastures in a new stamping ground; perhaps where all goats go when they die …,” reported the Herald.

“… Joe’s goat, after spending a week a barn pending deportation to the Olympic mountains by the state game commission turned up its hoofs and passed out,” the paper stated.

The billy was said to announce the abrupt change of plans with a “feeble bleat.”

HEADLINE FROM THE JANUARY 13, 1925 BELLINGHAM HERALD. (GENEAOLOGYBANK.COM)

Despite the best efforts of a local veterinarian and the local game warden, the animal couldn’t be revived, the Herald stated.

But all was not lost. Shortly afterwards, its head, horns and coat were removed.

That October, what was billed as “the most striking exhibit ever,” a mounted mountain goat, was given to the local chamber chamber of commerce by the county game commission and Galbraith, reported the Herald.

Who knows why the billy that turned up in the lowands actually died, but the last story my mom found said it was estimated to have stood three and a half feet tall at the shoulders, would have dressed out at 250 pounds, and was estimated to be 15 years old, making it a very old goat indeed.

But then again, maybe it just didn’t want to leave its home mountains and take a long and winding road to strange new heights.

More From Minter Hatchery Generator Failure Report, Discipline For 3 Staffers

Lord knows that someone who has difficulties running a toaster in the morning probably isn’t qualified to weigh in on matters such as restarting a backup generator at a state salmon hatchery.

But the root cause analysis for the failure of one at WDFW’s Minter Creek facility last winter was released yesterday and it makes for some aggravating reading.

A PAGE FROM THE 2018 OPERATIONS MANUAL FOR THE MINTER CREEK HATCHERY BACKUP GENERATOR STATES IT “SHOULD BE RUN BI-WEEKLY TO EXERCISE IT AND TO ENSURE EVERYTHING IS WORKING AS IT SHOULD.” (WDFW)

We’ve reported on this before here, here and here, but to review, the backup power source wouldn’t start after 45-plus-mile-an-hour gusts cut electricity to the South Sound hatchery around 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 14, 2018, essentially giving millions of Chinook fry there just 20 to 30 minutes to live before the lack of dissolved-oxygen-rich fresh water running through their incubation trays led to their death.

Crews scrambled to fix the generator, but it was out for around three and a half hours and was an entirely preventable disaster if it had been checked as routinely as the operating manual’s recommendation — every two weeks.

As a result of the investigation, three WDFW staffers described as “Minter Creek employees” have now been disciplined.

“One employee was demoted; another was suspended; and the third received a written reprimand,” said agency spokeswoman Michelle Dunlop late Monday afternoon.

She said that the punishments were based on the level of responsibility of the individuals.

Dunlop said the report, which is marked confidential and appears to have been finalized in March, was not released until the disciplinary process had been completed.

THE 97-PAGE-LONG DOCUMENT SHOWS that the last time the 22-year-old, 350 kW generator had been tested before the outage was Oct. 8, near the start of the fall storm season and 67 days beforehand.

The manufacturer’s operations manual “specifies bi-weekly testing of the generator system to maintain readiness,” WDFW-contracted independent investigators Ron Carper and Frank Sebastian write.

THE BACKUP GENERATOR’S CONTROL PANEL. (WDFW)

Prior to the October test, it had been 70 days since one was performed in July, their report shows.

They found that in the 21 months leading up to the disaster, the generator was only tested 12 times, on average once every 54 days, though with 16- and 17-day intervals in early 2018 too.

But it apparently wasn’t tested at all during one 195-day period — more than half a year — between early March and mid-September 2017.

Comments associated with that September test say “Tree on line (wind).”

As you can imagine, the frequency of testing went up following December’s disaster.

“After 12/14/2018, the average days between generator runs was 5.2 days,” their report states.

“Although hatchery staff responded promptly when the incident occurred and worked tirelessly to save fish at the hatchery, there were missteps along the way,” WDFW Director Kelly Susewind said in a press release yesterday that accompanied the report. “We’ve learned a lot from this and are addressing shortcomings identified by the contractors.”

