Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

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

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

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

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

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

If they even make it that far.

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

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

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

Here’s how to play:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds of that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Columbia Concurrency Still In Question After Oregon Vote

UPDATED WITH QUOTES FROM THE ASSOCIATION OF NORTHWEST STEELHEADERS AND THE NORTHWEST SPORTFISHING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION

Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commissioners voted to adjust their Columbia salmon allocation reforms closer to Washington’s position but not all the way there, leaving sportfishing interests angered and concurrency of regulations on the big river in question.

The unanimous move came after four hours of public input and about an hour of deliberations by the citizen panel that oversees the state’s fish and wildlife.

On the most contentious issue, Oregon moved to a 70-30 sport-commercial split on Snake River fall Chinook impacts, up from 66-34 but shy of the Washington commission’s 75-25 compromise.

A plan agreed to between the states in 2012-13 had slated those to be 80-20 beginning this season, as well as the full removal of gillnets from the mainstem Columbia.

But tonight’s vote would leave them in below Bonneville during fall without a timeline for ending the practice, though 2 percent of the commercial allocation was moved toward the use of alternative gear, as well as allow the use of tangle, or small-mesh, gillnets during certain fisheries.

Impacts are allowable mortalities on ESA-listed stocks to prosecute sport and commercial seasons and represent slivers of runs.

The vote angered anglers, who feel that a promise is not being fulfilled on the Oregon end.

“I’ve never seen a commission step out to deliberately harm the sportfishing community,” said Bob Rees of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, pointing to moves to make sure unutilized commercial spring and summer impacts would not get used by the sportfishing fleet.

Oregon anglers have been paying $10 to fish the Columbia system the past few years, with the funding supposed to go towards moving the commercial fleet out of the mainstem while hatchery production was also moved into off-channel bays and sloughs.

Washington and Oregon jointly manage shared non-tribal Columbia fisheries but disagreements over the reforms have the potential to throw 100 years of concurrent management into question in 2017 if an agreement isn’t reached.

“This Commission has decided to perpetuate the battles indefinitely, and our allies are disgusted,” Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association executive director Liz Hamilton said in the email late last night.

Friday night’s vote came about after a letter from Oregon Governor Kate Brown asked the commission to reconsider a January decision that backed away from the agreed-to reforms, and to do so by early April.

With the commission only fudging a bit towards meeting Washington, Rees vowed that other lawmakers in Salem will be hearing from he and his allies.

“We’re going to take care of this legislatively,” he said.

Sportfishing interests are also depending on Washington’s commission and Governor Inslee to hold firm and continue supporting the plan, which supports more selective styles of fishing in an era of numerous Endangered Species Act listings, as well as conservation and economic benefits.

The Evergreen State’s Fish and Wildlife Commission is also meeting this weekend, but there is no action item on the agenda concerning Columbia River reforms. Certainly, however, it will be a topic of discussion at Saturday’s meeting.

Meanwhile, Friday afternoon, dozens of anglers, guides, commercial fishermen and seafood processors provided testimony, some of whom were asked follow-up questions by commissioners, a few in an almost cross-examining style by Holly Akenson of Northeast Oregon and Bruce Buckmaster of Astoria that clearly bothered one speaker who spoke of the chilling effect the grilling of members of the general public might have.

“It broke my heart to see so much dysfunction in this process,” noted Hamilton. “Neither agency staff, nor the public deserve to be mistreated by our so-called leaders.”

Recreational anglers spoke to following the plan adopted by both states’ commissions, while gillnetters asked that Oregon hold to its Jan. 20 vote instead of concur with Washington’s position, which itself was an initial compromise. Netters talked of family heritages at risk, but one fishing guide felt disrespected, as if their efforts trying to make a living and bringing business to the Columbia wasn’t being recognized.

LIZ HAMILTON OF THE NORTHWEST SPORTFISHING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION PROVIDES COMMENT TO THE OREGON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION ON COLUMBIA RIVER REFORMS IN THIS SCREENGRAB OF TODAY’S PERISCOPE BROADCAST OF THE MEETING. (PERISCOPE)

What follows is the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife press release on today’s actions:

The Commission voted unanimously to further adjust Columbia River salmon fisheries rules today along the following lines:

  • Spring Chinook 80/20 sport/commercial allocation of allowable ESA impacts. Commercial priority to off-channel large-mesh gillnet fisheries not constrained by run-size buffer. Mainstem commercial fisheries only occurring with tangle net gear after the run update if remaining impact balances allow.
  • Summer Chinook 80/20 sport/commercial allocation of harvestable surplus; large-mesh gillnets not allowed for mainstem commercial fisheries.
  • Fall Chinook 70/30 sport/commercial allocation of allowable ESA impacts of the limiting fall Chinook stock (tule or Snake River wild), and <70/>30 for the non-constraining stock. Large-mesh gillnets allowed in mainstem commercial Zones 4-5; assign up to 2 percent of the commercial fishery impacts for use with alternative gears in the lower river; commercial Coho fisheries restricted to tangle nets in Zones 1-3.
  • Youngs Bay sport closure remains in effect.

More details will be available next week, when the new rules are posted online.

Blog Raises Idea Of Limiting Wild Steelhead Encounters To Four/Day

How many wild steelhead that anglers should limit themselves to a day is the topic of the day after a noted Northwest fisherman dropped the idea in a blog.

“Four encounters with a steelhead is double what most would call a fantastic day. Practicing ‘Four Is Enough’ would also leave more players, green fish, for anglers the next day. It’s a start,” writes Bill Herzog.

SHOULD ANGLERS LIKE GEORGE SCHROEDER, HERE WITH A WILD SOL DUC WINTER STEELHEAD, LIMIT THEIR ENCOUNTERS OF NATIVES TO FOUR A DAY? (FISHING PHOTO)

The idea arises from a conversation last October in Maupin, Ore., and put on by Trout Unlimited. (Northwest Sportsman was invited, but couldn’t attend because it was Deer Season and someone hadn’t killed a buck yet.)

