All posts by Andy Walgamott

IDFG Will Move Sockeye Broodstock From Hatchery In Flood’s Way

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho Department of Fish and Game fisheries biologists today decided to move 4,000 endangered sockeye salmon from the agency’s Eagle Fish Hatchery, in order to protect the fish from possible flooding.  The sockeye will be moved in trucks to Fish and Game’s Springfield Hatchery in Eastern Idaho.

The Eagle facility is located near Eagle Island State Park along the south channel of the Boise River, which is running at flood stage.

SAND BAGS PROTECT A HATCHERY SPECIFICALLY TASKED WITH RECOVERING IDAHO SOCKEYE FROM RISING FLOODWATERS. (SUE NASS, IDFG)

Fish and Game crews have placed sandbags around buildings and electrical pumps that supply water to the hatchery.  However, if is power lost for an extended period of time, the hatchery’s sockeye could be in jeopardy.

Crews will begin loading and transporting the fish on Thursday, March 30.

Sockeye held at the Eagle Hatchery act as captive brood stock for sockeye that are spawned to produce young for release into Red Fish Lake and Pettit Lakes where they eventually migrate to the ocean.  Other offspring are kept in captivity at facilities like Eagle Hatchery to provide a genetic bank that acts as safeguard against natural catastrophes, such as lethal river conditions.

The Springfield Hatchery was completed in 2013 and is solely dedicated to rearing sockeye.  It is expected to produce a million sockeye smolts for release in 2018.

In 2016, 567 sockeye returned to the Sawtooth Valley, slightly below the 10-year average of 664 fish, but a huge improvement over previous decades.

In 1992, a single sockeye dubbed “Lonesome Larry” was the only fish to return to Red Fish Lake.  He was one of 16 adult sockeye along with juveniles used to help jump start the recovery of Idaho’s sockeye salmon.

New WA Fish-Hunt Licenses Required Starting Saturday; Same Price As Last Year

The bad news is, your Washington fishing and hunting licenses are just about to expire.

The good news is, the Legislature is still a long way from passing a fee increase — let alone a budget authorizing one — if they do at all.

So for the time being, you’ll pay the same prices as last year to hunt, fish, crab, etc., etc., etc., in the Evergreen State during the 2017-18 seasons — and you won’t have to buy salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon catch cards either.

While Oregon’s and Idaho’s license years begin January 1, Washington’s kicks off April 1, just as spring Chinook fishing begins to pick up along the Lower Columbia and its tribs, a slate of trout openers hit the Basin, and turkey season kicks off across the state.

Peter Vernie, who heads up WDFW’s Licensing Division, says that 2016-17 license prices will be honored until the new state budget goes into effect.

That’s slated for July 1, but also dependent on lawmakers agreeing on how to fund Washington’s government, and there are sharp differences between how the Republican Senate and Democratic House want to do that.

The two chambers of the legislature also have differing views on WDFW’s fee increase proposal, with the Senate not including it in their operating budget for the agency while the House has it.

Whether lawmakers can sort out their differences on the fee increase and overall state budget before a special session is required remains to be seen.

For now, you don’t have to worry about paying more to fish and hunt in Washington.

But you will need a new license to do both starting Saturday in the Evergreen State.

Editor’s note, March 29, 2017, 2:27 p.m.: An earlier version of this blog misspelled Mr. Vernie’s last name. Our apologies.

FDR’s Sanpoil Arm To Remain Closed Till June, WDFW Reminds

WDFW is reminding anglers that due to changing regs, the Sanpoil Arm of Lake Roosevelt won’t open this Saturday.

The fishing pamphlet has the drowned mouth of the Ferry County river opening April 1, but with a Fish and Wildlife Commission decision last December, it’s been moved back to June 1 starting this season.

WITH LAKE ROOSEVELT’S TROUT FISHERY DRAWING INCREASING INTEREST, MANAGERS HAVE MOVED TO PROTECT THE RESERVOIR’S REDBAND RAINBOWS, INCLUDING CLOSING A LARGE BAY WHERE THE TROUT GATHER TO MAKE SPRING SPAWNING RUNS. THIS STRINGER OF RAINBOWS WAS PUT TOGETHER SEVERAL WINTERS AGO BY DYLAN AND GARRETT, GRANDSONS OF READER CHARLIE HISSOM. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

That may disappoint walleye fishermen, but it was part of a set of tweaks to the rules to protect native redband rainbows in the 150-mile-long Northeast Washington reservoir.