THE REPORT ALSO INCLUDES INTERVIEWS and details how the two staffers stationed at Minter as well as another from a nearby facility who responded that evening as power outage alarms went off worked their butts off to try and get the generator going again.

As one drove over to the Purdy Napa to get new batteries and cables, another worked to get water flowing other ways to the trays holding young salmon, which succeeded in one area.

As the news also traveled up the chain of command, two firemen even arrived with a gas-powered pump but “did not have any hoses for the pump which would connect to the fittings at the hatchery,” and while it wasn’t their job to know, nor could they figure out why the generator wouldn’t fire up.

The report states that the initial failure to start was most likely caused by “a loose or cracked starting battery connection,” but there was only so much anyone could have done to get the generator going again after the “Emergency Stop” was activated to replace the batteries and cables.

That’s because a device known as an “air damper” first had to be reset.

The device is a rare one, with no generators elsewhere in the state hatchery system having one, according to the report.

“The generator would not start and displayed an ‘Air Damper’ fault light. [Name blacked out but a hatchery specialist 3] did not know the significance of this fault or how to correct it,” the report says.

It was only after a second person from the state’s Capital Assets Management Program in Lacey, a diesel mechanic, was apprised of the situation by phone at around 8 p.m. that they realized that that needed to be done and how to do it.

“These instructions resulted in the generator system becoming operational and suppling (sic) electrical power to the Minter Creek Hatchery,” the report states.

It’s believed that the delay in figuring out the air damper issue didn’t result in the loss of more fish.

But it is emblematic of wider communications failures at the facility, beginning with what to do in that critical first half hour.

The report states:

“The employees at Minter Creek Hatchery did not have a pre-established plan or instructions on how to maintain water flow and overcome the failure of electrical power in sustaining fish viability. The employees realized maintaining oxygenation in the water flow was critical and initially worked at various unguided solutions. This included activation and utilization of non-electric powered pumps and gravity flow of water.”

It also says:

“The employees present at Minter Creek Hatchery did not have the knowledge, training or reference materials on how to fully reset the Emergency Stop control, following activation of the Emergency Stop control.

“The employees present at Minter Creek Hatchery did not have knowledge, training or reference materials on how to reset the Air Damper fault indication, following activation of the Emergency Stop control.”

A “Considerations for the future” section of the report lays out an improved set of responsibilities for the facility manager and their hatchery specialists.

About half an hour after the generator was started, local utility crews restored the electricity.

Several days later the root cause analysis was contracted.

The report states that the backup power source was serviced and tested in March 2018 and found to be in “good overall condition,” though it apparently had been at least six years since the starter batteries had been replaced.

Batteries are more likely to fail the older they get.

Carper’s and Sebastian’s conclusion states:

The best explanation of the root cause generator failure is the result from a loose or cracked starting battery connection. Due to potential for corrosion, vibration, and what can be fairly significant temperature cycles, generator manufacturers typically recommend maintenance procedures for regular inspections of all wiring. Battery cable connections may become loose or damaged and should be inspected at every
generator exercise cycle by gently tugging and wiggling the cables.

It is inherent that electrical terminations on hot lead battery posts that are on vibrating engine frames will tend to loosen over time, so regular checks are recommended.

According to the generator log book, it had not been run for 67 days prior to the failure. With more frequent testing and inspections, this issue with the battery cable could have been discovered and repaired under normal conditions.

WDFW initially estimated that up to 6.2 million Chinook fry might have died without fresh water circulating through their rearing trays, but have now revised that downwards to 4.1 million following “a more robust inventory.”

More than half have been replaced with “excess” fish from six state, tribal — including 750,000 from the Suquamish and Nisqually Tribes — and tech college hatcheries.

The facility also raises chum and coho salmon for state and tribal fisheries. Those fish return and spawn later in the year than Chinook, and their eggs were still in a stage where they could survive if the water was drained off but were still kept moist.