Herzog explains the reasoning and rationale here, which he says was first presented by author/photographer Brian O’Keefe, whom he quotes at length:

“Really, how many steelhead does an angler need to catch in a day? Usually one scratches the itch for most of us, but so often now I see anglers, gear and fly — especially the indicator crowd — using catch-and-release as an abusive tool on those rare days when there are good numbers and willing steelhead. Anglers are now using the most effective techniques in history. This means we have good fishing for a day or two when the rivers drop in, and usually only for the first several boats or bank anglers. As rivers continue to drop and clear, success diminishes with most fish already having been hooked and released.”

In launching the campaign today, Wild Steelheaders United called it a “new battle cry” in a link to the blog posted on the organization’s Facebook page.

And indeed it began a little battle on social media.

At first glance, the proposal is problematic.

How would you ever enforce it? By posting lots of angry-frowny faces on FB updates showing more than four fish pics?

Why would someone in the midst of such a good day of fishing want to give up? And what about the pressure of clients on a guide to maximize the experience they’re paying good money for?

While Europe appears to serve as a touchstone for the proposal, this is not Europe. This is America. To those who time their run to the river right go the rewards, not those who sleep in.

What, exactly, is the scientific proof that this would be effective? What’s the data? Show your work.

And where does this end? When does four become two, and two become one, and one become none?

But the idea is not without a certain precedent either.

In recent years in certain Washington mixed-stock fisheries, anglers have had to hang up their rods for the day when they’ve landed their limit of hatchery fish.

For example, a number of emergency openers in Southeast Washington, including the current extension of the Tucannon River steelhead fishery.

“Anglers must cease fishing for steelhead for the day once they have retained 3 hatchery steelhead,” WDFW’s e-reg states.

The idea is to remove fin-clipped fish while also limiting impacts on Endangered Species Act-listed fish.

Steelhead are threatened in Puget Sound, portions of the lower, middle and upper Columbia Basin, Snake Basin and upper Willamette watershed.

But they’re not on the Oregon Coast or Olympic Peninsula, which are seeing rising pressure as lawsuits or facility operators cut hatchery production elsewhere, moving anglers around and the cult of the wild steelhead has grown.

As a longtime angler, Herzog’s seen that, and in the past he’s brought up the subject of a permit lottery as a way to ease crowding on OlyPen rivers.

“There’s no sanctuary … You gotta give these fish a break if you want to keep the quality fishing going,” he said during a March 2012 broadcast of Northwest Wild Country.

While in this latest blog Herzog decries leaving changes “in the hands of glacial-speed rulemakers,” this season does mark the first winter that the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s new regs for Olympic Peninsula steelhead are on the books.

Those banned all retention of wild steelhead on state rivers there, as well as outlawed treble and barbed hooks, reduced bait fishing to waters and months where hatchery fish are present and created a test no-boat-fishing zone on the upper Hoh River between Morgan’s Crossing and Olympic National Park.

Between that and this idea, it may be a bit much a bit too fast for some.

But that said, this is in no way meant to belittle Bill Herzog’s idea. I very much appreciate that he’s thinking about these things, and I trust him more than others. We both have the same goal: more fish for more people to catch. I see it as food for thought for a wider discussion. Comments are welcome.

Beaver Bill Chewing Through Washington Legislature (And That’s A Good Thing)

Behold, the beaver — rodent beyond compare!

True, he is built low to the earth, where he spends much of his time working in the muck, giving him perhaps the most pruned toes in all of existence.

His lodge is not very lovely, his dam a snaggle-sticked, muddy mess.

And yes, he has been body-shamed — not to mention tanned and turned into hats for eons.

But Mother Nature’s chainjawed little logger may be part of the solution to our salmon and steelhead woes.

READY FOR WORK. (ODFW)

While we fill out paperwork, he fells trees.

While we fester over designs, he dams.

While we hold public meetings, he holds back water.

While we put plans out for review, he creates fish habitat.

While we scrounge under couch cushions for project funding, he’s working off the clock, 24/7/365.

And when we finally get around to Doing Something, he’s back in his lodge, popping a cold one and binge-watching Leave It To Beaver. 

Just imagine what a whole pack of these guys could do!!!

That last bit was the nut of Mike Sevigny’s testimony yesterday before the Washington Senate’s Natural Resources and Parks Committee hearing on HB 1257, which would allow WDFW to keep Westside beavers on the Westside.

Currently, the agency can only translocate them to the Eastside or kill them, and according to Sevigny, who is the wildlife manager for the Tulalip Tribes, WDFW is forced to kill the vast majority.

But it sounds like there’s a fair amount of habitat they could be put to work in and on.

Sevigny said that a Tulalip project — the tribes aren’t subject to the same restrictions WDFW is — placed 100 nuisance beavers at 13 sites in the Skykomish drainage.

And that’s just one valley. The Westside’s full of waterways, many of which beavers can’t get to because they’re cut off from the habitat, Sevigny said.

State representatives appear to agree, having already passed the bill out of the House 98-0. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife supports the bill.

This is not to say that beavers should be air-dropped everywhere, like what Idaho Fish and Game did back in the day, as beavers do cause problems for property owners when they make dams where people don’t want dams.

But having been a beaver believer for some time, now I’m helping spread the gospel — preach, Brother Sevigny!

Here’s his testimony from TVW:

Fish, Wildlife Bills Still Kicking In Olympia, Some Not So Much

We’ve passed a halfway mark, of sorts, in Olympia, where yesterday marked a deadline to get bills out of the House or Senate and over to the other chamber.

As ever at this point of the legislative session, Washington’s halls of power are littered with the carnage of lawmakers’ sausage-making — one observer noted that the 500 bills they’d been watching have now been winnowed to 50 — and so the turkey vulture that is the Olympia Outsider has swooped in to feast on the gory mess.

But while many fish- and wildlife-related bills have died, others are still alive, including several elk and wolf bills, as well as WDFW’s license increase package, HB 1647.

It’s among NTIB — or necessary to implement budget — bills that fall outside deadlines.

And according to Raquel Crosier, WDFW’s legislative liason, since the fee bill’s public hearing back a month ago, the agency has been working with a number of stakeholder organizations, “figuring out the right size to get that going again.”

