Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Governor’s Budget Proposal Includes ‘Unprecedented’ $1.1B For Orcas, Salmon

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is touting an “unprecedented investment” of $1.1 billion to recover orcas and their key feedstock — Chinook — in his just-released 2019-21 budget proposal.

A PUGET SOUND ADULT CHINOOK SALMON SWIMS THROUGH THE BALLARD LOCKS. (NMFS)

It includes $12 million for WDFW to maximize hatchery production to rear and release an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts to increase returns by 186,000 fish, potentially a key bridge for starving orcas — and fishermen — as habitat work comes on line in the coming years and decades.

“Salmon hatcheries can play an important role in increasing prey abundance for Southern Resident orcas in the near term,” the next three to 10 years, a statement from Inslee’s office on Medium states.

Besides increasing SRKWs’ prey base, the governor’s multipronged approach includes a whopping $205 million boost for DOT to improve fish passage beneath state roads, opening up more salmon habitat as well as to abide by this year’s Supreme Court decision to let a lower court’s ruling on fixing culverts to stand.

There’s a much-needed $75.7 million to improve the state’s hatcheries, $17.8 million to incentivize voluntary habitat work by landowners and $4.7 million to “collect additional population information and develop management options for pinnipeds in Puget Sound and to increase management actions in the Columbia River.”

This week, Congress sent President Trump a bill that helps on the latter waterway, giving states and tribes more leeway to remove sea lions in parts of the big river and its tribs.

Another line mentions reducing salmonid predation by nonnative fish.

The budget also calls on DOE to allow more spill at dams in the Columbia Basin to aid outmigrating Chinook and other smolts.

“Increased spill will speed travel of smolts out to the ocean and help cool the water,” the governor’s Medium page story states.

Inslee’s also calling for go-slow zones around J, K and L Pods and a three-year moratorium on watching those particular whales.

Those and many of the other proposals unveiled today came out of the SRKW Task Force that the governor formed last March in response to decreasing numbers of southern residents. Since 1996’s high point, their population has dropped 24 percent to 74 animals, with several recent high-profile deaths spurring things on.

Of course there’s far, far more to Inslee’s proposed budget, including proposed fishing and hunting license fee increases.

And it all must first be passed or modified by state lawmakers during next year’s session.

But today’s rollout was a start to a better focus on the health of salmon runs, orcas and our fisheries and waters.

U.S. House Passes Senate’s Sea Lion Bill; Next Stop: White House

The U.S. House today passed the Senate’s Columbia sea lion bill and it now heads to President Trump’s desk for his signature, according to Northwest lawmakers.

A SEA LION LOAFS ON AN ASTORIA DOCK. (BENJAMIN STANDFORD, NOAA-FISHERIES)

The bipartisan Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, which gives states and tribes more leeway to manage the predatory pinnipeds feasting on ESA-listed Chinook and steelhead as well as other stocks in the river and its tributaries, was approved by unanimous consent, just as it was in the upper chamber last week.

“I suspect many would wish the times were different and this legislation wasn’t necessary,” said Jaime Pinkham, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “But the reality is that this legislation has become necessary. Tribal and state fisheries co-managers collaborated to explore and implement alternatives for over a decade and the imbalance shifted the greatest risks to the salmon and steelhead, and we remember how the story ended at Ballard Locks. I’m grateful Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to give us the local flexibility to protect the tribal treaty resources we share with others in the Columbia and Willamette rivers.”

S.3119, as the bill is known, was cosponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID).

“Today’s passage of our bill to control sea lions was a hard-fought victory – it’s a personal victory for each of us who treasure our Northwest salmon runs and want to see them preserved for generations to come,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-3) in a joint press release with Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-5). “I’m grateful for the partnership of my colleague Kurt Schrader, and for Senators Risch and Cantwell for shepherding this through the Senate. I’m so pleased we are able to give Northwest fish managers this critical tool to help save our salmon and steelhead runs.”

Herrera Beutler, a Republican, and Schrader, a Democrat, represent communities on either side of the Lower Columbia.

Schrader said it was a problem he’d worked on since first coming to Congress.

“Ratepayers and my constituents are paying hundreds of millions of dollars annually towards the largest mitigation program in the country for threatened and endangered salmon. These sea lions, whose population has become totally inconsistent with their historic range, have been undoing all of that work by feasting on the endangered species. Our legislation will provide a great step forward in eliminating this threat to our iconic Oregon salmon that are struggling to survive once and for all,” he said in a press release.

In another quickly issued press release, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Yakima Valley) applauded the “bipartisan effort to improve management of pinnipeds threatening salmon” in both chambers of Congress.

“We really appreciate our state’s Congressional delegation’s leadership and support to pass this legislation,” added Nate Pamplin, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s policy director. “The sea lion population in the Lower Columbia River has increased dramatically in recent years, presenting a greater threat to wild salmon and steelhead runs than ever before.”

He said the bill, which had widespread support not just in the aisles of Congress but among stakeholders, would “provide us and co-managers with the tools needed to protect these vulnerable fish populations.”

Rodmaker Gary Loomis of Coastal Conservation Association said “CCA was proud to be part of this coalition effort and is thankful of the years of efforts by our members in support of this legislation.”

The news actually came as state salmon managers and sportfishing industry officials were meeting in Clackamas to review the 2019 Columbia spring Chinook forecast, which is roughly just one-half of the 10-year average.

That is due in part to very poor ocean conditions in recent years, but in 2014, the loss of 40 percent of the year’s first Columbia salmon run — an estimated 104,333 fish — was attributed to sea lion predation.

So when the bill came before federal lawmakers in Washington DC this afternoon, NSIA’s Liz Hamilton says that ODFW staffers paused the run forecast meeting to watch on the big screen.

“Applause all around,” she said of the room’s reaction to the House’s move, “combined with optimism for the future of Willamette wild winter steelhead and hope for other stocks deeply impacted by pinniped predation, including sturgeon.”

Earlier this fall federal overseers granted ODFW a permit to remove up to 93 sea lions around Willamette Falls after state officials estimated that there was a 90 percent chance one of the Oregon trib’s steelhead runs would go extinct if nothing was done.