A SCHEMATIC DRAWING SHOWS THE LAYOUT OF MINTER CREEK HATCHERY. (WDFW)

AGAIN, I’M NOT TRYING TO COME OFF AS SOME EXPERT in these matters and I readily acknowledge that s*** is just gonna happen at the worst possible times.

Been there, done that.

I do appreciate that WDFW apparently published the report without being prompted to get ahead of some reporter’s public disclosure request.

It harkens back to agency leaders’ vow before state lawmakers last winter to “to hold ourselves accountable for the tragic loss of the fish.”

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND, FISH PROGRAM DEPUTY ASSISTANT DIRECTOR KELLY CUNNINGHAM AND HATCHERY DIVISION MANAGER ERIC KINNE SPEAK BEFORE A STATE SENATE COMMITTEE ON WHAT HAPPENED AT MINTER CREEK. (TVW)

“We’re committed to making improvements to safeguard against another incident like the one at Minter Creek,” Kelly Cunningham, WDFW acting assistant Fish Program director said in the news release.

But even as the problem is being addressed, the report reveals an operations negligence that I find unacceptable.

That the two-decade-old generator wasn’t tested more frequently or ahead of the National Weather Service’s forecasted high wind warning that day, which put the fish at risk, boggles my mind.

That there wasn’t an established backup plan to the backup power source is puzzling.

As wild salmon continue to struggle and their recovery is decades — centuries? — down the road, the future of our seasons and starving orcas depend ever more highly on producing fish.

Minter is a key hatchery, putting out Chinook and chum, which southern resident killer whales depend on year-round and in fall, respectively.

Again, WDFW is obviously working on improving their operation, but they need to do better, and show us they are.

This was an entirely preventable, manmade disaster that didn’t need to happen if regular testing had been undertaken and it wasn’t assumed that the generator would just fire up whenever needed.

A harsh lesson, but one that’s been learned hopefully.

WDFW Reports Wolf Depredation In Northern Stevens Co.

It’s been a relatively quiet few months, but Washington wolf managers are reporting a confirmed wolf depredation earlier this month.

They say an adult cow was killed on leased private land where the Wedge Pack roams in northern Stevens County.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE APPROXIMATE LOCATION OF THE WEDGE PACK OF WOLVES IN NORTHERN STEVENS COUNTY. (WDFW)

“Bite wounds were documented on the tail, both rear legs, right elbow, and throat,” WDFW wrote in a report out this afternoon. “Hemorrhaging was noted at all locations accompanied by bite wounds with varying degrees of severity. Based on the combination of bite wounds with associated hemorrhaging and wolf sign in the area, WDFW staff classified this event as a confirmed wolf depredation.”

Agency staffers also investigated what led to the death of another cow a quarter mile away but couldn’t make a final determination on it.

“Despite a thorough investigation, no sign of injury by wildlife was located and the cause of death for this cow was unconfirmed,” WDFW reported.

Both dead cows were investigated June 12 after being found by ranch hands.

“Proactive, non-lethal deterrents (range riding, human presence, monitoring via trail camera, and hazing of wolves when seen) were in place at the time of the depredation,” WDFW reported.

The cattle herd has been moved away from the scene and trail cameras were put up to monitor the area.

The Wedge wolves numbered three when they were counted during last winter’s annual survey. The pack was mostly wiped out in 2012 following a long string of depredations.

The incident is the first confirmed wolf kill since the first days of 2019. It’s the first attributed to the pack in some time.

Minter Hatchery Generator Failure Investigation Out; Hadn’t Been Tested For 2 Months; 3 Staffers Disciplined

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) today released an investigation into last December’s generator failure at Minter Creek Hatchery that resulted in the loss of millions of salmon fry.