Those groups include the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Puget Sound Anglers, Coastal Conservation Association, Long Live The Kings, Trout Unlimited and others.

She says they’ve been considering straight-across-the-board adjustments to license fees instead of a value-based approach, and there might also be discount packages built into it, such as five-year licenses.

Crosier says she hopes a revised version is out in the next week or so.

“We realized we started high,” she says of the agency’s initial ask. “We’ve gotten a heckuva lot of good feedback.”

Other WDFW budget-related bills still in play include:

HB 1428/SB 5466, “Concerning construction projects in state waters.”

Effect: Would increase protections for fish, and changes fees WDFW charges for hydraulic project approvals. Support from WDFW, tribes, Puget Sound Partnership, opposed by businesses, utilities, counties, Farm Bureau.

HB 1429/SB 5303, “Concerning aquatic invasive species management.”

Effect: The result of a two-year process among numerous stakeholder groups, the bills focus more attention and funding on stopping the spread of unwanted species. Support from WDFW, Invasive Species Council, opposed by shippers and ports

HB 1865, “Concerning the Columbia river recreational salmon and steelhead endorsement program.”

Effect: Reauthorizes collecting a fee to fish the Columbia and its tribs for Chinook, coho, sockeye and steelhead, with money going to expand and monitor fisheries. Though it didn’t receive a hearing, it’s WDFW-request legislation.

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STAYING ALIVE — NONBUDGET BILLS STILL IN PLAY

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HB 1257, “Concerning the release of wild beavers.”

Effect: Currently, if WDFW catches a beaver in Western Washington and doesn’t want to turn it into a hat, the toothsome critter has to be relocated to Eastern Washington, but this bill would allow them to be released on this side of the Cascade Crest, with the idea being to improve stream health and salmon and steelhead habitat.

Introduced by: Reps. Kretz, Blake, Taylor, Fitzgibbon and Buys

Status: Gnawed its way through the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, dropped a 98-0 vote across the chamber and waddled over to the Senate, where it had a hearing today in Natural Resources and Parks, with great testimony from beaver believer Mike Sevigny of the Tulalip Tribes.

Olympia Outsider’s Revised Odds: Dam good, we’d say.

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HB 1353, “Commissioning an elk management pilot project that focuses initially on the Colockum elk herd.”

Effect: Requires WDFW and DOT to come up with more ideas on how to reduce elk-vehicle collisions on I-90 as well as elk teeth-crop collisions on aglands surrounding this herd’s range, with an eye towards using the program elsewhere in the state.

Introduced by: Reps. Dent, Blake, Buys, Hayes

Status: Stampeded out of the House on a 96-1 vote and was sent to the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee, where it also had a hearing today.

Olympia Outsider’s Revised Odds: With another elk bill having already grazed its way out of NRP this session, and with support from WDFW on this one, it will probably be herded towards the Governor’s Desk.

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HB 1465, “Exempting from public disclosure certain information regarding reports on wolf depredations.”

Effect: Would shield producers and others who sign up for or perform various nonlethal prevention measures, report or suffer wolf attacks, have to go out and deal with them, as well as conceal where depredations occurred to naming just the pack territory.

Introduced by: Reps. Short, Lytton, Kretz, Koster

Status: Howled out of the House on a 95-2 vote, and now is in Senate NRP.

Olympia Outsider’s Revised Odds: Can see this one jumping the fence and getting onto the _________’s ____.

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SB 5474, “Initiating proactive steps to address elk hoof disease.”

Effect: Original bill would have allowed elk hunters to shoot limping elk year-round, but that part was dropped, while a substitute version puts Washington State University in charge of monitoring affected elk and coming up with solutions.

Introduced by: Sen. Pearson

Status: Sent to the House on a 49-0 vote, and will next be heard in House AGNR on March 15.

Olympia Outsider’s Revised Odds: The Olympia Outsider himself is limping off into the sunset after this bill defied his original odds and stayed alive, signalling this bill’s a tough old bull and could survive battles in the House, though OO is uneasy about precedences.

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SB 5761, “Exempting certain confidential fish and shellfish harvest information from disclosure under chapter 42.56 RCW, the public records act.”

Effect: Originally just to shield tribal fishermen’s names, signatures, harvest and more from public records requests, shellfish growers info was subsequently added.

Introduced by: Sen. McCoy, Hunt, Hasegawa

Status: After two unusual U-turns — one that gutted the original bill and turned it into a legislative task force, and the next gutting the gutting and pushing some more guts into the original bill — it passed out of the Senate on a 45-0 vote and has a March 15 hearing in House State Government.

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: As it aligns state law with federal Magnuson Stevens Act laws, likely to pass.

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SJM 8009, “Requesting Congress to provide the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries with sufficient resources to expedite its endangered species act and national environmental policy act review of Puget Sound hatchery and genetic management plans and that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries prioritize and conduct immediate review and approval of Puget Sound hatchery and genetic management plans.”

Effect: See above.

Introduced by: Sen. Chase

Status: Swam out of the Senate on a 38-11 vote (we’ll give Northeast Washington Sens. Padden and Short a pass, but apparently no hatchery salmonids swim by or anglers live in Sens. Angel, Brown, Honeyford, King, Rivers, Schoesler, Van De Wege, Walsh and Wilson’s districts on the Columbia, Puget Sound, Straits and Pacific), and is holding in the House awaiting assignment.

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: This should be easy to support as it costs nothing, tells the federal government to get cracking, and helps ensure fish for all fleets, so it’s a little puzzling why 11 senators would vote nay, but we have faith in the House getting this out.

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SJR 8206, “Amending the Constitution to preserve the right to hunt and fish.”

Effect: Puts a constitutional amendment enshrining Washington’s hunting and fishing heritage and rights up for a vote in the general election.

Introduced by: Sens. Braun, Takko, Pearson, Fortunato, Schoesler, Bailey, Warnick, Angel, Rivers, Walsh, Becker

Status: Received a hearing in Senate NRP today.