With increasing interest in FDR’s superb trout and kokanee fisheries, state and tribal managers were concerned that with redbands already accounted for one-fifth of the rainbow harvest, according to WDFW.

The Sanpoil River is one of the spawning grounds of the unique strain of inland rainbows.

Other changes adopted last December include releasing all trout without a clipped adipose fin from Grand Coulee Dam up to the Little Dalles powerlines, but an end to the maximum number of rainbows that can be over 20 inches.

The agency stocks three-quarters of a million fin-clipped trout to support the harvest fishery on the reservoir.

Columbia, SW WA Fishing Report (3-29-17)

THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION ORIGINATED WITH ODFW AND WDFW AND WAS TRANSMITTED BY JOE HYMER, PSMFC

Lower Columbia mainstem sport update – March 26

Last week, anglers on the lower Columbia made 2,024 trips and caught 11 spring Chinook and 19 steelhead.  Through March 26, anglers have made 8,305 trips and caught 59 adult spring Chinook (53 kept and six released) and 52 steelhead (14 kept and 38 released).

DESPITE POOR FISHING CONDITIONS, SCOTT DUNBAR CAUGHT THIS NICE SPRING CHINOOK OUT OF THE COLUMBIA LAST WEEK. HE WAS FISHING WITH GUIDE BRANDON GLASS. (BRANDON GLASS VIA BUZZ RAMSEY)

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Salmon, Steelhead and Shad

On Saturday’s (3/19) flight, 146 salmonid boats and 86 Oregon bank anglers were counted from the Columbia River estuary to Bonneville Dam.  Catch rates remain low despite the increase in effort.

Gorge Bank: No report.

Gorge Boats: No report.

Troutdale Boats: Weekend checking showed no catch for 18 boats (37 anglers).

Portland to Westport Bank: Weekend checking showed no catch for 38 bank anglers.

Portland to Westport Boats: Weekend checking showed no catch for 39 boats (85 anglers).

Estuary Bank (Clatsop Spit to Wauna Powerlines): Weekend checking showed no catch for two bank anglers.

Estuary Boats (Tongue Point to Wauna Powerlines): Weekend checking showed no catch for 10 boats (17 anglers).

Bonneville Pool (Bonneville Dam upstream to The Dalles Dam): Weekly checking showed no catch for one bank angler

The Dalles Pool (The Dalles Dam upstream to John Day Dam):  Weekly checking showed no catch for one bank angler.

John Day Pool (John Day Dam upstream to McNary Dam):  Weekly checking showed no catch for five bank anglers.

STURGEON

Lower Columbia River (below Bonneville Dam): Closed for retention. Weekend checking showed no catch for six bank anglers; and no catch for two boats (three anglers).

Bonneville Pool (Bonneville Dam upstream to The Dalles Dam): Weekly checking showed three legal white sturgeon kept, plus 21 sublegal and one oversize sturgeon released for 37 bank anglers; and three sublegal and two oversize sturgeon released for seven boats (14 anglers).

The Dalles Pool (The Dalles Dam upstream to John Day Dam):  Weekly checking showed no catch for 12 bank anglers; and three legal white sturgeon kept, plus three sublegal and one oversize sturgeon released for three boats (11 anglers).

John Day Pool (John Day Dam upstream to McNary Dam):  Weekly checking showed three legal white sturgeon kept, plus 11 sublegal sturgeon released for 25 bank anglers; and three legal white sturgeon kept, plus eight sublegal and six oversize sturgeon released for 10 boats (23 anglers).

WALLEYE

Troutdale:  No report.

Bonneville Pool:  Weekly checking showed no catch for one boat (one angler).

The Dalles Pool:  Weekly checking showed no catch for one bank angler; and 222 walleye kept, plus 69 walleye released for 27 boats (66 anglers).

John Day Pool: Weekly checking showed 35 walleye kept, plus 66 walleye released for 41 boats (78 anglers).

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Salmon/Steelhead

Cowlitz River – 130 bank anglers kept 3 adult spring Chinook, 19 steelhead and released 3 steelhead.  115 boat anglers kept 2 adult spring Chinook and 41 steelhead.  Fish are being caught throughout the river with the trout hatchery area best for steelhead, especially for boat anglers.

Last week, Tacoma Power employees recovered 149 winter-run steelhead adults, two steelhead jacks and 13 spring Chinook adults and one cutthroat trout in five days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.

