All posts by Andy Walgamott

Study Finds Half Young Steelhead Die In 2 OR Estuaries

The Salem Statesman-Journal is reporting on a new Oregon State University study that “found that up to nearly half of the ocean-bound juvenile steelhead surveyed in the Alsea and Nehalem river systems appear to have died in the estuaries, before they could reach the ocean.”

Before, it was believed that the ocean was the driver in steelhead smolt survival, but this study seems to indicate otherwise.

There are many questions to answer, but researchers found some tags from fish at a seal colony.

Hearing Date Set For Bill To Abolish WDFW

A Washington Senate committee is holding a public hearing next week on a bill that would abolish the Department of Fish & Wildlife and move it into the Department of Natural Resources.

The Natural Resources and Ocean & Recreation committee is slated to hear testimony on SB 6813 on Feb. 17. The meeting begins at 8 a.m.

A fiscal note prepared by in the last week by WDFW staffers indicates merging would initially cost $1 million a year through 2013 and then a savings of $1.5 million a year starting in 2015.

The note identifies where cuts might be made. Among the agency’s 1,444 employees,  somewhere around 7 to 8 full-time jobs could be eliminated because of overlap. Among other savings it identifies is $50,000 for road maintenance and $30,000 for fire suppression; DNR and WDFW manage vast swaths of the state’s timber and sagelands.

The guys on Piscatorialpursuits.com are also talking about SB 6813.

The State Parks and Recreation Commission would also be abolished and moved into DNR under the bill.

Senators Ken Jacobsen, Kevin Ranker, Bob Morton, Karen Fraser, Jim Hargrove, Brian Hatfield, Val Stevens and Dan Swecker all sit on the Natural Resources and Ocean & Recreation committee.

OR Anti-poaching Bill Under Scrutiny

Official advice: Read your Oregon fishing and hunting regulations very, very, very carefully before wetting a line or drawing a bead.

For the moment, your fishing and hunting privileges “shall” be revoked for even the lightest of game violations due to a bill passed out of the state Legislature last year.

Mark Freeman of The Mail Tribune has the head’s up on this one:

A law that went into effect last month requires the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to automatically revoke all fishing and wildlife permits, licenses and tags for any conviction of a fish or wildlife violation regardless of its severity or where it occurs — even in other states.

In a nutshell, what happened was that House Bill 3089 took away a judge’s discretion to revoke licenses by replacing the word “may” with “shall.”

“It would be the equivalent of losing your driver’s license for a rolling stop,” ODFW deputy director Curt Melcher tells Freeman.

Up to 5,000 individuals a year could lose their privileges; that’s about how many citations are written annually in the Beaver State.

The reporter says that a short-term fix is being worked on, but he also notes that “the new law is one of the better get-tough-on-poaching changes to hit Oregon in years. It sets some serious restitution minimums for poachers to pay Oregonians for their illegal kills.”

Hear hear — at least on one front.

Redden: One More Try, NOAA, Or I Decide

The latest Federal plan to save and recover Columbia River salmon is “technically flawed,” and Judge Redden says NOAA-Fisheries gets “one last chance to come up with something better that won’t violate the Endangered Species Act” “before he rules on its broader merits.”

Redden’s been a stickler on this salmon issue. He has “twice before rejected federal blueprints for Columbia Basin salmon, but he has given the government multiple opportunities to amend the one currently before his court.”

That according to articles by the New York Times, Associated Press and The Oregonian out today.

In a three-page letter from Redden released yesterday (and available on The Oregonian’s site), the judge writes:

Federal Defendants have an obligation under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) to rely on the best available science. They cannot rely exclusively on materials that support one position, while ignoring new or opposing scientific information. Federal Defendants recognize that they must supplement of the Administrative Record with all of the documents that support the (Adaptive Management Implementation Plan). They must also include new and pertinent scientific information relating to the proposed action (e.g., recent climate change data). If that scientific data requires additional analysis or mitigation to avoid jeopardy, Federal Defendants must adequately address those issues. I will not sign an order of voluntary remand that effectively relieves Federal Defendants of their obligation to use the best available science and consider all important aspects of the problem. This court will not dictate the scope or substance of Federal Defendants’ remand, but Federal Defendants must comply with the ESA in preparingW amended/supplemental biological opinion.