Olympia Outsider’s Odds: Introduced a bit late for this session and fall vote, but make sure you’re registered so you can vote yes on this one in 2018!

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R.I.P. — BILLS THAT ARE TECHNICALLY DEAD

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HB 1008

Short title: “Concerning the acquisition of land by state natural resources agencies”

Effect: Would have required WDFW to sell off an acre of its own land in the same county for every new one it buys.

Introduced by: Reps. Shea, Taylor, Short, McCaslin, Buys, Schmick, Haler

Status: Had an airing of grievances in House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and then expired on snowy winter range.

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HB 1077

Short title: “Establishing rules for motorized suction dredge mining in rivers and streams equal to other hydraulic projects by modifying a hydraulic project approval exemption.”

Effect: Would have required suction dredgers to fill out and get a hydraulic permit approval, or HPA, to operate on the state’s waters, whereas now they just need to read a pamphlet.

Introduced by: Reps. Fitzgibbon, Pollet and McBride

Status: Had a public hearing in House AGNR, but got lost in the dredge afterwards

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HB 1103

Short title: “Concerning the transfer of federal land to the state.”

Effect: Would have created a panel to oversee the liquidation of Forest Service lands outside wilderness areas and the volcanic monument, as well as national wildlife refuges and BLM lands.

Introduced by: Reps. Taylor, Shea, McCaslin, Volz, Condotta, Short, Buys

Status: Referred to Judiciary Committee and forgotten about, thankfully.

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HB 1229

Short title: “Ensuring that fishing opportunities in Washington are consistent with the economic contributions provided by the fishing user groups.”

Effect: Would have required WDFW to maximize recreational opportunities before setting commercial fisheries, as well as better align hatchery production with what they do for hook-and-line angling.

Introduced by: Reps. Pike, Pollet, Pettigrew, Shea, Taylor, Vick, Springer, Goodman, Harris and Kraft

Status: Referred to House AGNR where it was never going to receive a hearing, and never did.

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HB 1872

Short title: “Providing for the partial delisting of the gray wolf by the fish and wildlife commission.”

Effect: Would require the Fish and Wildlife Commission to delist wolves in Eastern Washington counties adjacent to Canada.

Introduced by: Reps. Kretz, Blake, Short

Status: Received a hearing in House AGNR, then died in favor of allowing the Wolf Advisory Group to continue addressing lupus issues.

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SB 5302

Short title: “Establishing pilot projects for destination steelhead fisheries on the Olympic Peninsula and Klickitat river.”

Effect: Would have required guides and outfitters running certain OlyPen rivers and the Klickitat at certain times to purchase special permits after proving they’d guided the waters for a set amount of time.

Introduced by: Sens. Van De Wege, King

Status: A relatively early-arriving bill in Olympia, it was quickly yarded in, bonked and released, never to be seen again.

Fishing Guide Fined $7,500 In Cowlitz Wild Coho Clipping Case

UPDATED 12:47 A.M., MARCH 9, 2017, WITH COMMENTS FROM WDFW AT BOTTOM

A Southwest Washington fishing guide was sentenced today in federal court to pay a $7,500 fine for killing two Cowlitz River wild coho in 2014.

Billy J. Swann, operator of Swanny’s Guided Fishing out of Rainier, Wash., must also publish a statement in a fishing magazine about why it’s so important to follow the regulations.

“With so many putting so much into bringing back our cherished wild salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest, this conduct is particularly offensive,” said U. S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “A salmon fishing guide who makes his living off our natural resources should have respected the rules that are meant to ensure those resources will always be there for all of us.  The fact that he was willing to ignore those rules knowing others were watching makes his conduct all the more troubling.”

Today’s sentencing before U.S. District Court Judge Karen L. Strombom in Tacoma brings a closely watched case amongst Northwest anglerdom against a once widely quoted fishing guide to an end.

It serves as a reminder to always read the fishing and hunting pamphlets before heading out, and if you do make a mistake, to cop to violations quickly before you find yourself in a real world of hurt.

IMAGES FROM FEDERAL COURT PAPERS SHOW BILLY J. SWANN AND AN ANGLER WITH ONE OF THE TWO COHO KILLED BY SWANN ON OCT. 1, 2014, THIS ONE A HEN. (US ATTORNEY’S OFFICE)

The coho in this case were caught Oct. 1, 2014, by Swann’s clients on the lower Cowlitz River during an epic hatchery run, then killed by Swann. When images posted on Facebook that morning drew responses from viewers that it was illegal to keep wild coho, Swann subsequently cut their adipose fins off and told his anglers to record the fish as hatchery salmon.

Cowlitz wild and hatchery coho are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but only adipose-fin-clipped hatchery fish can be kept, with unclipped wild coho having been closed for harvest since at least the late 1990s, several years before Swann began guiding.

Clipping is done at fish-production facilities before young salmon and steelhead are released to go to sea and mature, not on a freelance basis with returning adults.

When questioned in January 2015, Swann “opted to lie to a federal agent” about the incident, according to federal court papers.

In late November 2016, after Swann pleaded guilty to one count of violating ESA, Swann’s attorney Douglas Tufts of Tacoma said “in a high state of anxiety, [Swann] made some poor choices,” a bid to make his client more sympathetic.

U.S. Attorney Seth Wilkinson originally agreed with them on a fine of between $5,000 and $10,000, but in papers subsequently filed in district court he requested the upper end of that range, pointing to aggravating circumstances.

“First, defendant was no ordinary angler. Rather, by his own characterization, defendant has ‘dedicated his life’ to fishing and is ‘one of the most reputable’ guides in the region,” reads a presentencing memorandum. “A critical part of a guide’s responsibility is to teach and demonstrate compliance with the laws — particularly laws designed to protect sensitive species. The offense conduct of killing endangered species and attempting to conceal this misconduct was anathema to his role as a guide, and was hypocritical when viewed against his claim to be one of the ‘most reputable” guides in the region, as well as an educator and industry leader.”

Ultimately, Swann was fined $7,500.

In court today, Judge Strombom called Swann’s behavior “shocking.”