The states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho have had federal permission to remove specific animals gathered at Bonneville Dam since March 2008.

This bill, which amends the Marine Mammal Protection Act for five years, extends that authority to the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs Tribes and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

It allows for the lethal removal of sea lions in the Columbia from the dam down to River Mile 112 and upstream to McNary Dam, as well as in the river’s tributaries with ESA-listed salmonids.

Columbia Sea Lion Bill Passed By US Senate

The U.S. Senate has passed a key bill that would make it easier for state and tribal managers to protect ESA-listed salmon and steelhead in the Lower Columbia from California sea lions.

AN AERIAL IMAGE FROM SHOWS CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS FEEDING IN THE LOWER COLUMBIA. (STEVE JEFFRIES, WDFW, VIA NWFSC)

“What a day!” said an almost-speechless Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association this afternoon. “Maybe we’ll be able to stave off some extinctions.”

S.3119, known as the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Act, does need to be reconciled with a nearly identical version that was passed by the US House and be signed into law before the end of the year by President Trump, but it’s good news for fish and fishermen who’ve watched helplessly as sea lions have chowed down on Chinook, coho, steelhead and other stocks.

It amends the Marine Mammal Protection Act for five years to allow for the lethal removal of California sea lions in the Columbia downstream of Bonneville Dam and upstream to McNary Dam,  as well as in the river’s tributaries with ESA-listed salmonids.

“It’s such an important piece of legislation,” said Hamilton. “So little gets done, especially for fish.”

A Northwest Power and Conservation Council report from late last month said that NOAA researchers found sea lions ate from 11 to 43 percent of spring Chinook that entered the Columbia annually since 2010, with 2014’s run hit particularly hard — an estimated  104,333 ESA-listed Upper Columbia springers “were lost between Astoria and the dam to the unexplained mortality, which the chief researcher, Dr. Michelle Wargo-Rub, said can be attributed to sea lions.”

The states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho have had federal permission to remove specific animals gathered at Bonneville Dam since March 2008. This bill extends that authority to the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs Tribes and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Today’s move also follows on federal fishery overseers’ recent move to allow ODFW to remove sea lions at Willamette Falls, where if nothing had been done, the state estimated that at least one run of wild winter steelhead had a 90 percent chance of going extinct.

Earlier this year, NMFS found that California sea lions had reached their habitat’s carrying capacity. Almost all if not all that visit the Northwest to snack on salmonids are males.

Hamilton credited a “a coalition like no other” for the heavy lift.

In Congress, that came from a bipartisan group of Northwest lawmakers — Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID) to get the bill through the upper chamber after Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-3) and Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-5) sponsored one in the House.

“We greatly appreciate the bipartisan efforts of Senators Cantwell and Risch to secure Senate passage of this critical legislation,” said Gary Loomis, founder of G-Loomis, Edge Rods, and Coastal Conservation Association in the Pacific Northwest, in a press release. “Current law is failing wild and endangered Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead populations, some of which face an imminent risk of extinction if nothing is done to address the unnatural levels of sea lion predation and restore balance to this unique Ecosystem. Every member of the U.S. House of Representatives – Republican and Democrat – from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho voted for similar legislation this summer and the six U.S. Senators from these states came together to pass this critical legislation to protect our salmon.”

According to CCA’s Tyler Comeau, the bill was passed by “unanimous consent,” expediting its passage through the Senate for lack of objections. He said his organization believes it will become law.

Even as Hamilton shed “tears of joy,” she was quick to point out the efforts of staffers at state fish and wildlife agencies — Meagan West at WDFW and Dr. Shaun Clements at ODFW.

“It was the scientists, Dr. Shaun Clements, that kept the conservation front and center,” said Hamilton.

We have reached out to WDFW and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission for comment and will fold those in when they arrive, but for his part, Clements said ODFW was “very relieved to have achieved this major milestone thanks to the support of the Northwest Senate delegation.”

“Passing this legislation to amend the MMPA is critical to ensuring we don’t have another repeat of Ballard Locks, which saw the extirpation of a wild steelhead run as a result of predation by a  handful of sea lions,” Clements said, in reference to Herschel et al’s 1980s’ feeding frenzy on Lake Washington watershed-bound winter-runs.

“Removing sea lions is not something we take lightly,” he added, “but it is unfortunately necessary as we are seeing some salmon, steelhead, and potentially sturgeon populations in the Columbia being pushed to the point of no return. We very much appreciate the efforts of the entire delegation, and particularly Senators Risch and Cantwell for recognizing the urgency and passing a bill that will allow both fish and sea lions to thrive.”

Hamilton also noted the importance of the diversity of the conservation community that came together, members such as the Wild Salmon Center.

“I’m convinced it made a lot of difference,” she said.

Sea lions aren’t nearly the only problem impacting returns of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead, Hamilton acknowledged, but this is good news for the fish that live in or return to the region’s most important river.

But there’s also work to be done elsewhere in the region. WDFW staffers are expected to brief the Fish and Wildlife Commission late next week on the impact sea lions as well as harbor seals are having in other Washington waters. Frustrations are boiling over and Puget Sound where more than 10 sea lions have been illegally shot and killed this fall.

Good Luck Getting Fish Extremists To Reconsider, Idaho — Been There, Done That

An editorial in today’s Lewiston Tribune asking organizations that are forcing Idaho to close steelheading as of this Saturday to have their lawyers “stand down” for the good of the fish and fish advocacy never stood a chance.

Two of the groups are now threatening federal overseers with a lawsuit over a permit they are working on to allow the state to reopen fishing by sometime later this winter.

IDAHO ANGLERS ARE PLANNING A PARADE OF BOATS FROM THE PORT OF LEWISTON, NEAR WHERE THIS PICTURE WAS TAKEN ON THE LOWER CLEARWATER, TO THE SOUTHWAY BOAT RAMP THIS WEEKEND TO PROTEST THE CLOSURE OF THIS WINTER’S STEELHEAD SEASON DUE TO A THREATENED LAWSUIT OVER A MISSING FEDERAL PERMIT. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

They are the Wild Fish Conservancy and The Conservation Angler, outfits that have run this exact same scorched-earth jihad elsewhere in the Northwest in the recent past.