ACCORDING TO A WDFW PRESENTATION BEFORE THE STATE SENATE AGRICULTURE, WATER, NATURAL RESOURCES & PARKS COMMITTEE’S THIS IS THE GENERATOR THAT FAILED TO START AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY DURING A DECEMBER WINDSTORM POWER OUTAGE. (WDFW)

The investigative reports, conducted by outside contractors, are available on the department’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2019-06/minter-creek-hatchery-investigation-report.pdf.

The contractors looked into both the technical cause of the generator failure as well as the hatchery staff’s response, said Kelly Susewind, WDFW Director.

“Although hatchery staff responded promptly when the incident occurred and worked tirelessly to save fish at the hatchery, there were missteps along the way,” Susewind said. “We’ve learned a lot from this and are addressing shortcomings identified by the contractors.”

On Dec. 14, 2018, a windstorm knocked out power to the Minter Creek Hatchery in Pierce County. The hatchery’s industrial-sized generator – which would have provided backup power to the pump supplying water to fish incubators – didn’t start. Investigators concluded the generator failed due to a loose or cracked connection with the battery.

The faulty battery connection could have been detected and repaired “under normal conditions” had staff routinely tested and inspected the generator, according to the investigation.

A LOG SHOWING DATES THE MINTER CREEK BACKUP GENERATOR WAS TESTED. “ACCORDING TO THE GENERATOR LOG BOOK, IT HAD NOT BEEN RUN FOR 67 DAYS PRIOR TO THE FAILURE. WITH MORE FREQUENT TESTING AND INSPECTIONS, THIS ISSUE WITH THE BATTERY CABLE COULD HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED AND REPAIRED UNDER NORMAL CONDITIONS,” INVESTIGATORS CONCLUDED. (VIA WDFW)

Within days of the incident, Kelly Cunningham, acting assistant director of WDFW’s fish program, instructed hatchery managers across the state to increase the frequency of generator testing going forward.

“I believe Minter is an isolated incident, but I’ve asked staff to take additional precautions to keep hatchery generators in good condition,” Cunningham said.

Based on the investigation, WDFW additionally is making sure hatchery staff statewide have sufficient training in generator operations and have well-communicated contingency plans in place, Cunningham said.

“We’re committed to making improvements to safeguard against another incident like the one at Minter Creek,” Cunningham said.

The department has disciplined three Minter Creek employees for not keeping the generator in working order.

WDFW has also taken steps to replace the fish lost due to the power outage. In late December, WDFW received federal approval to use 2.26 million excess fish from six other hatcheries to offset the loss at Minter.

The department initially reported losing about 6.2 million Chinook salmon fry. However, a more robust inventory in the following months showed the loss to be roughly 4.1 million fish.

The department operates 80 hatcheries across Washington and raises 68 million Chinook salmon annually.

Sea Lions, Other Marine Mammals Discovering South Sound Anchovy Boom

A large suite of marine mammals has discovered Deep South Sound’s new bounty of anchovies, schools of which are now so numerous they’re routinely observed during regular aerial surveys.

For three months this past winter, WDFW biologist Steve Jeffries observed hundreds of California sea lions, as well as harbor seals, harbor porpoises and long-beaked common dolphins feeding on a massive pod of the skinny, silvery baitfish in Case Inlet north of Olympia.

IN THIS SCREEN SHOT OF AN IMAGE FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY’S JUNE EYES OVER PUGET SOUND REPORT, MARINE MAMMALS INCLUDE CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS SWIM IN A SOUTH PUGET SOUND INLET WHERE THEY FEED ON HUGE SCHOOLS OF ANCHOVIES. (COURTESY D.O.E.)

Anchovy populations have boomed in these waters since 2015 and the Blob’s warm waters.

What’s more, the pinnipeds and cetaceans appeared to be teaming up on them.

Jeffries says he would watch them forage in a 3/4-mile-wide by 3-mile-long oval from Herron Island up to Hartstine Point south to McMicken Island.