“You had a responsibility and you failed miserably at it,” she said.

Samuel D. Rauch III, the acting assistant administrator at NMFS, pointed to work that’s gone toward rebuilding Northwest salmon stocks.

“This kind of illegal action by a guide, who should be setting an example, undermines the progress we’ve made in restoring salmon and squanders an invaluable resource that belongs to all of us,” he said.

NMFS special agents were assisted by WDFW officers.

“When someone violates laws intended to protect animals under the Endangered Species Act, in many cases we have two tool boxes to draw from: state or federal jurisdiction. We made the decision to pursue this case in a federal venue, which slowed the time table down, but the outcome was worth the wait,” said WDFW Deputy Chief Mike Cenci. “It was important to send a strong message in this situation, given that this type of behavior adversely affects all sectors of the fishing community, along with everyone who spends a tax dollar protecting our natural resources. It’s important to remember, though, these acts are not reflective of the professional guide community, but of an individual who, unfortunately, allowed his ethics to take a vacation in favor of a dollar. The vast majority of Washington States fishing guides are the ultimate stewards of the outdoors – their livelihoods depends on it, and in the end, they were the most vocal that Mr. Swann be held accountable. I think we did that.”

Cenci says revoking Swann’s license would require state charges and a conviction, and there are no plans on that front.

On Saturday’s Cowlitz River Smelt Opener ‘Bust’

Smelt dipping was “largely a bust” last weekend, but why?

It wasn’t for lack of fishermen.

Thousands descended the banks of the lower Cowlitz, long-handled nets in hand, in hopes of bucketing 10 pounds worth.

But fishery monitors say the most that they observed any one person had in possession was 15 of the thin, oily, footlong fish, a mere tenth of the limit.

SMELT DIPPERS AND OBSERVERS GATHER ALONG THE LOWER COWLITZ BELOW THE ALLEN STREET BRIDGE ON FEBRUARY 25, 2017, DURING A FIVE-HOUR OPENER THAT WAS DESCRIBED BY WDFW FISHERIES BIOLOGIST JOE HYMER AS “LARGELY A BUST” WHEN FEW CAUGHT ANY. (OLAF LANGNESS, WDFW)

That led one regional outdoor reporter to grumble that WDFW had “orchestrated” the fisheries version of a grand snipe hunt on Saturday’s five-hour opener on the Southwest Washington stream.

The truth is more along the lines of outsized interest in a very limited opportunity colliding with very limited numbers of actual fish which managed to elude outsized nets.

Dipping was a long shot to begin with this year due to a “modest” initial forecast, but combined with relatively low and rapidly declining commercial catches and poor river conditions not to mention whatever passes for thinking in the minds of these fish made this a pretty chancy opportunity at best.

So what does go on in the mind of a smelt?

That’s a damned good question, and though I doubt Olaf Langness has “eulachon whisperer” written on his business card, the WDFW smelt and sturgeon biologist did offer me some thoughts on why they do what they do and what might have happened this year.

I DIDN’T KNOW THIS, BUT EVEN THOUGH SMELT are anadromous like the Cowlitz’s other all-star ocean-going species — sturgeon, Chinook, coho and winter- and summer-runs — unlike those stocks they treat the river as more like one of those cheap, rent-by-the-hour hotel rooms.

“Smelt do not demonstrate spawning fidelity like salmon and steelhead,” says Langness. “They sort of go back to their natal estuary, but not necessarily back to the site where their parents spawned.”

There are a lot of options below Bonneville, including the big river itself, and while most smelt in the Columbia system do indeed head for the Cowlitz, this year’s water conditions might have been a turnoff in their fickle little heads.

“The exact reasons for smelt not to always favor the Cowlitz River are not clear, but probably are due to various environmental factors,” Langness says, pointing to fellow fishery biologist Joe Hymer’s suggestions that they could have been too timid because of “dropping flows, high turbidity, and low water temps.”

On Feb. 25, the river at Castle Rock at the top of the dipping zone, was running at 12,500 cubic feet per second, or about 2,500 cfs above average.

Water temps two days later at Mayfield Dam were reported as 42.8 degrees, which is on the lower end of their comfort range for getting between the sheets of water. As for turbidity, when I passed over the I-5 bridge Saturday morning on my way to Vancouver the Toutle River looked as silty as ever, and was running about 2,000 cfs above average, perhaps dumping more muck than usual into the Cowlitz.

Anyway, smelt are unlike salmon and steelhead in another way in that they don’t dig redds or check into hatcheries.

They’re like walleye and sturgeon — broadcast spawners, and in a brawny river like the Cowlitz you can imagine what happens to their tiny eggs and the hatchlings that emerge from them up to four weeks later.

“The small smelt larvae can be blown out of the Columbia River and into the ocean with their yolk sac still intact,” says Langness. “That month or so of egg development, hatching, and larval migration is not much in-printing time. A fair amount of the smelt run spawns in the mainstem Columbia River, so the smelt we saw in the commercial catch might not have even gone into another tributary like the Lewis River.”

SPEAKING OF COMMERCIAL CATCHES, a few dippers were cranky that the fleet got first crack at the smelt instead of bankies, but that was also to help gauge the run and determine that there were enough for a sport season.

The benchmark of 150 pounds per landing was met during the fifth comm opener (the first yielded precisely one smelt) on Feb. 16, when seven net boats brought in 2,633 pounds, or 376 pounds apiece on average.

Somewhere around that point I did a double take as I walked past the seafood counter at a store near my house north of Seattle — Columbia River smelt were for sale.

Heck, that’s a good sign, I thought, though I did not buy any because, well, I’ve been there and done that, nor do I need sturgeon bait.

However, commercial catches quickly began to decline.

An opener on the 20th saw eight boats bring in half as many pounds overall, but still enough to clear the 150-pound mark. The next day WDFW put out word that there would a very limited opener the following Saturday, but two days later seven boats landed just 468 pounds, or 68 pounds each.

Still, that might have just meant the smelt had entered the trib, where commercials can’t fish. Two days before the opener there were good signs on the Cowlitz — seagulls and sea lions were observed, though it was uncertain if there were actually smelt in the river.