Once again they’ve plucked low-hanging fruit — a missing authorization from the feds who have had since 2010 to approve it but are also busy on other items what with all these ESA listings, biops, pinnipeds, hatcheries, etc., etc. etc. — and are using it to derail a fishery.

It’s the same basic play they used in Washington over WDFW’s Puget Sound hatchery winter steelhead permit.

Before they filed that 2014 lawsuit in federal court, I wrote a blog that was not unlike the one offered up by the Tribune‘s editor,

I’ll quote Marty’s thoughtful piece at some length here:

In a binary world, it doesn’t matter that Idaho was a victim of federal inaction. The state had no permit. So when [Idaho Rivers United] and some of its fellow conservation groups threatened to sue, Idaho Fish and Game folded; declaring the season closed as of Dec. 8.

All of which has the result of forcing Riggins and other fishing communities to accept 100 percent of the sacrifice for what will be at best a negligible gain in fish survival.

Longterm, however, nobody wins — certainly not the fish.

Fishing communities such as Riggins, Salmon or Orofino bring a genuine Idaho message to the fish debate.

Many Idahoans live in one-horse economies. Moscow wouldn’t be much without the University of Idaho. Lewiston would be decimated by loss of its sawmill and paper plant. You wouldn’t recognize Idaho Falls without the Idaho National Laboratory.

They see themselves in the plight of Riggins outfitters and guides, hotel operators and restaurant owners whose businesses disappear without a fishing season.

Fishing communities also can deliver an economic counter-argument to those who say preserving the lower Snake River dams is more important.

If someone is not a fish advocate before he goes fishing in Riggins, he will undergo a conversion to the cause before leaving.

It was a hail Mary for reason, but teaming up with anglers and communities is not these groups’ style whatsoever.

While one of the original six organizations that threatened Idaho with a lawsuit if it didn’t stop the steelhead season by Dec. 8 did pull out, saying its goal of spurring NMFS to action on the permit had been accomplished, for WFC and TCA this isn’t about a critically low run or protecting wild steelhead.

This is about trying to impose their world vision on all of us.

Perhaps they even think it’s funny, their threat, like shooting fish in a barrel and a barrel full of laughs all at once.

They can be assured we will point fingers the whole way around, and for added laughs they trolled everybody with a proposed deal that appeared to favor one group of anglers – in this case, boat and bait bans and gear restrictions they asked IDFG to accept to not sue.

Any fly guys who got their tires slashed on the Clearwater since mid-November should send the bill to WFC et al.

In pissing off real fish advocates, they aren’t doing anybody any favors, or the fish, or the process.

Some news reports paint them as conservation organizations, but their repeated lawsuits show them for what they truly are: overly litigious asshats who enjoy burning bridges.

That’s not how real conservation works.

These days the fish, the wildlife, the habitat – it all needs bridges, connection, physically and metaphorically.

There is no more dangerous threat to the conservation of our salmon and steelhead than them and their extremist tactics that are ultimately about themselves, not the fish or the greater community.

If there’s some good in this, it’s that Idaho steelheaders and communities that depend on the fishery are now banding together to fight.

The Tribune‘s Eric Barker reports they’ve formed the Idaho River Community Alliance and two protests are going to be held this weekend.

The first will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Riggins City Park.

The second will include a parade of trailered boats from the Port of Lewiston at 11 a.m. Sunday morning to the Southway Boat Ramp, where the protest will be.

I’m 400 miles away, but will be there in spirit.

WDFW Director Looks For Public Budget Support, Assures Sportsmen He’s ‘Adding To, Not Changing Our Base’

WDFW’s new director Kelly Susewind fielded more than three dozen questions about salmon, hatcheries, sea lions, orcas, wolves, increasing fishing and hunting opportunities, and more during an hour-and-a-half-long webinar last night.

The “digital open house” provided a glimpse into Susewind’s priorities and goals as the head of the agency overseeing fish and wildlife management in the state, how he hopes to patch glaring budget holes, and lead WDFW into the future.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND (LEFT) TOOK QUESTIONS DURING A ONE-HOUR, 37-MINUTE WEBINAR ON THE AGENCY AND ITS FUTURE. MOST WERE SUBMITTED BY THE PUBLIC AND READ BY AGENCY POLICY DIRECTOR NATE PAMPLIN. (WDFW)

And in seeking to get the wider public on board with his agency’s mission, he assured its most loyal customers they weren’t being abandoned for greener pastures.

With a $67 million budget boost proposed this coming legislative session — 75 percent from the General Fund, 25 percent from a license fee hike — it was part of an outreach effort to build across-the-board support for the agency’s myriad and sometimes seemingly at-odds objectives.

Susewind himself has already hosted five open houses in Spokane, Ephrata, Selah, Montesano and Ridgefield, with a sixth scheduled for Issaquah next month, but Wednesday’s webinar allowed him to take the message statewide and beyond.

“We need to become known, trusted and valued by 6 million people,” he said, speaking to the number of Washington residents who are not already intimately or closely familiar with WDFW, people who aren’t sportsmen, hikers, bikers or other recreationalists.

“I pause there for a second,” he added, “because as I’ve told people that that’s where I really want to head, some of our traditional users have expressed concern and are fearful that I’m stepping away from our traditional core users — the outdoor enthusiasts, the hunters, fishers — and that’s not the case at all. I want to reassure folks that I’m talking about adding to our base, not changing our base.”

Joining him was WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin who read off questions as they came in.

Most did sound like they were coming from the agency’s regular customers — hunters, anglers, commercial fishermen — or those who watch its moves very closely, and in general they followed the hot-button issues of the day.

Many grouped around salmon — producing more of them for fishing and orcas; dealing with sea lions eating too many; improving wild runs; gillnets; North of Falcon transparency.

With the lack of Chinook identified as a key reason southern resident killer whales are starving in Washington waters, several questions focused around what can be done to increase fish numbers, which would also benefit angling.

Susewind said that a new hatchery is being mulled for the Deschutes system near Olympia, with production boosts elsewhere.