During the past week, Tacoma Power employees released 18 winter-run steelhead adults and nine spring Chinook adults into the Cispus River near Yellow Jacket Creek.

Last week, Tacoma employees released ten winter-run steelhead adults, two steelhead jacks and one cutthroat trout into the Tilton River located at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 14,600 cubic feet per second on Monday, March 27. Water visibility is five feet and water temperature is 42.8 F.

Drano Lake – 4 bank anglers released 4 sublegal sturgeon

Lower Columbia mainstem below Bonneville Dam – Two lucky anglers out of the 352 sampled (including 88 boats) are eating fresh spring Chinook.  One fish was a lower river stock and the other upriver stock based on Visual Stock Identification (VSI).  Bank anglers released 2 steelhead.

Joint Staff recommends a Joint State hearing to discuss the lower Columbia mainstem sport fishery be scheduled for April 5, 2017.

Bonneville Dam upstream to McNary Dam – Light effort and no catch.

Sturgeon

Lower Columbia mainstem below Bonneville Dam – Light effort.

Bonneville Pool – Until further notice, closed for retention.

The Dalles Pool – Closed for retention through the end of the year.

John Day Pool – Bank and boat anglers are catching some legals.  Boat anglers averaged a legal kept per every 8 rods last week.  Tomorrow (Wednesday March 30) is the last day sturgeon may be retained for the year.

Walleye and Bass

Bonneville Pool – No effort was observed for either specie.

The Dalles Pool – Boat anglers averaged 1.7 walleye kept/released per rod.  No effort was observed for bass.

John Day Pool – Including fish released, boat anglers averaged just under 0.4 walleye per rod.  A couple bass were also caught.

Trout

Recent plants of catchable size rainbows into SW WA waters.  No report on angling success.

Lake/Pond
Date
Species
Number
Fish per Pound
Hatchery
Notes

* KLINELINE PD (CLAR)<http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/search.php?searchby=LakeStocked&search=KLINELINE%20PD%20(CLAR)&orderby=LakeStocked%20ASC,%20StockDate%20DESC>
Mar 20, 2017
Rainbow
1,500
2.2
VANCOUVER HATCHERY

* LK SACAJAWEA (COWL)<http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/search.php?searchby=LakeStocked&search=LK%20SACAJAWEA%20(COWL)&orderby=LakeStocked%20ASC,%20StockDate%20DESC>
Mar 20, 2017
Rainbow
3,083
2.4
GOLDENDALE HATCHERY

* SWOFFORD PD (LEWI)<http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/search.php?searchby=LakeStocked&search=SWOFFORD%20PD%20(LEWI)&orderby=LakeStocked%20ASC,%20StockDate%20DESC>
Mar 16, 2017
Rainbow
4,200
2.1
MOSSYROCK HATCHERY

Mocrocks, Copalis Beaches To Open For Razor Clams

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

State shellfish managers have approved a morning razor clam dig starting March 30 with openings alternating between Mocrocks and Copalis beaches through April 2.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) approved the four-day dig – the first dig of the season on morning tides – after marine toxin tests showed that clams on those two beaches are safe to eat.

DIGGERS HUNT FOR RAZOR CLAM SHOWS ON A COASTAL BEACH DURING A PREVIOUS SEASON. (DAN AYRES, WDFW)

Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager, said diggers should be aware that only one beach – either Mocrocks or Copalis – will be open each day of the upcoming dig.

Ayres also reminds diggers that all state fishing licenses expire March 31, so they will need to purchase a 2017-18 fishing license if they plan to participate in the digs approved for Saturday, April 1, and Sunday, April 2.

Licenses applicable to digging razor clams include an annual razor clam license, a shellfish license or a combination fishing license. A three-day razor clam license is also available, although it is restricted to digging days in a single licensing year.

All licenses are available online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ and from sporting goods stores and other licensing outlets throughout the state.

The upcoming dig is approved on the following beaches, dates and morning low tides:

  • March 30, Thursday, 8:58 a.m.; -0.6 feet, Mocrocks
  • March 31, Friday, 9:47 a.m.; -0.6 feet, Copalis
  • April 1, Saturday, 10:40 a.m.; -0.5 feet, Mocrocks
  • April 2, Sunday; 11:39 a.m., -0.1 feet, Copalis

Long Beach and Twin Harbors remain closed to digging, because they have not yet met state testing requirements for marine toxins, Ayres said.