From his boat he could only guess at what was going on under the glass-calm surface, but it’s possible that as the sea lions and dolphins slashed through the anchovies, the other marine mammals waited close by to pick off stunned fish, he says.

“You wouldn’t even know they were there for four to six minutes. Everybody would be down,” Jeffries recalls.

As the sea lions swim along on top, the surface boils with them, a video taken by a Department of Ecology aerial photographer shows.

To double check what they were feeding on, Jeffries says biologists “scooped poop” and jigged the depths, reconfirming anchovies were on the menu.

Sea lions have another tactic as well.

“It looked to us like they pushed the bait into the cove; basically, they cornered them,” he said of another instance in Carr Inlet.

That can also lead to die-offs as the sheer volume of fish can “create a localized, low-oxygen event,” which may have been to blame when a bunch turned up dead in May 2018 in Liberty Bay near Poulsbo.

In one South Sound beach seine net set, scientists caught a staggering 250,000 anchovies in 2017.

ANCHOVIES CAUGHT IN A BEACH SEINE IN OCTOBER 2017. (PHILLIP DIONNE, WDFW)

High tidal fluctuations can also strand the fish as the water recedes.

The feast on the salty fish ended in March when another marine mammal discovered the sated sea lions — 25 transient orcas that sailed through the Tacoma Narrows to Case Inlet.

Transients are the ones that nosh on sea lions and seals; weaker-jawed southern resident killer whales only eat softer salmon and steelhead primarily.

SO WHAT DOES THIS EXPLOSION of anchovies mean?

“I think it bodes well for salmon in the future,” says Jeffries. “Marine mammals are not the only ones that eat anchovies.”

He suggests that anglers also might switch to lures that look like the skinny, 3-inch-long baitfish.

“Put an anchovy-mimic fly on,” Jeffries says.

ANCHOVY HAVE OCCURRED INTERMITTENTLY IN PUGET SOUND OVER THE DECADES AND ARE NOW IN THE BOOM PART OF THEIR POPULATION CYCLE. (PHILLIP DIONNE, WDFW)

Pinnipeds are drawing the ire of fishermen as studies show that they’re intercepting outmigrating smolts, which has been highlighted in part by spring’s Survive the Sound online challenge, not to mention returning adult salmon and steelhead.

As WDFW’s point man on sea lions Jeffries finds himself in the thick of that debate, so I asked him if this all might lead to “prey switching.”

“If you were a sea lion, would you chase one (salmon or steelhead) smolt or a school?” he asked me in return.

Based on Jeffries’ counts of 150 to 250 sea lions in Case Inlet over a three-month period and the needs of the 350- to 700-pound animals to eat 5 to 7 percent of their body weight each day to sustain themselves, WDFW forage fish researcher Phillip Dionne came up with a back-of-the-envelope estimate that they consumed between 118 tons to 551 tons, with a midpoint of 283 tons, more than half a million pounds.

“… Assuming they were only eating anchovy, the sea lions may have eaten more biomass of anchovy in three months than our estimate of spawning biomass of herring (south of the Tacoma Narrows bridge) was for 2018 spawning season,” says Dionne.

Jeffries says anchovies represent “an alternate prey source” that’s in high abundance.

A paper published in the journal Deep Sea Research Part II in January notes that survival rates on acoustically tagged winter steelhead smolts leaving the nearby Nisqually River jumped from 6 to 38 percent between 2014 and 2016.

“Predation buffering by abundant anchovy is one hypothesis to explain this change,” it states.

THE DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY’S LATEST EYES OVER PUGET SOUND REPORT SHOWS NUMEROUS SCHOOLS OF FISH IN MARINE AREA 13, LIKELY ANCHOVIES. (COURTESY D.O.E.)

ANCHOVIES HAVE BEEN INTERMITTENTLY ABUNDANT over the past century and a half, according to the paper, which looked at their historical fluctuations.

They apparently appeared in big numbers in the late 1890s — “they could be dipped up with a common water bucket” in a Port Townsend bay and were recorded as such in the late 1920s, late 1960s, mid-1980s, 2005, and again since 2015.