“I don’t think we can recover salmon or maintain salmon over the long term without intelligent use of hatcheries, and I think that means higher production levels than we are at now,” he said.

Tens of millions more used to be released in Puget Sound — 55 million by the state in 1989 alone — and elsewhere in the past, but those have tailed off as Endangered Species Act listings and hatchery reforms came into play to try and recover wild returns.

As he’s quickly added in the past, Susewind said that doesn’t mean going back to the Johnny Appleseed days of indiscriminately releasing them everywhere.

Early next month the state Fish and Wildlife Commission will be briefed on “what is possible towards a time frame of implementing the increase of approximately 50 million additional smolts at hatchery facilities.”

Boosting production will require a “substantial investment,” Pamplin noted, adding that the 2019 budget request into Governor Jay Inslee includes a “pretty assertive ask” towards that.

And it would also come with a responsibility to not damage wild returns.

(WDFW)

Responding to “somewhat of a loaded question” about his thoughts on getting nonselective gillnets out of the water, Susewind said, “I’ll get out on a limb here: I think there’s a place for gillnets. Right now, as we increase production to feed killer whales, as we increase production to provide opportunities, we need a good way of making sure those fish don’t end up on the spawning grounds, and gillnets are one of the ways to manage that.”

Asked if using a stenographer to increase transparency during the state-tribal North of Falcon salmon season meetings was possible, Susewind said all kinds of ideas — Facebook feed, better social media presence — are being considered.

“We recognize it’s not a satisfying process in terms of transparency,” he said.

In supporting being able to manage federally protected pinnipeds on both the Columbia and Puget Sound, Susewind said that data is showing that there’s a real problem in that the millions of dollars being spent on salmon recovery are essentially being spent on feeding sea lions.

He talked about some of the other problems the agency has, saying that it needed to improve its communications with the public, and with a personal aside he acknowledged how hard it is to decipher the regulations pamphlets.

While pointing out the complexity of the regs is actually a function of WDFW trying to eke as much opportunity as possible out of what’s available, Susewind said he was befuddled when he picked up the fishing rules for the first time in a long time.

“I found it was too difficult to go through to quickly go out fishing. You have to want to go and do it in advance, and I think we can improve on it,” he said.

Earlier this year WDFW did roll out a mobile app and it sounds like more may be coming.

Asked how he planned to increase hunting and fishing opportunities to keep the sports viable, Susewind emphasized the importance of habitat. As for better access, he called the Farm Bill a “great onramp,” with provisions especially helpful in Eastern Washington, and pointed to a key recent deal with Green Diamond that led to a drift boat put-in on the upper Wynoochee.

Asked why, if killing wolves leads to more livestock depredations, WDFW lethally removes pack members, Susewind said that in his on-the-job research he’s found that the science wasn’t as clear as that, actually.

He said that pragmatically it does reduce short-term depredations and felt that it changes pack behavior in the long run.

In response to another question on the wild canids, he said that WDFW was going to recover wolves in Washington using the 2011 management plan and in a way that was compatible with traditional land uses.

A couple ideas from the online audience perked up Susewind’s and Pamplin’s ears for further investigation — an annual halibut limit instead of set fishing days, a family hunting license package.

Questions so specific as to stump both honchoes — what’s being done to improve fish habitat on the Snoqualmie River, for example —  saw them advise that those be emailed in so they could be routed to the right field staffer or — as with the above case — the member attend the upcoming meeting at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery so biologist Jenni Whitney could answer it.

Asked if one day Washington hunters might be able to hunt cougars with hounds, which was outlawed by a citizen initiative, Susewind essentially said he doubted it, but noted that the state House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will be holding a work session on the wild cats next week.

He fielded questions on increasing youth involvement; where to find information on preventing bear and wolf conflicts; global warming; what’s being done to prevent whale watching boats from pursuing orcas; if recreational crabbing could begin at the same time tribal seasons did; his thoughts on hoof disease in elk and fish farming; and his favorite places to fish and hunt (the Humptulips and Westport growing up, and brushy, wet Western Washington, though “there’s something to be said about the Methow too.”)

PAMPLIN POSES A QUESTION TO SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

Pamplin took an opportunity to pitch a softball, asking a “myth busting” question whether license fees go to WDFW or the General Fund.

“It is a myth that hunting and fishing license fees go into the General Fund to build whatever –roads … They are specific to the agency and specific to hunting and fishing opportunities,” Susewind replied.

Part of the agency’s 2019 budget request is a 15 percent increase on licenses.

Susewind explained that the Great Recession of 10 years ago led to big cuts from the General Fund and that WDFW’s “heavy reliance” on user fees hasn’t kept pace with rising costs.

“We need to get a dedicated fund,” he said.

But in the meanwhile, WDFW needs more from the General Fund, Susewind added.

As the webinar wound to a close, one of the final questions — perhaps from a late-arriving member of the public — was, what were his top priorities as director.

With not even four months on the job, and the legislative session, budget and North of Falcon looming, just getting up to speed on everything was Susewind’s first reply.

But he said his single top priority was to “make us more relevant to the broader population.”

“We need to get a lot more people enthused and engaged and supporting the mission of the agency,” Susewind said. “The other 6 million people need to know that natural resources don’t just come naturally; it takes a lot of work to preserve and enhance natural resources, and that’s going to take all of us.”

Even as Washington sportsmen will step up and buy licenses next year, and the year after, and the one after that — grudgingly and otherwise, regardless of whether a fee hike passes — Susewind said another of his priorities is for the public to see that WDFW is managed well.

“They need to know we are efficient in how we operate and we are a good investment,” he said.

Susewind and crew have a big job ahead of them that will require more than a half-dozen open houses and the internet, but it’s a start.

Offshore Survey Finds Improved Young Coho, King Numbers

A federal fisheries biologist is sharing his guarded assessment of 2018’s annual spring survey of young salmon off the Northwest Coast, one that offers a glimmer of hope for future Columbia River runs but also comes as the Pacific continues to give off mixed signals.

A SPRING SURVEY OFF THE NORTHWEST COAST FOUND GOOD NUMBERS OF YOUNG COHO REARING IN THE OCEAN. (NWFSC)

“Our catches make me optimistic, but based on some of the other data we have, I’m only cautiously optimistic,” says Brian Burke, a research supervisor at the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Seattle office in Montlake.

