All posts by Andy Walgamott

The Interim Becomes The Chief

Phil Anderson, who’s served as the interim director at the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife since last December, was chosen yesterday to be its new director.

The 59-year-old longtime Westport man was among six finalists for the position that the Fish & Wildlife Commission looked hard at over this summer before they voted to hire him permanently.

Twin press releases from the Commission and WDFW laud him as “an avid hunter, fisher and birdwatcher.”

Commission members said they sought a director with a strong conservation ethic, sound fiscal-management and leadership skills and expertise in intergovernmental relations.

“We’ve had a healthy discussion on the future of the Department of Fish and Wildlife and we’re confident that together the commission and Phil will set the priorities to guide the department in its vital mission of protecting Washington’s natural resources,” said Miranda Wecker, chair of the citizen commission.

Tony Floor, director of Fishing Affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association and Northwest Salmon Derby Series as well as a retired WDFW staffer, was hopeful for sport fishing.

“I have known Phil for 35 years, by fishing alongside of him on his Westport-based charter boat to countless meetings at WDFW. He is as sharp as a blade and understands the sport fishing industry. It is my hope, through Phil’s experience and knowledge, that we can continue to elevate sport fishing and related seasons to a higher plateau. Easier said than done,” he said.

A press release from the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission today is headlined “Anderson Good Choice to lead WDFW.”

Anderson took over after the resignation of Dr. Jeffrey Koenings late last year, and so far the job has been anything but a cakewalk. The department had its budget slashed severely and had to lay off a large number of employees, neither good for morale. If Gov. Gregoire buys off on it, he will be paid $141,000 a year.

Anderson previously served as assistant director of WDFW’s Intergovernmental Resource Management Program, leading the department’s North of Falcon team which sets annual salmon-fishing seasons for marine waters including Puget Sound and the coast. Anderson also is WDFW’s representative to the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC).

Anderson joined WDFW in 1994 after serving seven years on the PFMC as a private citizen, including duties as PFMC vice chairman and chairman. Anderson began his professional fishery career over 30 years ago as owner and operator of a charter fishing boat business. He attended Grays Harbor College.

I can’t say I have a lot of experience with Anderson, but I’m willing to give the guy a chance, see what comes out of the agency now that we’re past the budget and personnel issues. For starters, he’s almost always returned my phone calls, which can’t be said for some of the brass in the wildlife department. When I’ve seen him in action, such as at North of Falcon or Puget Sound salmon management, he’s stressed working with the tribes, perhaps not a popular tone with some, but that’s what comanagement of the resources is about.

Early online reaction at piscatorial pursuits included this by fishNphysichian:

“Cautiously optimistic that Phil can take the agency to places it has never been.

I think he will be a champion of maximally exploiting selective fisheries to ensure that conservation objectives are met.

All we need is for the tribes to buy in the concept more whole-heartedly.

Without the same conservation objectives, the co-managers are like two unyoked horses pulling a very heavy wagon. Each horse can pull as hard as it wants in the direction it wants, but until they have a mutually agreed upon game plan, that wagon ain’t goin’ nowhere.

BTW… congrats Phil. I had faith in you every step of the way.

Responded Grizz1

The other finalist looked like a shoe in until the tribes put massive pressure on governor Gregoire who in turn put lots of pressure on enough commissioners to turn the vote in Phil’s favor. Those huge tribal contributions to Gregoire created just the political capital the tribes needed to get their good friend Phil into the office. Expect Phil to shed his temporary sheep’s clothing quickly and cave to the tribes. The next NOF series of meetings will be proof of this prediction. Selective fisheries such as those in areas 9 & 10 are already in jeopardy on the tribal drawing board. Politics as usual is in the driver’s seat.

Cabezon Closing Off Oregon

(OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE)

Sport boat anglers may not retain cabezon after Sunday, September 13, 2009. Fishing for other bottomfish – such as most rockfish species, lingcod and greenling – remains open.