In the deeper past, “anchovy were the third most abundant fish in First Nations archaeological sites up to 3000 years old” in Burrard Inlet, on which Vancouver, B.C., sits.

It’s hard to say how long this latest anchovy boom will continue or how fast it may fade away and bust like in the past.

Though salmon and steelhead prefer cooler water, WDFW’s Dionne says that if warmer water sticks around, it could last longer than past ones.

While we yearn for clear-cut answers, that’s not the nature of Mother Nature.

“It’s difficult to say if this is going to be a good thing or a bad thing,” Dionne says. “California sea lions certainly love it.”

Northwest States, Tribes Apply To Feds For OK To Kill More Columbia Sea Lions

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), along with a consortium of state and tribal partners, today submitted an expanded application to lethally remove California and Steller sea lions preying on threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River and its tributaries.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

California sea lions — and increasingly, Steller sea lions — have been observed in growing numbers in the Columbia River basin, especially in the last decade. These sea lions prey heavily on salmon and steelhead runs listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including thousands of fish at Bonneville Dam each year.

The impacts come at a time when many Chinook salmon runs are already at historic lows.

The recovery of sea lions since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1972 is a success story, said Kessina Lee, Region 5 director with WDFW. But that recovery has also brought challenges.

“The vast majority of these animals remain in coastal and offshore waters, but several hundred have established themselves in upriver locations,” Lee said. “Where salmon and steelhead numbers are low, any unmanaged increase in predation can cause serious problems.”

Predator management is a key part of a multi-faceted effort to restore salmon and steelhead populations in the Pacific Northwest.

“For decades, we’ve made strides in habitat restoration, hydropower policy, hatchery production, and fishery management, and we continue to work with our partners to further those initiatives,” Lee said. “Predator management remains an essential part of the equation.”

The application submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) by WDFW and its partners is the first since Congress passed an amendment to the MMPA in December 2018. That amendment, spearheaded by the Pacific Northwest congressional delegation, passed with strong bipartisan support and offers greater flexibility to wildlife managers when determining if a sea lion should be lethally removed in waters that host ESA-listed runs of salmon or steelhead.

“Based on years of experience working within the bounds of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Columbia River fishing tribes contend that predator management is necessary to restore balance to the Columbia River system,” said Ryan Smith, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Strong partnerships and collaboration with the states, northwest congressional delegation, federal authorities, and nongovernment organizations resulted in this amendment, which applies robust tools to manage sea lions in the lower Columbia River and recognizes tribal sovereignty in that management.”

WDFW and its partners have taken steps to deter California sea lions in the Columbia River basin for more than a decade, but non-lethal measures have proven largely ineffective, driving animals away for only short periods. These hazing measures appear similarly ineffective against Steller sea lions. Non-lethal measures continue to be used as a short-term deterrent when appropriate.

Wildlife managers have conducted lethal removal operations of California sea lions in the Columbia River basin since 2008, when NMFS first issued a letter of authorization under section 120 of the MMPA. From 2008-2019, wildlife managers removed a total of 219 California sea lions that met the federal criteria for removal below Bonneville Dam.

Steller sea lions have not previously been subject to lethal removal.

“Prior to this legislation, wildlife managers were severely limited in their ability to effectively manage sea lions in these areas,” Lee said. “Additional action is required to protect these troubled fish stocks before they are completely eliminated. This is an unfortunate, but necessary step in the salmon recovery process.”

If approved, WDFW expects to begin humanely removing animals under the terms of the expanded application beginning in 2020. The application is subject to a public comment period and review by NMFS. Members of the public can review the application at https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2019-06/MMPA-120f-application.pdf.

Other entities submitting the application with WDFW include the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon (CTWSR), The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and the 3.6.D Committee, which includes ODFW, CTUIR, CTWSR, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community, and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians of Oregon.