He says samplers found average to just slightly below average numbers of Chinook offshore, which is actually better than it sounds.

“A big improvement from last year,” Burke terms it, pointing to 2017 which saw some of the lowest numbers of young Columbia kings on record.

Juvenile coho numbers were also very low last year, but more were found offshore this spring.

“A large number of coho — much more than average,” reports Burke.

It all might be good news for 2019 and 2020 fisheries, but you can also look at federal and state data for correlations between June yearling catches and subsequent adult returns and find just about anything you want to.

Last year the feds did warn that 2017’s survey could mean poor returns this year continuing into 2019.

The official salmon forecasts and trends for Columbia spring, summer and fall Chinook, coho and sockeye will begin to come out early next month.

Sportfishing industry members huddling with state managers Dec. 11 at ODFW’s Clackamas office to get the scoop will be hoping for good news after this season saw reduced angling opportunities and large-scale closures of the big river.

While ocean productivity does appear to have improved somewhat for salmon relative to 2014 through 2017, it’s not clear whether things are back to “normal,” per se, from the Blob.

“When we see things like pyrosomes and pompano that were never really caught prior to 2014, we know the system has not completely reset from the impacts of the Blob,” Burke says, and cautions, “We are also seeing a potential new blob this year – obviously, the impacts of that are not known.”

There’s much more to the ecosystem than just salmon, of course, and down near the base of the Northwest’s offshore food chain, “friendly faces” — northern coldwater copepods — returned this spring.

They were entirely absent in 2015 and 2016 and might have led to the former year’s emaciated salmon smolts, while their 2017 arrival came very late in the season, according to a report on NMFS’s Newportal blog.

“Whether the improvements we’ve seen in 2018 relative to the prior three years are a trend or just noise, it’s hard to tell,” Burke says. “Results from 2019 sampling should help clarify whether the Blob years were an anomaly or part of the new normal.”

Here’s hoping they were an anomaly and Blob Jr. doesn’t take after its father.

Sport Fishing Reaction To Final Orca Recommendations Sent To Gov

Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force has transmitted its recommendations for how to help out the state’s struggling orcas to Governor Inslee, and members of the sportfishing community are reacting to the final package.

WASHINGTON GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE SPEAKS BEFORE SIGNING AN EXECUTIVE ORDER ON ORCAS AND CHINOOK EARLIER THIS YEAR. THE ORDER CREATED THE SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALE TASK FORCE THAT TODAY DELIVERED ITS FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS. (TVW)

An executive summary says the 148-page report provides an outline for meeting four key goals:

  • Increasing the abundance of Chinook, the key forage for the starving whales;
  • Decreasing disturbance from vessels with the affect of boosting their access to salmon;
  • Reducing contaminants in the environment;
  • And measures of accountability.

A PUGET SOUND ADULT CHINOOK SALMON SWIMS THROUGH THE BALLARD LOCKS. (NMFS)

It aims to increase the population of J, K and L Pods by 10 in 10 years, reversing the decrease seen since 1996. There are now only 74 orcas after this year saw the high-profile deaths of a just-born calf and a young animal as well as a third.

“I will review these recommendations over the coming weeks, and my staff and I will assess each one for the most impact in the short and long-term. I will roll out my budget and policy priorities in mid-December for consideration during the 2019 Legislative Session,” Gov. Inslee tweeted.

Ron Garner of Puget Sound Anglers, George Harris of the Northwest Marine Trade Association and Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charters were among the dozens of task force members who signed on as supporting the entire package, while a whale watching world representative was the only no vote. Six others abstained.

Front and center, Goal 1 is to boost the numbers of Chinook that orcas depend on most.

That would be done through a mix of habitat restoration and acquisition projects, enforcing current laws that protect fish habitat, incentivizing private work that benefits salmon, and “significantly” boosting hatchery production.

With Puget Sound kings listed under the Endangered Species Act, that will have to be done carefully, but already the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is talking about how and where it might be possible to ramp things up for SRKWs.

“We did get the recommendation from the WDFW commission of 50 million Chinook into the recommendation to the Governor,” said PSA’s Garner.

It would take money and time were that to be implemented, but could potentially come online far faster than other parts of the goal.

A story out this week spotlighted the highly important but excruciatingly slow pace of salmon habitat work — 90 years to recover what plans call for for full estuary restoration.

“Production needs to be ramped up immediately, and follow the recovery/ESA sidebars in the recommendations,”
said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who is a member of the task force’s Prey Working Group.

However, she expressed concern about “organizations who will file lawsuits to fight increased production no matter how thoughtfully done and no matter how dire the need.”

Admittedly, anglers would also see “shirt tail” benefits of more Chinook, to hazard a guess primarily in South and Deep South Sound and terminal zones, which are well past whale feeding zones.

There had been calls to “completely stop salmon fishing” to make more prey available for orcas, but ultimately that wasn’t the direction of the task force.

“We were successful in getting the target off of our backs blaming fishing,” said Garner. “At one point we brought out the 87-page NOAA study that said if we stopped all fishing on the West Coast — California to Alaska — salmon would not recover.”

A GRAPH FROM THE TASK FORCE’S RECOMMENDATIONS SHOWS THE DECLINE IN CHINOOK AND COHO HARVEST IN WASHINGTON SALT- AND FRESHWATERS BY RECREATIONAL, TRIBAL AND COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN. (SRKWTF)

He said that he and others were able to convince the task force that reductions in salmon production due to ESA listings, Hatchery Scientific Review Group recommendations and the funding cuts that have particularly affected state facilities “put the entire system into shock.”

“The orcas, coastal communities, tribal communities, tackle retailers, fishing shops, boat shops, and everything that relies on salmon crashed. Our habitat is in terrible shape and we’re losing it faster than it’s being rebuilt,” he said.

Even if the larger target is off of the backs of fishermen as a whole, Hamilton remains vigilant about some possible closures she’s heard of that would only apply to sportfishing and wouldn’t help feed orcas.