“The expectation was for those fish to move up to the Cowlitz River  a little before or in time for the sport opener,” says Langness. “Obviously, from the tribal monitoring and this past Saturday’s sport fishery, this didn’t happen.”

An estimate on how many smelt were dipnetted last weekend wasn’t immediately available, but according to ODFW data, through the end of February, commercial fishermen had brought in 5,090 pounds.

That’s slightly more than in 2016, when Cowlitz dippers filled their buckets with 141,050 pounds.

Judging from after-action reports in the Centralia Chronicle and The Columbian, last Saturday’s haul will be well shy of that, but it will be awhile before biologists can confirm their forecast of 3 million pounds, where 2011’s and 2012’s runs came in at.

A WFDW GRAPH SHOWS ESTIMATED SMELT RUNS AND HARVESTS SINCE 2010’S ESA LISTING. (WDFW)

That will involve collecting larvae in the Lower Columbia.

“The total larval outflow will tell us a minimum spawner estimate, regardless of the distribution of the spawning activity in time or location,” says Langness. “Also, the larval densities reflect the level of spawners in the river, four to five weeks earlier, which means we can see the temporal pattern of the spawning run.”

That will offer clues to why this year’s return misaligned with that brief opener.

THIS DIDN’T USED TO BE A PROBLEM.

Once upon a time, when onshore and offshore fish habitat was in better shape, smelt dipping was open year-round on the Columbia and its tributaries, with daily limits of 20 pounds, meaning fishermen could spread out across time and space instead of focusing on a narrow window of opportunity.

Commercial catches are listed as annually in the “millions of pounds” range.

But the stock began to decline in the 1990s, and restrictions began to be placed on fisheries, paring back the sport limit to 10 pounds and generally holding openers two days a week, then Saturdays only, until by 2010 the stock was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and there was no opener for three winters in a row starting in 2011.

WDFW orchestrated a way around that federal listing with limited “research fisheries” the past four years, and 2017’s will go down as proof that, yep, there ain’t a lot of smelt anymore, unlike the good old days, which many were left to remember last Saturday as they gathered on the banks of the Cowlitz, instruments in hand, but glum looks on their faces because there wasn’t much reason to play.

“It’s just a bunch of people paddling the river with nets,” Kevin Thayer of Longview told a reporter.

Fishing was a bust, but still, it helped to preserve a tradition, as well as keep focus on a stock in trouble. And those are pretty important too.

Meanwhile, biologists will keep an eye out just in case some tardy smelt arrive, which happened in 2014.

“Is the run just late? Well, there have been peaks in March, but this is somewhat rare,” Langness says. “We will just have to monitor the situation for the next few weeks.”

2017 Puget Sound Salmon Forecasts Unveiled

EDITOR’S NOTE: FINAL UPDATE 3:45 P.M., FEB. 28, 2017, WITH WDFW PRESS RELEASE AT BOTTOM

Puget Sound coho are forecast to bounce back this year to within 6 percent of the recent 10-year average, with more than double the number of silvers than predicted in 2016 expected to return in 2017.

That doesn’t mean we’ll see a return to pre-2015 fisheries, but it at least provides more operating room for creating seasons than 2016’s highly constrained conditions.

WDFW reports that 559,045 coho are expected to return to tribs stretching from the western Strait of Juan de Fuca, down Hood Canal, across the North Sound and into deep South Sound.

Last year saw a preseason forecast of 255,403 wild and hatchery coho, which led to closures on almost all of the saltwater and many rivers until it became clear in late summer and early fall that there was enough to sustain sport and tribal fisheries in select areas.

PUGET SOUND COHO ANGLERS CAN CRACK A SMILE OF RELIEF AT THIS YEAR’S FORECAST. MITCH GRINDLY CAUGHT THIS ONE WITH FRIEND DEVIN SCHILDT DURING 2014’S FISHERY, BEFORE THE BLOB ATE INTO TWO YEARS OF RETURNS. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

The forecasts come from documents posted by WDFW this morning as part of the annual North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process.

Figures for Columbia River runs, which have been previously reported on, as well as Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor and North Coast rivers were also released today.

Overall, this year’s salmon forecast is a reflection of poor to improving ocean conditions and 2015’s drought, and ongoing habitat issues, and crafting seasons will pose challenges and offer opportunities for managers and anglers who remember good-old-days fisheries of just a few short years ago.

“The Chinook and coho salmon forecasts for this summer’s fisheries lack fanfare,” said Tony Floor, fishing affairs director of the Northwest Marine Trade Association. “There are regions requiring conservation and other regions providing fishing opportunities. Smart anglers will do their homework and migrate to the opportunities. Unfortunately, we have been spoiled by great fishing seasons during the last 10 years, however, following the tough 2016 season, 2017 appears to provide a step back in the right direction.”

Over the coming month, state fishery managers will take the numbers to sport anglers, then meet with tribal managers before a final decision (fingers crossed!) is scheduled for mid-April. Last year’s negotiations went long before the comanagers were able to agreement on Puget Sound fisheries.

But back to highlights from today’s forecasts.

They show 45,332 coho back to the Nooksack, up from last year’s prediction of 24,565; 116,777 to the Snohomish, up from 18,549; 43,776 to the Green, up from 8,970; 20,378 to Lake Washington, up from 4,414; and 27,511 to the Puyallup, up from 9,182.

Though many of the 2016 forecasts were later found to be off, look at them as a baseline for comparison with this year.

“Definitely better than last year,” confirms WDFW’s Kyle Addicks.

He says that after 2016’s low expectations following a “horrible” 2015, the forecasts fall close to the average return over the last decade.

Unfortunately, however, Skagit and Stilly coho still appear to be in a pretty rough place, per the preseason forecasts. On the former river, managers estimate 18,711 this year, with about half that returning to the latter.

Those figures dip into critical territory and that could constrain fisheries where those stocks mingle with others.

Over in Hood Canal, 154,629 coho are forecast, versus 118,787 in 2016. In a rarity, the Quilcene prediction is down by roughly 12,000 versus last year, 29,000 versus 41,000, but returns further south in the fjord are up compared to this same point last go-around.