Copalis Beach extends from the Grays Harbor north jetty to the Copalis River and includes the Copalis, Ocean Shores, Oyhut, Ocean City and Copalis areas.

Mocrocks Beach extends from the Copalis River to the southern boundary of the Quinault Reservation near the Moclips River, including Iron Springs, Roosevelt Beach, Seabrook, Pacific Beach and Moclips.

Maps of those beaches and information about razor clam digs proposed in the future are available on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/current.html

48 Steelhead Smolts Set To Go On Very Public, Perilous Journey Through Puget Sound

Think you could survive swimming out through Puget Sound? Think you could do it if you were a steelhead?

If so, you might be interested in signing up for a new interactive challenge debuting this spring that will allow the public to track smolts as they try to make the journey.

HOOD CANAL AND SKOKOMISH RIVER STEELHEAD HAVE BEEN STRUGGLING IN RECENT DECADES DUE TO HABITAT LOSS, BUT BIOLOGISTS ARE BEGINNING TO SEE THAT SMOLTS ARE HAVING A MORE DIFFICULT TIME THAN EXPECTED OUTMIGRATING. (LONG LIVE THE KINGS)

It will pit 48 actual radio-tagged young winter-runs from the Nisqually and Skokomish Rivers against pollutants, harbor seals, long bridges, hungry birds and other challenges as the ESA-listed fish outmigrate through Hood Canal and the South and Central Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca to the North Pacific.

If they even make it that far.

According to Long Live The Kings, which designed “Survive The Sound” with Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., fewer than 20 percent of young steelhead make it out of Puget Sound these days.

The idea behind the experience is to bring that awareness to an audience beyond you, me and other steelheaders (we’ve written about it here and in the magazine), as well as raise money for research on our favorite species, and along the way have a little fun.

“Survive the Sound is a new way for people to interact with and learn about our Washington State fish,” Long Live The Kings posted in announcing the challenge. “Steelhead are magical: their behavior can signal deeper issues within the surrounding ecosystem, they are prized by chefs and anglers alike, and their presence is critical to sustaining tribal culture and treaty rights. Unfortunately, the Puget Sound steelhead population has declined dramatically over the past century —to less than 10% of its historic size— and they’re now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Today, there is serious concern that this iconic fish will slip into extinction.”

Here’s how to play:

Go to Survivethesound.org and pick one or more of the four dozen smolts that have been given all sorts of crazy names and avatars.

Northwest Sportsman is sponsoring Blitz, one of several Seahawks-themed steelhead, who’s looking for “a lot of support from the 12th man.” (Look for “Russell Wilswim” next year.)

BLITZ THE NISQUALLY STEELHEAD SMOLT. (LONG LIVE THE KINGS)

Drag your pick(s) into the little box at left and then fill out the credit card billing info to make a $25 donation per smolt to Long Live The Kings, a venerable organization looking into declining salmon and steelhead stocks in the Salish Sea and what can be done to support fisheries for them here.

After submitting the info, you’ll get a confirmation email and a link to a page that will allow you to see your smolt’s pace and distance covered, plus where it is on a map.

Blitz — a Nisqually smolt — hasn’t gone Beast Mode yet, but starting May 8 he and the rest of the young steelhead will begin their journey.

OTHER AVATARS INCLUDE A TASTY SWEDISH FISH, AND A NOT-SO-HEALTHY LOOKING SALMON ELLA. (LONG LIVE THE KINGS)

Their tags will be read (or not if they’re eaten or otherwise die) by sonar stations at key places in the saltwater.

Along with progress updates, you’ll also get briefings on problems facing Puget Sound steelhead, which were listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2007.

Then, NMFS said the “principal” reason was loss of habitat, but also “noted that predation by marine mammals (principally seals and sea lions) and birds may be of concern in some local areas experiencing dwindling steelhead run sizes.”

That’s become more and more of a concern, what with high numbers of pinnipeds and how many young Chinook they may be eating, but there are also suggestions that steelhead smolts just can’t get past the Hood Canal Bridge and that also makes them easy pickin’s.

To, er, hook lots of people into playing Survive The Sound, organizers have a variety of prize categories, including biggest “school” and fastest fish, and if you sign up before April 5, your name will go into a raffle for a stay at Alderbrook Resort, near the hook of Hood Canal.