As for those “cute little water puppies” stealing dinner from SRKWs, the plan includes a recommendation titled “Predation of Chinook: Decrease the number of adult and juvenile Chinook lost to predation by species other than Southern Residents.”

That begins with figuring out the impact of harbor seals and sea lions, which leaves a lot to be desired, but the task force does urge the legislature to fund that work by WDFW and the tribes.

It also requests that state fishery managers drop limits on popular walleye, bass, catfish and other nonnative species that are known to chow on Chinook smolts.

It doesn’t go as far as reader Larry Moller wants — herring hatcheries — but it does call for more work to be done to assess all the forage fish species so important to Chinook.

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS EARLIER THIS MONTH. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

As far as vessel disturbance, instead of no-go zones it calls for lawmakers to create go-slow bubbles around J, K and L Pods.

Garner termed warding off area closures a win, but also acknowledged that others in the boating world will be hurt by another recommendation:

An all-fleet, three- to five-year moratorium on watching the three groups of orcas.

“WDFW said they could have a boat around them to ward off everyone while they are in our waters,” said Garner. “I think this hurt the whale watchers. They said the locals SRKWs are only here 20 percent of the time. There was never any intent to do damage to the whale watching industry.”

It’s important to note that the moratorium would NOT affect watching transient orcas, grays or humpbacks.

The plan’s recommendations also call for creating a new $10 orca endorsement for boaters, but it takes more of a strong nudge approach in terms of asking anglers and others to turn off their fish- and depthfinders when orcas are within about a half-mile’s distance.

And as for one of the most controversial elements, Snake River dams, it recommends a stakeholder process to talk about their removal with help from a third-party neutral.

Speaking of dams, NSIA’s Hamilton continues to call for more spill down the mainstem Columbia, saying that upping it over current levels to help smolts downriver is modeled to yield real results in returning adult spring Chinook.

“Columbia River springers are a critical food source to orcas during winter when there is little else to nourish pregnant and migrating orcas. Tags show they do circles off the mouth of the Columbia River during March,” she says.

A N.M.F.S STORY MAP SHOWS AN ORCA KNOWN AS K25 ALL BUT SWIMMING LAPS AROUND THE C.R. BUOY AS THE 2013 RUN OF SPRING CHINOOK ENTERED THE COLUMBIA RIVER. PRIOR TO THE ARRIVAL OF THE SALMON THAT YEAR, THE WHALE PATROLLED UP AND DOWN THE WEST COAST. (NMFS)

But she worries that the state is moving “too slow” on that key action and might even go “backward” next year.

“The first items were of immediate actions. If we are to have salmon and orca in our future, the long-term actions are critical,” says Hamilton. “We must enforce existing laws, we must protect and restore salmon habitats, and the science also says we should look at the effects of dams, especially the four lower Snake River dams.”

Even as the task force handled that issue with kid gloves, it urged the legislature to fund the dismantling of two other dams, one on the Pilchuck that has been attracting a lot of coverage of late, and another in the Nooksack watershed.

Besides Garner, Harris and Smith, the list of other task force members in the fishing world who consented to the final package include:

Amy Windrope of WDFW; BJ Kiefer of the Spokane Tribe; Brad Smith of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission; commercial fisherman Brendan Flynn; Chad Bowechop of the Makah Tribe; Jacques White of Long Live the Kings; Lynne Barre of the National Marine Fisheries Service; Paul McCollum of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe; Rep. Brian Blake of the state House of Representatives; and Terry Williams of the Tulalip Tribes.

Those who abstained included representatives from the Washington Farm Bureau, Washington Forest Protection Association and Association of Washington Businesses, and the Lummi, Squaxin Island and Skokomish Tribes.

The report also includes next steps, identifies which agency is tasked with dealing with what recommendations, minority reports from task force members about ideas they don’t support, and a rundown on public comments.

Now it is up to the governor and the legislature to put some teeth in the recommendations.

State, Tribal Fall FDR Pike Survey Turns Up More Bad News, But Slivers Of Good

More details are coming out about last week’s large-scale joint state-tribal survey on Lake Roosevelt, one that alarmingly turned up a 6-pound pike just 10 miles from Grand Coulee Dam and a 27.5-pound northern in the upper Spokane Arm, but may have also reduced bycatch over last fall’s effort.

Fishery managers say that it’s all about figuring out the best way to suppress pike populations to keep them from chewing up the reservoir’s more popular game fish species.

Asked about angler concerns over nontarget species also being netted, WDFW’s Chuck Lee defends, “If it doesn’t get done, those (hatchery trout) aren’t going to be around either.”

A WDFW NET SET ON UPPER LAKE ROOSEVELT CAPTURED A 31-INCH, 10-POUND NORTHERN PIKE THAT HAD EATEN A 16-INCH RAINBOW TROUT. (WDFW)

A 31-inch, 10-pound pike caught in one of the agency’s 50 net sets had a 16-inch rainbow in its stomach.

The other primary worry with pike is that the invasive nonnative species will get into the anadromous zone below Chief Joseph, the next dam below Grand Coulee, with its ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks.

“Adult sockeye aren’t too much bigger than that rainbow trout,” Lee points out.

Roosevelt also hosts white sturgeon, kokanee, burbot, lake whitefish — one that was 2 pounds heavier than the state record was sampled last week — walleye, smallmouth bass and yellow perch.

This is the second fall survey in a row and WDFW took the upper portion of Roosevelt while the Spokane Tribe worked the Spokane Arm and midsection with 50 net sets and the Colville Tribes hit from the dam to Hawk Creek with yet another 50.

If there’s good news, it’s that the Colvilles caught only that one pike in their 37-mile lower reservoir stretch.

“As alarming as it was, we’re glad it was only one fish,” Lee says.

But more and more are turning up midlake, he adds.

Overall, 152 were caught, with 112 by WDFW in their area of responsibility.

Lee notes that for this survey adjustments were made in where the agency set its nets.

“We figured we could eliminate 40 percent of the bycatch by moving them shallower,” he says.

Some deeper sets last year also came up empty.

Figures were still being crunched but Lee says less than 20 fish were caught per state soak.