Cabezon harvest in Oregon has been limited in recent years by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission because health of the stock is uncertain.

Landing data for the sport fishery indicates that the ocean boat harvest cap of 15.8 metric tons for cabezon has been met.

Sport boat anglers may continue to harvest other legal species, but may not retain cabezon in the saltwater boat sport fishery. Shore anglers, including shore-based divers, may still keep cabezon.

“Cabezon have an excellent survival rate when released,” said Lynn Mattes, assistant project leader for marine recreational groundfish fisheries for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Unlike rockfish, cabezon do not have swim bladders and therefore do not suffer from barotraumas (expansion or rupture of the swim bladder when the fish are brought up from deep waters) that can cause stress, injury, and sometimes death in rockfish.”

WDFW Closing Part Of Puyallup R. 2 Days/Week

(WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is closing the recreational fishery on the lower section of the Puyallup River two days a week through the end of September due to safety concerns.

Recreational salmon fishing on the river will be closed from noon Sundays to noon Tuesdays, Sept. 13-15, Sept. 20-22 and Sept. 27-29 in the portion of the river extending from the 11th Street Bridge in Tacoma to the City of Puyallup Outfall Structure across the river from the junction of Freeman Road and North Levee Road. This section of the river flows through the Puyallup Tribe’s reservation.

Recreational fishing will remain open seven days a week upstream of the closed section. The lower section will reopen seven days a week beginning at noon Sept. 29.

With a strong return of pink salmon this year, hundreds of recreational anglers are fishing the river, which is also open to tribal fishing two days a week, said Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for WDFW.

“Unfortunately, we’ve received reports about gear conflicts and other incidents between the two groups, raising public safety concerns,” Pattillo said. “To reduce the safety risk and ensure that the tribe and the state can conduct an orderly fishery, the department is closing this section of the river.”

Pattillo said WDFW enforcement officers will patrol the river to ensure the sport fishery closure is being observed.

Regulations remain unchanged for other sections of the Puyallup River as described in the 2009-10 Fishing in Washington pamphlet available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm .

Columbia-Snake Steelhead Forecast Upped Again

Managers today updated this year’s forecast for A-run summer steelhead back to the upper Columbia and Snake River systems to nearly twice what they’d thought it would be at the beginning of summer.

“TAC has updated the Group A steelhead run to 565,000 fish, compared to the preseason forecast of 278,900 fish at Bonneville Dam,” a fact sheet from Oregon and Washington managers released this afternoon reads.

However, they say it is too early to say if the big Idaho-bound B-runs will come in larger than forecast. There’s also a suggestion they may come in below.

The A-run’s size is not surprising because during an 11-day period in mid-August, the old daily record of 14,432, set on August 3, 2001, was stomped every single day save for two. And two days saw nearly twice as many: 28,314 and 34,053 on August 12 and 13, respectively.

Since then it’s dropped to average daily counts for this time of year.

Nearly, 518,000 steelhead have gone over Bonneville Dam through September 9.

“The overall summer steelhead run may be close to the record run observed in 2001,” managers say.

“Add in the catch in the Lower Columbia (July saw a record harvest) and we may be in record territory,” adds Joe Hymer of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission.

In 2001, over 600,000 steelhead went over Bonneville.

Oh, No, The Jacks Are At It Again

Remember that whole off-the-chart jack Chinook run this spring on the Columbia?

Not to be outdone, fall’s jack kings are running up the count at Bonneville Dam as well.

“The total jack return is already the second highest since at least 1990,” a fact sheet released by Washington and Oregon salmon managers minutes ago reads. “The cumulative jack count to date is over twice as high as any cumulative jack count to date since at least 1990.”

The counts at Bonneville through September 9 is 67,831.

The ten-year average for August 1 through that same date? Just over 17,150.

“A record daily jack count of 4,293 occurred on September 9,” managers add.

This spring, nearly 82,000 jacks returned, more than three times the previous record.