It will be interesting to see if Blitz gets sacked himself (or herself for all I know) or rushes past the pinnipeds and cormorants and is able to reach the ocean’s feeding grounds.

It will be even more interesting to know if this vehicle delivers the plight of Pugetropolis’s steelhead to the masses, getting more people on board to do something about it.

Hatchery Coho OKed For Retention On Sammamish

Anglers will be able to keep hatchery coho they catch in Lake Sammamish, smolts that apparently decided against going to sea in 2016.

WDFW put out an emergency rule-change notice early this afternoon allowing the retention of fin-clipped silvers under landlocked salmon rules.

 

That means they count towards your trout limit.

Minimum size is 12 inches, and the regulation stays in effect through May 31.

Kokanee and Chinook must be released.

According to biologist Aaron Bosworth, the residualized coho are believed to have been from last year’s release.

He says he’s not sure why they didn’t head for the ocean, but it’s happened in the past, he’s heard.

Cutting an e-reg allows anglers to legally remove them from the lake, Bosworth says.

Washington Legislators Put Out WDFW Budget Proposals, With, Without Fee Hikes

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s fee hike proposal is still in play in Olympia.

While last week’s proposed operating budget from Senate Republicans pointedly left out the agency’s request for fishing and hunting license increases, the Democratic House’s spending plan released yesterday has them in there.

SPRING CHINOOK ANGLERS TROLL THE COLUMBIA BELOW WASHINGTON’S BEACON ROCK LAST SEASON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Now, whether you end up paying more to hunt, fish, crab, etc., in the Evergreen State in the future depends on leaders in both chambers of the legislature agreeing to a final budget with that element and Governor Inslee signing it into law by this time next month, or later if a special session is required..

Odds of that?

Hard to say at this juncture, and the Olympia Outsider is notoriously bad at predicting the legislature.

But as it stands, the House’s budget for July 2017-June 2019 includes $22.7 million to maintain and increase fishing opportunities and $5.4 million for enhanced hunting ops, both paid for through higher fees for licenses, tags, endorsements, catch cards, etc.

Those are not hard and fast numbers; they’re more like placeholders based on the governor’s original budget and House Bill 1647, which had a hearing early last month, then was sent out to fishing and hunting groups to be “right-sized.”

An internal WDFW memo circulated last night comparing the two budget proposals side by side says that “reaching agreement with stakeholders and the legislature on moving revenue legislation towards adoption will be very important over the next few weeks.”

Firmer numbers can be found elsewhere in the House proposal. It includes $3.1 million for better IT security on WDFW’s website. There’s also money for better steelhead management and support for fish habitat projects, but not for a steelhead mortality study.

It also reduces funding for pheasant and warmwater programs due to shortfalls and decreased license sales, as does the Senate’s budget.

Both chambers would give WDFW a bump over the last two-year spending plan, with the House allocating $449 million, the Senate $416 milllion, increases of 8.3 and .6 percent, according to the agency.

WDFW reports the main difference between the two chambers’ bottom line is largely due to four pieces of agency-request legislation addressing rec and commercial fees, the hydraulic permit approval process and aquatic invasive species management that are included in the House version but not the Senate proposal.

The House would provide almost $2.3 million more to improve HPA processing and a bump of nearly $1.3 million to prevent more bad things from gaining a foothold in our waters.

Highlights from the Senate budget include $5 million from the General Fund to “protect hatcheries and core agency functions,” as a press release from Sen. Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe) put it.

That money would come with a caveat — a review of WDFW’s management and organization.

Pearson, chair of the Natural Resources and Parks Committee, which deals with many fish and wildlife issues, has been critical of the agency, especially its leadership, including on hoof rot in elk, the disappearance of at least a couple hundred thousand Cowlitz River summer steelhead smolts, and the fee hike proposal.

He says that “(dwindling) fish populations, diseased and scattered wildlife and animal conflict problems have set back the WDFW’s mission over the past few years” but that the Senate budget has the “the tools” needed to “protect and grow hunting and fishing opportunities both now and in the future.”

The Senate budget does include $1.5 million for continued funding of nonlethal depredation prevention work and the agency’s Wolf Advisory Group, about $200,000 more than the House would.

And it increases payments in lieu of taxes to counties for WDFW-owned land, as well as proposes a much higher level than the House budget does, $1.6 million a year compared to $580,000.

Next up will be for both chambers to pass their own budget bills, then negotiate out the differences in a conference committee. That could be challenging, given the $32 million difference between House and Senate proposals.