The comanagers’ overall goal is to figure out how they can get the best bang for their buck with the effort.

“What we’re really trying to find out is, What’s the best way to monitor northern pike and measure suppression efforts — which is the best season for doing suppression?” Lee says.

While spring and the spawn is a good time, the weather is often poor and the reservoir is drawn down. But fall’s stable conditions may be more ideal.

Either season is good if you’re a species that managers and anglers want to save, thanks to cold to cooling water temperatures that make it more likely released fish will survive.

Lake whitefish and nets, however, aren’t a good combination, which most being killed.

A spring 2017 survey saw survival rates of 45 percent for walleye, 37 percent for hatchery rainbows, and greater than 50 percent overall for other species.

“We want to learn from suppression efforts to do it better,” Lee says, adding that funding is a bit of a problem.

Money has been coming from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

As for other results from this fall’s survey, that ginormous 27.5-pound pike caught by the Spokane Tribe was a relatively rare specimen as tribal suppression efforts — both netting and $10 rewards for fish heads — appear to be resulting in younger and younger pike, the number one goal, according to Lee.

SPOKANE TRIBE BIOLOGISTS, WHO CAUGHT THIS NEARLY 4-FOOT-LONG PIKE IN THE SPOKANE ARM LAST WEEK, PLANNED TO DISSECT THE FISH AND SEE WHAT IT’S BEEN EATING. (SPOKANE TRIBE)

Smaller pike have fewer eggs, but the species is one you can’t let your guard down on either.

Befitting their reputation as “nightmare fish,” Lee says northerns can hold off spawning till later in the year, when water temps are otherwise well above their optimal range of 40 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

“All they need is a little vegetation,” Lee says.

Correction, 11:15 a.m., Nov. 14, 2018: The initial version of this blog stated that WDFW had caught 152 pike in this fall’s survey, but that was actually the overall catch by the state and tribes. WDFW’s nets caught 112 pike.

Inaugural Ridgefield NWR Veterans Waterfowl Hunt A Success

THE FOLLOWING IS A STORY FROM THE U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

From an ADA-accessible blind at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Sal Trujillo watched as the first rays of sun peeked above the surrounding hills. Flocks of mallards, pintails and tundra swans soon filled the sky.

IRAQ WAR VETERAN SAL TRUJILLO PEERS OUT FROM A BLIND DURING THE INAUGURAL RIDGEFIELD NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE VETERANS WATERFOWL HUNT HELD LAST WEEKEND. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

Trujillo and 10 other U.S. military veterans celebrated Veterans Day with their first waterfowl hunt as a part of the inaugural Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Veterans’ Waterfowl Hunt.

GEESE WING OVER THE VANCOUVER-AREA N.W.R. WHICH WAS ORIGINALLY SET ASIDE MORE THAN 50 YEARS AGO FOR DUSKY GOOSE HABITAT FOLLOWING THE CATASTROPHIC LOSS OF THE SPECIES’ ALASKAN BREEDING GROUNDS IN AN EARTHQUAKE. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

“Getting veterans into the outdoors is so important,” said Trujillo, who started fishing five years ago through a Fallen Outdoors/Community Military Appreciation Committee of SW Washington fishing event for veterans. Trujillo has since bought his own boat and takes other veterans fishing. After his successful day in the field at Ridgefield NWR, he hopes to do the same with waterfowl hunting.

DECOYS SIT ON SHEETWATER AT RIDGEFIELD. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

“The outdoors allows veterans to focus on something new, and clear our minds from daily life. This is a great opportunity to learn something new and make new friends. Plus, we’ll eat what we harvest,” said Trujillo, who served five years in the Army 101st Airborne, including a deployment in Iraq.

JENNIFER AND DOUG HAWKINS, WHO ARE BOTH ACTIVE DUTY MILITARY AT JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, POSE WITH A MIXED BAG OF BIRDS ON A GLORIOUS SUNNY SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON WEEKEND. THE SERVICE’S BRENT LAWRENCE REPORTED JENNIFER HAD NEVER HUNTED WATERFOWL BEFORE, BUT PROVED TO “A DEAD-EYE SHOOTER. SHE SLAYED THEM.” (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

The hunt highlighted many of priorities laid out by Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, including increasing hunting, fishing and recreational opportunities on public lands, while also focusing on a commitment to the recruitment, retention and reactivation of hunters to support the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

SAL TRUJILLO AND HIS GUIDE FOR THE DAY, RICHARD HANNAN, A RETIRED USFWS REGIONAL DIRECTOR AND ACTIVE MEMBER OF WASHINGTON WATERFOWL ASSOCIATION, SHOW OFF THEIR HARVEST. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has increased hunting, fishing and recreational opportunities on public lands these veterans served to protect,” said Robyn Thorson, Pacific Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We can’t think of a better way than to honor these veterans on Veterans Day than by introducing them to waterfowl hunting and this fantastic urban National Wildlife Refuge. We hope today is the first in a long tradition of waterfowl hunts that expand to include more veterans over the years.”

DOUG HAWKINS ADJUSTS JENNIFER HAWKINS’ WEIGHTY WATERFOWL STRAP FOLLOWING THE HUNT. SHE LIMITED WITH SEVEN WHILE DOUG BAGGED FOUR OTHERS. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

The Lower Columbia Chapter of the Washington Waterfowl Association played an essential role in organizing the event, including coordinating guides and holding a special dinner for the veterans. Additional partners included Ridgefield American Legion Post 44, Fallen Outdoors, Community Military Appreciation Committee of SW Washington, Heroes Northwest, Cabela’s, Gerber Knives, Stein Distributing, Larry Hoff, Rose Real Estate and Evergreen Home Loans.

CINDY LESCALLEET WHO ALONG WITH HER HUSBAND DAVE (BACKGROUND) RUNS THE CHECK STATION EXPLAINS WITH HER HANDS HOW THE ANGLE OF THE TAIL FEATHERS OF THE DUCK IN THE FOREGROUND IDENTIFIES IT AS A PINTAIL. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

Richard Hannan, retired Assistant Regional Director for the Service’s Pacific Region and member of the Washington Waterfowl Association, guided Trujillo during his hunt. Hannan’s discussions with the veteran brought back a flood of memories.