So what the heck does it mean?

For starters, it means that a lot of Spring Creek fall tules, Bonneville Pool and upriver brights went out as 2-year-olds and found pretty good ocean conditions, says Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission supervisory biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver.

So good that some of those jacks caught in the Lower Columbia in the past month and a half were the size of small adults rather than 3-year-old salmon.

And how about next year? What might this surge of jacks mean for 2010’s URB run?

While high returns of springer jacks have not neccesarily meant strong adult returns the following season in recent years, fall jack returns are more reliable for plugging into jacks vs. adult return prediction models, Hymer says.

Stay tuned.

A Big Bull And 3 Big Kings

Stop sending these killer fish and game pics, folks — they’re TOO distracting as I run up against the deadline for my next edition!! How am I ever gonna get anything done when I’m drooling all over my keyboard??!!

Of course, I’m just kidding about not sending shots — you could win big prizes from Hi-Viz and Lazer Sharp — but, my god, the elk yer killing and kings yer catching are something else!

Take the 7×7 bull that came in late yesterday afternoon.

Let me repeat that, a 7×7 bull.

For a first-time bowhunter.

And let me repeat that part too.

First-time bowhunter.

It wasn’t THAT easy, of course, and there was a chance Ted Spencer would never recover his trophy … Abby Spencer picks up the tale:

“First-time bowhunting on the Oregon Coast, Ted Spencer got a 7×7 elk hunting with his dad, brother and family friend.

“They went out on the second day 8/30/09 after opening day for bow elk season. His brother went up the canyon and Ted stayed down below. His brother called it in and it came charging at Ted. He pulled back his bow and fired an arrow at the elk.  He fired a second arrow and the elk took off.

“Ted, knowing that he shot the elk, went on the hunt for the trail.  They hunted for 9 1/2 hours, losing the trail on and off.

“Sick that they hadn’t found it, defeated they headed back to camp for the night allowing the elk time to bed down.

“The next morning, all four of them went out after the trail again. Within an hour Jack Spencer, Ted’s dad, had found the blood trail and they had found the 7×7.”

The money shot:

TED SPENCER JOINS OREGON'S BIG-COAST-BULL-KILLIN' CLUB IN HIS FIRST SEASON WITH A BULL. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

TED SPENCER JOINS OREGON'S BIG-COAST-BULL-KILLIN' CLUB IN HIS FIRST SEASON WITH A BULL. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

Then there’s the trio of gorgeous — gorgeous — fall Chinook from the Columbia at Rainier, Oregon, a whopping 75 pounds worth of salmon caught on wobblers and homemade spinners by the Olson clan of Thorpe, Washington. They emailed their shots exactly 2 hours and 25 minutes after I got Spencer’s photos. I’ll let the Olsons’ pics speak for themselves.

MADELYNN OLSON, 9, AND HER 25-POUNDER. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

MADELYNN OLSON, 9, AND HER 25-POUNDER. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

BRENDA OLSON'S BRIGHT KING, ANOTHER 25-POUNDER. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

BRENDA OLSON'S BRIGHT KING, ANOTHER 25-POUNDER. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

JOHN OLSON'S KING WENT 25 TOO. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

JOHN OLSON'S KING WENT 25 TOO. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

I ain’t making ANY guarantees, but I’ll tell you what, Ted’s bull pic has caught the eyes of the Photo Contest Judge. The bowman stands to win a $250 gift certificate from Hi-Viz Shooting Systems.

And the Olsons’ fish pics are pretty nice too. Monthly Lazer Sharp winners get a package of premium Lazer Sharp hooks, swivels, bobbers, baits, scents as well as a Lazer Sharp hat, and in the running for our grand prize, a fishing trip for two up north and $770 worth of Wright & McGill gear for the trip!