There are two options. Pursuant to the attached proposed order, Federal Defendants can conduct a voluntary remand using the best available science and addressing all relevant factors. Alternatively, Federal Defendants can reject the proposed order, and I will issue a ruling on the validity of the 2008 BiOp without consideration of the AMIP.

The Obama Administration has until Feb. 19 if they wish to improve upon the plan.

A NOAA spokesman in Seattle said the agency would carefully consider the letter; the AP reports that “salmon advocates said the judge echoed what they have been arguing all along: that the plan needs to do more for salmon.”

WDFW To Destroy 250K Winter-run Eggs; Makahs Step In With Replacements

(WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled a public meeting Saturday, Feb. 13, in Forks to discuss plans to destroy about 250,000 winter steelhead eggs at the Bogachiel Hatchery, where a waterborne fish virus was recently discovered.

The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon at the Forks Sportsmans Club, 243 Sportsmans Club Road.

The virus, Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis (IHN), was recently discovered in returning adult winter steelhead at the Bogachiel Hatchery. Eggs taken from those fish at the hatchery will be destroyed because they could also have the infectious virus, said Ron Warren, regional fish program manager for WDFW.

“There is no reliable test that will tell us if the eggs are infected,” said Warren. “To ensure we don’t increase risks to wild fish in the Bogachiel River or spread the pathogen to other watersheds, we have decided to destroy the eggs. It’s unfortunate, but we must take a precautionary approach.”

WDFW developed the response plan after meeting with the tribes and other natural resource management agencies.

To partially make up for the loss, about 130,000 winter steelhead eggs from the Makah Tribe’s Hoko Falls Hatchery will be transferred to the Bogachiel Hatchery for rearing and release, said Warren. Those steelhead eggs are genetically similar to the fish raised at the Bogachiel Hatchery.

Receiving these eggs at this time guarantees continued production at the Bogachiel Hatchery, said Warren.

“We appreciate the Makah Tribe stepping up and providing us these winter steelhead eggs,” said Warren. “These eggs will help make up for some of the production loss and provide for future fisheries in the basin.”

Juvenile steelhead at the Bogachiel Hatchery have been tested and are free of the virus, said Warren.

IHN has no known cure and can be fatal to infected fish, but cannot be passed on to humans. The virus affects both wild and hatchery fish, including salmon and trout species, and is regularly detected in the Columbia River basin. The virus is spread from fish to fish.

Battle Brewing Over McKenzie R. Stockers

A story we did last April on the McKenzie River spoke to the crazy numbers of trout you can catch on this stream just southeast of the Eugene-Springfield area.

“It’s absolutely something you need to witness,” guide Bret Stuart told our Larry Ellis. “It’s anywhere from 16- to 20-inch trout and up to 50 a day. We’re talking big redsides and big cutthroats. These are all caught swinging a fly. You can be a complete idiot with a fly rod and catch them too.”

Many of those fish are products of the nearby Leaburg Hatchery, “the biggest single trout program on the West Coast,” manager Tim Wright told Ellis.

A group of anglers is now saying it’s time to rethink the huge releases of stockers which, they say, are harming wild redside rainbows (hatchery trout are fin-clipped, just like salmon or steelhead).

The McKenzie River Native Trout Coalition packed a recent meeting in Springfield.

They dispute “that the current managment of the river represents best practices and that it maximizes benefit.Our vision for the river is that the Mckenize be managed primarily if not exclusively for the benefit of native fish and fisheries. In our view, proper managment will allow for a slot limit on native trout.”

According to an Oregon fly fishing blog, the McKenzie River Guides Association “wants the McKenzie River be stuffed to the bursting point with hatchery fish.”

Stuck in the middle is ODFW.