RIDGEFIELD ALSO SERVES AS A WAYSTATION FOR PROTECTED SPECIES SUCH AS TRUMPETER SWANS AND IS HOME FOR RARE COLUMBIAN WHITETAIL DEER. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

“I choked up a little when Sal shot his first duck and (my Chesapeake Bay retriever) Daisy brought it back to him,” Hannon said. “It reminded me of taking my dad hunting and introducing him to the outdoors I love, and that he never had the chance to experience because of the demands of the uniform (as a 30-year Navy veteran) and family.

DONNA PRIGMORE, OREGON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BRIGADIER GENERAL, SPEAKS WITH SAM DAVIS OF RIDGEFIELD AMERICAN LEGION POST 44 DURING A DINNER FOR THE HUNTERS, THEIR FAMILIES AND GUIDES AFTER THEIR DAY AFIELD. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

“Sal mentioned more than once how sometimes he and many other vets go to some dark places in their heads as a result of their service to our nation. By going outdoors he and others are able to push those thoughts away and heal. I think we created some great memories. I know it did for me.”

Task Force Makes Key Recommendations For Orcas, Chinook

Significantly increasing Chinook abundance to help out starving orcas is among the recommendations Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force voted to forward to Governor Jay Inslee yesterday.

A PUGET SOUND ADULT CHINOOK SALMON SWIMS THROUGH THE BALLARD LOCKS. (NMFS)

Ron Garner of Puget Sound Anglers said it was a tough go with a lot of pushback from hatchery reformers, but he says a coalition of fishing interests got a recommendation that includes releasing as many as 50 million more smolts than were this year across the finish line.

“Butch Smith from Ilwaco, our tribes, and I pounded and pounded on that and finally got it in. WDFW’s Amy Windrope was key to helping me keeping it in and making sure it was supported by the Task Force. Without the bold statement that we endorse it, we most likely wouldn’t get anything out of it,” PSA’s statewide president said.

The governor and legislature must still buy into and fund Recommendation 6, which says any hatchery increases should be done in concert with habitat improvements, as well as be consistent with ESA constraints and management plans, but the lack of salmon — primarily Chinook — is one of the key reasons the orcas haven’t been doing well in recent years.

In an executive order this past March that also created the task force, Inslee began pushing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to boost production of the salmon stock, and two months ago the agency temporarily closed salmon fishing on the Samish River to allow more broodstock to reach the hatchery.

The 50 million figure comes from the Fish and Wildlife Commission which in late summer expressed support for upping smolt releases from select facilities, 30 million in Puget Sound and 20 million in the Columbia.

Kings in both areas were identified in a joint state-federal study as key feed stocks for the southern residents, and it’s no secret that increasing production would also provide “shirttail benefits” for fishermen.

Tens of millions more used to be released in Puget Sound — 55 million by the state in 1989 alone — and elsewhere in the past, but those have tailed off as runs declined and Endangered Species Act listings and hatchery reforms came into play to try and recover wild returns. The plight of the fish, SRKWs and fishermen of all fleets are intertwined.

MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC AND WASHINGTON’S SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALE TASK FORCE GATHERED IN PUYALLUP ON TUESDAY TO GO OVER RECOMMENDATIONS FOR A FINAL REPORT HEADED TO GOVERNOR INSLEE’S DESK AHEAD OF THE 2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION. THE MEETING WAS BROADCAST ON TVW, WHERE THIS SCREEN GRAB CAME FROM. (TVW)

Garner said he had to “get way down into the weeds” to show that more than a dozen rivers in Puget Sound were stocked with more than 35 million Green River fall kings by the old Department of Fisheries alone in the 1980s, a figure he says doesn’t account for tribal and federal releases either.

“My point was that there are no wild gene pools left, as this is just one instance as we have been mixing stocks for over 100 years. The tribes backed me up and said our habitat is not going to come back anytime soon and hatcheries are the future until we can fix the millions of people moving into the Puget Sound (region) and losing more habitat,” he said.

“The tribes, WDFW, and a few sporties came together yesterday for a big win for the orcas and fishing!”

Garner was among the members of the task force who met on Election Tuesday in a “fishbowl” format at the state fairgrounds in Puyallup. The meeting was broadcast on TVW.

During the day-long confab and under the guidance of facilitator Susan Gulick, the group made slight tweaks to pinniped recommendations and essentially added more stakeholder process for residents and businesses potentially affected by Snake River dam removal.

Returning Idaho kings are important for orcas as they forage off the Washington Coast, researchers found by studying their doots, the dam-and-lock and hydropower systems an economic lifeline to the Inland Northwest.

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

One of the task force’s most immediately tweetworthy moves was to agree to recommend suspending southern resident killer whale watching for all fleets — commercial, recreational, kayak, rubber dingy, etc., etc., etc. — for the next three to five years.

Disturbance from vessels is another key factor in why orcas are struggling, but a draconian “no-go zone” around the west side of San Juan Island — whether whales were feeding in this critical foraging area or not — has been tabled in favor of a bubble approach.

“There is now going to be a closure around wherever J, K, and L Pods are,” reports Garner. “They will be monitored by WDFW boats and if they come into an area, everyone has to leave. The whale watchers were not happy, but J, K and L are only there 20 percent of the time.”

The recommendation would not affect watchers’ ability to view humpback whales or transient orcas in Puget Sound and elsewhere.

TASK FORCE MEMBERS DISCUSS RECOMMENDATIONS IN THE “FISHBOWL” LATER IN THE DAY YESTERDAY. (TVW)

Next up is for the task force to send the governor its final report, due in mid-November, ahead of 2019’s legislative session, when lawmakers will need to fund many of the measures or enact laws to enforce them.

For WDFW task force member and Region 4 director Amy Windrope, the most important facet of this more than half-year-long process has been that the final recommendations had majority support from a diverse set of stakeholders and that the public turned out and joined the conversation.

And not just Puget Sound, Washington and Northwest residents, but people from as far away as England, Scotland and Germany.

“It was so powerful to hear the public talk about their love of orcas,” Windrope said.

AN ORCA BREACHES IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (BLM)