Judge Says Proceed With Idaho Wolf Hunts

(IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH & GAME PRESS RELEASE)

Late Tuesday, September 8, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of the U.S. District Court in Missoula denied a preliminary injunction that would have returned the wolf to federal endangered species protection.

“We’re pleased that the judge recognized Idaho’s ability to manage wolves in a way that ensures their continued existence,” Idaho Fish and Game Director Cal Groen said. “We intend to demonstrate that the Fish and Game will responsibly manage wolves like the other 10 big game species.”

Idaho will continue to manage wolves according to its approved wolf population management plan.

The injunction was sought by parties to a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains from the endangered species list earlier this year.

“We will now have an opportunity to demonstrate to the court that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to delist complies with the Endangered Species Act,” Deputy Attorney General Clive Strong said.

Idaho’s wolf hunt will continue as planned. It opened in the Lolo and Sawtooth wolf zones Tuesday, September 1. It opens September 15 in the Selway and Middle Fork zones, and October 1 in the rest of the state.

The order is available here: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/wildlife/wolves/.

Tuna-tastic Year Off Oregon

In the early years of this decade, it was a good year if anglers hauled more than 3,000 albacore back to Newport, Depoe Bay, Tillamook and other ports on the Oregon coast. These days they often land several times that many in a week.

And through late August, Beaver State sport fishermen have landed the second most albacore on record, some 37,300 — during what has turned out to be a pretty decent coho year too.

JASON HARRIS SHOWS OFF ONE OF THE ESTIMATED 37,300 ALBACORE LANDED OFF OREGON THIS YEAR THROUGH LATE AUGUST, THE SECONDMOST SINCE 1999. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

JASON HARRIS SHOWS OFF ONE OF THE ESTIMATED 37,300 ALBACORE LANDED OFF OREGON THIS YEAR THROUGH LATE AUGUST, THE SECONDMOST SINCE 1999. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

This late in the season it’s doubtful we will hit the all-time record — 2007’s 58,900 — but it’s proof that Oregon’s sport fleet has adapted quite well to this new offshore fishery.

“It wasn’t that long ago that ago that guys didn’t feel comfortable going more than 10 miles out,” says Eric Schindler, an ODFW ocean catch-sampler in Newport and albacore angler himself.

He says that better boats, GPS systems and more reliable equipment has led to the surge in interest and catch.

“The fleet has changed. They changed to go offshore for Pacific halibut. If anything, going 35 miles out has become no big deal,” Schindler says.

Reliable catch data begins in 1999, when an estimated 1,500 albies were brought back to port, according to Schindler. And while it’s grown pretty much every year since — 2,900 in 2000, 8,600 in 2001 — there have been fallback seasons when warm water stayed well offshore or the weather just wasn’t good enough.

Then again, in early July, tuna weather was poor, keeping anglers off the ocean for awhile — and then the next week, they caught 11,000, ODFW tweeted. That helped make this season’s catch nearly half again as large as the next closest, 2008’s 24,300.

Schindler says 3,600 were landed in 2002, 10,400 in 2003, 17,700 in 2004, 5,000 in 2005 and 11,600 in 2006.

“It’s exciting to see the fishery grow,” he says. “It’s fun.”

Washington’s largest tuna catches occurred in 2007 and 2006. Both saw 25,000 landed at Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay.

Will Oregon’s good albacore fishing continue? Schindler thinks so, pointing out to sea to strong year-classes.

But we couldn’t help ourselves: What, we wanted to know, will be the Next Big Thing off Oregon? Will it be Humboldt squid?

While Schindler hopes this “very voracious predator” doesn’t keep coming north from Baja and California, he doubts they will ever be anything more than “one of those off-the-wall fisheries, things guys do from time to time.”

“We get guys talking about swordfish, salmon shark and thresher shark,” he adds. “Swordfish are further out than albacore. Bluefin tuna might be it. There’s not a lot caught, but the numbers are going up. We’ve got people talking about how to do it. They’re supposedly a better fighter, a better sushi-grade fish, it’s something different.”