“We do know that there’s an impact of the hatchery fish on the wild trout population. There’s an impact of the anglers on the wild trout population,” fisheries biologist Jeff Ziller tells KEZI.

UPDATE FEB. 12: This morning, Oregon Public Broadcasting has done a story on the issue. Reporter Angela Kellner talks to Ziller who explains there will be a 15 percent reduction in hatchery stocking and 5 miles of river added for wild fish management only.

Ziller says the state is compiling data from last year’s survey of McKenzie River anglers and using a 2006 statewide survey to better understand fishing preferences.

What they need next, Ziller says, is a survey of the people who aren’t fishing the McKenzie, but would like to.

Fab Feb. Mack Fly Bite On The Yak!

What might be Washington’s best (err, only) fly bite for Mackinaw in a river is going on (err, went on last week) in the Yakima Canyon.

Bo Lybeck, a part-time fly fishing guide, landed a decent-sized Mackinaw in the famed Central Washington, err, rainbow fishery.

Rob Phillips, a freelance writer for the Yakima Herald-Republic, forwarded me a couple pics of his unusual catch this afternoon.

“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?” was my approximate response?

It’s unusual … but not Bigfoot-unusual.

Phillips querried biologists at WDFW’s Yakima office who said it was likely it had come from Lake Cle Elum after being “entrained” during high irrigation flows.

They produced pics of another riverine Mack caught in the Ellensburg area, upstream of the Canyon, and said they’d also seen a few in the Naches, west of the town of Yakima.

Regional fisheries manager John Easterbrooks tells me it’s almost an annual occurrence for a fly angler to hook a laker on a big Woolly Bugger or streamer pattern.

“If we had our druthers, we’d have anglers remove any they find,” he says of the non-native “exotic” char, which, unfortunately looks a bit too similar to ESA-listed bull trout to declare all-out war on.

Macks, however, don’t do well in river environments — there’s a reason they’re called lakers. Their environment is by and large, err, lakes, where they cruise for other fish and, when the mood strikes, broadcast spawn over wind-swept beaches on midfall nights.

In the past, Phillips has reported on how to catch the large lakers up at Lake Cle Elum.

“You’ve got 5- to 20-pound trout you can troll around for in summer. It’s a pretty specialized fishery,” says Easterbrooks.

He adds that Macks have been at Cle Elum for at least 80 years.

Phillips say he may write more on lakers — there are management considerations — so watch the YHR.

State To Cull Sick Yakima Bighorns

(WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE)

State and federal wildlife officials later this month will take steps to curb the spread of pneumonia in wild bighorn sheep in the Yakima River canyon by euthanizing the sickest animals.

Biologists with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services will spend several weeks identifying and removing sheep that show signs of pneumonia, such as coughing and lethargy, said Donny Martorello, wildlife manager for WDFW.

“We are attempting to limit the spread of the disease inside and outside the canyon by selectively removing bighorn sheep that are clearly sick,” Martorello said. “It’s unfortunate, but we believe it is a necessary step in limiting the spread of a disease that could devastate herds in the Yakima River area.”

About a third of two wild bighorn sheep populations in the canyon – the Umtanum herd on the west side of the Yakima River and the Selah Butte herd east of the river – are expected to be euthanized, Martorello said. Those two herds currently total about 260 animals.

In early December, wildlife managers received reports of sick and dead sheep in the Yakima River canyon. To date, 18 dead sheep have been found by WDFW biologists conducting aerial and ground surveys in the canyon.

Carcasses tested at Washington State University’s veterinary laboratory were found to have pneumonia, caused by Mycoplasma and Pasteurella bacteria.

The disease is often fatal in wild bighorn sheep, and can also affect the survival rate of lambs later born to animals that survive the disease, Martorello said. There is no treatment for bighorns with pneumonia and there is no preventative vaccination for the disease.

Pneumonia in wild bighorn sheep is not transmissible to humans or domestic livestock, Martorello said. But because the euthanized sheep could be carrying secondary infections, the meat will not be donated to local food banks, he added.