There’s also an uptick in Puget Sound summer and fall Chinook numbers, 193,962 versus the 165,150 predicted last year.

“Hatchery forecasts don’t look bad,” says Adicks.

A lot of that comes from Lower South Sound, which make up more than half of the overall forecast, some 85,125 kings, including 22,669 to the Nisqually and 18,341 to the Deschutes.

The Skokomish forecast is also up, 27,729 versus the 24,377 last year that were unfishable in the river due to a tribal land claim that blocked sport anglers from accessing salmon returning to the state hatchery in freshwater, though a four-fish bag was added in the salt of southern Hood Canal.

North Sound Chinook numbers are about the same as last year, with 54,523 expected from the Nooksack down to the Snohomish, but around 9,000 more are forecast in the Upper South Sound tribs from Lake Washington to the Puyallup, with the Puyallup expected to see about 4,749.

What that means for fisheries in Marine Areas 9 and 10 in Central Puget Sound is hard to say at this point, says Adicks. While the numbers of fin-clipped kings look good, this year managers are using a new fishery modeling tool — you’ll likely hear the acronym FRAM thrown around and cursed a lot in the coming weeks — that updates assumptions about ocean conditions, abundances and survival from the 1970s and ’80s to the late 2000s and into the 2010s.

Adicks says that the comanagers are reviewing stock objectives to plug into the model, but he didn’t know yet what sort of affect it would have on fisheries until that work was done.

Baker Lake sockeye numbers are slightly below last year’s forecast, but still good at 47,000, though once again Lake Washington reds are offering dim hopes of an opener, what with only 77,292 expected and no real impetus to lower the escapement goal from 350,000 to 100,000.

Odd-year pinks are forecast to come in on the lower end, with 1,150,522 forecast, including 382,301 to the Puyallup, 171, 632 to the Snohomish and 118,689 to the Green.

By contrast, in 2015, the forecast called for 6,778,025 humpies, and while fishing for them was red-hot off of Everett in August of that year, ultimately the run was low and appears to not have reproduced as well as we’ve come to expect over the past decade and a half as the species has boomed and colonized new waters in the Whulge.

WDFW points out this year’s class of pinks are the progeny of parents that came in during 2015’s drought, saw their redds scoured by a number of high-water events that fall, and then saw “very poor” fry outmigrations in late winter 2016, which is the driver behind the 2017 forecast.

Indeed, there may be no more Mother Nature-scarred salmon than those that have been alive the past few years.

A corresponding presentation made to those attending today’s briefing highlights the extreme oceanic, freshwater, atmospheric and habitat challenges that have been faced by this year’s crop of salmon, either in the gravel, at sea or returning to warm, low rivers. It speaks to the Blob we saw in the North Pacific in 2014 and 2015, major shifts in salmon forage, emaciated coho and sockeye, and the appearance of unusual species off the Northwest Coast and in the Gulf of Alaska.

The effects have cut sharply across species, leading to last year’s lowest return on record of sockeye to the Fraser River … which also saw the highest return of chum in 20 years.

Speaking of chum, the forecast for Puget Sound fall stocks call for 1,070,968, which is in the ballpark of last year’s predicition. Winter chum which return to the Nisqually, however, are down, 36,696 versus the forecast of 47,053.

Beyond Pugetropolis, state and tribal managers appear not to have reached an agreement on the size of the Grays Harbor coho forecasts, nor fall kings. The gulf between WDFW’s and the Quinault Nation’s GH silver forecasts is described as “cavernous,” with the state initially predicting four times as many as the tribe.

But the comanagers expect 198,115 coho to the rest of the North and South Coast tribs, up from 159,452 for all the streams in 2016.

The Willapa Bay Chinook expectation is 38,506, including 34,328 hatchery kings.

And there are somewhere north of 1 million Columbia-bound fall Chinook and coho expected.

In the next few weeks managers will outline coastal salmon fishery options, and there’s at least one good sign for a more robust coho season than 2016, when Areas 2, 3 and 4 were closed, thanks to a Queets forecast that does provide escapement and a bit more.

Adicks admits to being simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic about this year’s forecasts. They could be better, but there are bright spots — Baker sockeye, Columbia fall kings, and a better coho outlook.

“I’m optimistic we’re not in for a replay of last year,” he says, referring to the breakdown of state-tribal negotiations over Puget Sound fisheries that dragged out through April and deep into May, and saw some tribes able to fish for spring Chinook through a BIA-approved permit while sport anglers stood on the bank until mid-June as NMFS chewed through the details of the season package and issued a permit to fish.

Adicks says tribes weren’t happy with the outcome either, and that the comanagers have been working together earlier this go-around at North of Falcon.

He says that WDFW will be looking for public input as it shapes potential fisheries. For a schedule of meetings, go here.

Here’s hoping for a better resolution and more than enough fish to go around.

………………………………………………………..

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

Returns of hatchery chinook and coho salmon to Washington’s rivers and ocean waters are expected to vary this year, but low returns of wild salmon projected to several rivers will again make setting fisheries a challenge.

That was the prediction of fishery managers at a public meeting today, when forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, chum and pink salmon were released.

The forecasts were developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty tribes.

The forecast meeting in Olympia marks the starting point for developing 2017 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through early April before they plan to finalize seasons later that month.

Unfavorable environmental conditions, such as warm ocean water or flooding in rivers, have reduced the number of salmon returning to Washington’s waters, especially when compared to some of the more abundant returns of recent years, said Kyle Adicks, salmon fisheries policy lead for WDFW.

“Some salmon runs are expected to return in higher numbers over last year, when we forecast historic low numbers for several stocks,” Adicks said.

“But, for the most part, forecasts are at about average or lower than average, which means we will once again need to limit fisheries in some areas to protect weak returns of wild fish.”

Coho returns to several Puget Sound-area rivers, such as the Skagit and Stillaguamish, are projected to be extremely low, which will limit opportunities for salmon fishing overall.