The regular session is scheduled to wrap up April 23, but may go into overtime if an overall agreement on the budget for the state isn’t reached in time.

Learn First Aid At Sea At Upcoming Classes

A pair of upcoming classes in Pugetropolis will provide fishermen a chance to learn how to render first aid on the water.

Put on by Washington Sea Grant, the Coast Guard-approved course will include “CPR, patient assessment, hypothermia, cold water, near drowning, shock, trauma, burns, fractures, choking, immobilization and essentials for first aid kits.”

(WASHINGTON SEA GRANT)

The first is scheduled for April 6, from 9-5, at the Gig Harbor BoatShop.

The second is April 24, 9-5, at Squalicum Harbor, at the Port of Bellingham.

Cost is $100 — $50 for commercial fishermen.

To learn more about each class, go here or here, and to register, contact Sarah Fisken (206-543-1225; sfisken@uw.edu).

Puget Sound Canary Rockfish Delisted, With Help From Anglers

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

NOAA Fisheries last week removed Puget Sound canary rockfish from the federal list of threatened and endangered species after a recent collaborative study found those fish are not genetically distinct from other canary rockfish on the West Coast.

Although many state rockfish populations have declined in abundance, the agency determined that the canary rockfish population in Puget Sound and the inland waters of British Columbia does not qualify for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), because it is not “discrete from” the species as a whole.

A STUDY FOUND THAT CANARY ROCKFISH IN PUGET SOUND ARE PART OF THE SAME STOCK AS SWIMMING OFF THE OREGON COAST, WHERE AN ODFW DIVER FILMED THIS ONE. (ODFW)

“The recent genetic findings show that canary rockfish of the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin are actually part of the larger canary rockfish population along the Pacific Coast,” said Dan Tonnes of NOAA Fisheries. “Coastal canary rockfish were determined to be rebuilt under the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 2016.”

NOAA’s action does not affect state fishing restrictions on rockfish in Puget Sound, which prohibit anglers from targeting, possessing or retaining any rockfish species, because yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio remain listed under the ESA. State regulations also prohibit recreational fisheries from targeting rockfish in the Sound, and do not allow recreational bottom-fishing below 120 feet.

In 2010, NOAA listed canary rockfish, yelloweye rockfish, and bocaccio in the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin under the ESA as “distinct population segments,” presuming that they were genetically discrete from the rest of the species. Without species-specific genetic studies to draw on, this presumption was based on genetic variation among populations of other rockfish species.

To test that premise, the agency’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle launched a cooperative study in 2015 to gather and study samples from listed rockfish in the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin and from reference areas outside that area to better understand their genetic diversity. Canadian authorities also provided biological samples of rockfish from the inland waters of the Georgia Strait.

The study drew on the expertise of local fishing guides, along with members of the Puget Sound Anglers and Kitsap Pogie fishing clubs to catch enough canary and yelloweye rockfish to conduct the genetic analysis using small tissue samples taken from the fins of each fish.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), another partner in the study, compiled data on ESA-listed rockfish in the area from previous surveys and deployed a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) below the surface of the Sound to locate rockfish and guide test fishers to their location.

“By combining the at-sea experience of long-time bottomfish anglers with the scientific knowledge of the WDFW, we were successfully able to locate and sample hundreds of fish,” said Dayv Lowry, WDFW senior research scientist. “It was a perfect example of collaboration and cooperation in search of actionable knowledge for rockfish management.”

Rockfish caught for the study were handled carefully and released using a special descending device to avoid barotrauma, which is caused by the change in air pressure when a fish is brought from deep waters to the surface. Fish were also marked for identification with an external tag, and several of those fish were sighted by the WDFW during subsequent ROV surveys.

The analysis showed that Puget Sound canary rockfish are not genetically distinct from canary rockfish on the West Coast, but affirmed that yelloweye rockfish in those waters are genetically distinct from coastal populations, and will therefore remain listed under the ESA. Bocaccio will also remain listed, because too few of them were found during the study to conduct a thorough analysis or change their status.

Rockfish are long-lived fish that reproduce slowly and play an important role in the Puget Sound ecosystem. Research indicates that total abundance of rockfish in Puget Sound has dropped approximately 70 percent in the last 40 years.

NOAA Fisheries is developing a recovery plan for yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio that will serve as a roadmap for conservation and recovery of these species.