Heads and other biological samples from euthanized sheep will be removed from the canyon, Martorello said.

The Yakima River area is home to more than half the state’s 1,500 wild bighorn sheep, with herds totaling nearly 800 animals. Other bighorn sheep herds in the area include the Quilomene herd to the northeast and the Cleman Mountain and Tieton herds to the west.

So far, no dead or sick bighorn sheep have been found outside the Umtanum and Selah Butte herds.

Past outbreaks among bighorn sheep in Washington and other parts of the western United States have been linked to contact between wild sheep and domestic sheep or goats that carry Pasteurella but are unaffected by the bacteria. However, there is no evidence that such contact occurred in the Yakima River Canyon, said Martorello.

Other western states, including Montana and Nevada, also are experiencing disease outbreaks in their wild bighorn sheep populations. WDFW is in contact with wildlife experts across the western states and are working closely with WSU and other veterinarians.

MORE INFORMATION:

Scott Sandsberry of the Yakima Herald-Republic has been reporting on this all along. His post from yesterday can be found here.

Here are other links:

http://nwsportsmanmag.wordpress.com/2009/12/30/bios-may-have-to-kill-yakima-bighorns/

http://nwsportsmanmag.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/the-rush-to-save-yakima-bighorns/

A Very Large Walleye, Or Two?

Late last Friday afternoon, just after I left the office, I got emails from two guys in the walleye world wondering if I’d heard of a very large, potential Washington state-record walleye landed the day before.

I have to admit that I didn’t read those emails until coming back to the office yesterday, but it immediately set off red-alert alarm bells at HQ.

Ms. Piggy, you’re on next!

(And what timing too, especially with where and how to catch whopper walleye articles in the Columbia system in our February issue!!)

With the standing state record at 19.3 pounds, I began dialing frantically. Biologists, enforcement officers, the state capitol — surely someone official must have weighed something somewhere sometime!!!

Twenty-four hours later and, well, I don’t have any definitive proof that a 20-plus was landed … because the person who says he caught it, Kurt Sonderman, turned it loose instead of having it officially weighed in.

Incon-@#$@%#$-ceivable.

Or is it?

Goes with this guy’s character. He’s said to be “real adamant about releasing big fish.” Thems the breeding stock, after all. Even has told folks on his boat they were only photographing the big girls, then letting them go.

I didn’t speak to Sonderman directly (have only managed to get in touch with him a couple times in my years in this biz), but Leroy Ledeboer did reach him somewhere way down in the Blue Mountains, where he goes to get the hell away from it all.

The catch, he told Leroy, was witnessed by friends fishing nearby.

“He said if he’d been alone, (news of the catch) wouldn’t have gotten out there,” Leroy tells me.

Rumors grew.

Indeed, a lot of things are unclear about this whole escapade, starting with whether photos were taken, the accuracy of whatever scale the fish was weighed on, whether length and girth measurements were taken (which we could then plug into standard fish-size calculators), etc.

I don’t think Sonderman would bullshit Leroy. I’m tempted to believe he let her go because of how he feels about large fish.

But at the end of the day, we’re left with someone’s word that the very large walleye they hooked was over 20 pounds.

Or two were.

As his story goes, his wife had an even bigger one, but it got loose at the boat.

So he’s not really too willing to attract attention to his Tri-Cities-area honey hole.

Till he catches the she-piggy.

And bonks it.

2010 Columbia, OR Coho Forecasts Out

This year won’t be last year — at least if forecasts for Columbia River and Oregon Coast coho hold up.

This year’s prediction is for an overall return just 37 percent of 2009’s whopper run of 1.3-plus million hatchery and wild silvers.

Expectations for the Columbia drag the forecast down. Fishery managers expect just 245,300 early and 144,200 late coho back, just 35 and 38 percent of last year’s actual returns (681,400 and 374,100).

Oregon Coast rivers and lakes are in better shape: 131,400 and 16,600 are expected back, roughly 55 percent and 86 percent of 2009’s final run tallies.