The total forecast of 559,000 Puget Sound coho is down about 6 percent from the 10-year average, although it represents an increase from last year’s forecast.

Similarly, some chinook fisheries in Puget Sound will be limited this year due to low returns of wild chinook to rivers, such as the Stillaguamish, Nooksack and Dungeness.

The forecast for wild chinook is down 10 percent from last year while the forecast for Puget Sound hatchery chinook is 166,000 fish, up 27 percent from the 2016 forecast.

Farther south, about 386,000 Columbia River coho are projected to return this year, which is similar to last year’s forecast.

Only 223,000 coho actually returned last year to the Columbia River, where some coho stocks are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

About 582,600 fall chinook salmon are expected to return to the Columbia River, which is similar to last year’s actual return. While that’s significantly lower than the record 1.3 million fish that returned in 2015, this year’s forecast is considered a fairly good run of fall chinook, Adicks said.

Roughly 260,000 “upriver brights” are headed for areas of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam. The forecast for these fall chinook is the lowest since 2009.

About 250,000 hatchery chinook are expected to return this year to the lower Columbia River – nearly 124,000 more fish than actually returned last year.

Those salmon, known as “tules,” are the backbone of the recreational ocean chinook fishery. For the most part, tules are doing well considering recent unfavorable ocean conditions, Adicks said.

Meanwhile, this year’s run of pink salmon, which mostly return to Washington’s waters only in odd-numbered years, is expected to be about 80 percent lower than the 10-year average.

About 1.15 million pink salmon are forecast to return to Puget Sound this year.

On a more positive note, roughly 47,000 sockeye are expected to return to the Baker River, a tributary of the Skagit River, making sockeye fisheries in Baker Lake and the Skagit River a possibility, Adicks said.

“This is going to be another challenging year for setting salmon fishing seasons,” Adicks said. “We’ll rely heavily on input from the public to set priorities for fisheries.”

Adicks encourages anglers, commercial fishers and others interested in Washington state salmon fisheries to attend one of nearly 20 public meetings scheduled on setting salmon seasons.

A meeting schedule, salmon forecasts, and information about the salmon season-setting process are available on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/. An online commenting tool will be available on the website later this week.

State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 8-13 in Vancouver, Wash., with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to develop options for this year’s commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries.

The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

Additional public meetings have been scheduled into April to discuss regional fishery issues. Input from these regional discussions will be considered as the season-setting process moves into the “North of Falcon” and PFMC meetings, which will determine the final 2017 salmon seasons.

The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 7-11 meeting in Sacramento, Calif. The 2017 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters is expected to be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.

Columbia Springer Season Set; New Closure Area At Lewis Mouth

UPDATED 10:10 A.M., FEB. 24, 2017 AT BOTTOM WITH OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE

Columbia fishery managers set an initial March 1-April 6 spring Chinook season that includes a new sanctuary around the mouth of the Lewis to protect weak returns to the trib.

As usual, the big river is open to bank and boat anglers upriver to Beacon Rock, but only bankies from there to Bonneville Dam.

There are no Tuesday closures, and daily limit is one hatchery king.

SPRING CHINOOK ANGLERS PREPARE TO NET ONE ON THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Overall, some 227,890 kings are expected back to the Columbia system, from the Select Areas near the mouth to North-central Washington, the wilds of Central Idaho and Oregon’s Hells Canyon tribs.

But it’s the 160,400 forecast to return to streams above Bonneville that managers need to watch out for.

An agreement on the fishery lops 30 percent of the run to guard against a busted forecast, and that allows for an overall mortality of 9,319 upriver-bound springers, both those intercepted for barbecues and wild fish that are released but some percentage of which die.

Managers expect 6,905 of those to be killed by sport anglers below Bonneville, 921 between the dam and Oregon-Washington state line above McNary, 863 in the Snake, around 610 in commercial fisheries in Select Areas, and set aside 20 for the Wanapum Tribe.

“We’ll continue to take a conservative approach in managing the fishery,” said WDFW’s Ron Roler. “If the fish return at or above expectations, we will look toward providing additional days of fishing on the river later in the spring.”

With no mainstem netting on the lower river before May’s runsize update, there are no Tuesday closures on the recreational fleet as in past years. Allocations have ratcheted from 70:30 sport:commercial last year to 80:20 this year.

However, starting March 1 a new closure takes effect around the mouth of the Lewis. The trib is forecast to see only 700 springers.

“ESA authorization for fisheries impacting listed lower Columbia River Chinook requires specific hatchery escapement goals be met,” the managers’ fact sheet for today’s decision states. “In 2017, the Lewis River spring Chinook return is forecasted to be less than the hatchery escapement goal of 1,380 adult fish.”

A WDFW IMAGE OUTLINES THE LEWIS RIVER MOUTH CLOSURE AREA DURING THE MARCH 1-APRIL 6 INITIAL COLUMBIA RIVER SPRING CHINOOK FISHERY. (WDFW)

The closure area is described as: “A line from a marker on the lower end of Bachelor Island through USCG buoy Red #4 to the Oregon shore, downstream to a line from the lower (north) end of Sauvie Island across the Columbia River to the downstream range marker (0.7 miles downstream of the Lewis River) and continuing along the wing jetty to the Washington shore.”

While the Willamette forecast is low — 38,090, roughly 21,000 below the 10-year average — with 32,500 of those being fin-clipped, there are just under 9,900 available for harvest below the falls and in the Columbia, and so Oregon managers not recommend any changes to the permanent regs in the Willy and Multnomah Channel.

Columbia managers also approved the usual March 16-May 5 fishery in the Columbia Gorge to the state line, with both banks open from Bonneville upstream, and boat fishing allowed from the Tower Island powerlines below The Dalles to the state line.

Daily limit is as one. The hand cast rule is in effect on the Washington side of the Bonneville Pool.

A high snowpack and what can sometimes be a fast-moving run means that anglers will need to keep their eyes on flows and state fish and wildlife e-reg sites.

“We ask anglers to keep watch for changing fishing rules, but it’s also important to keep a close eye on the river conditions,” Roler said. “Boat anglers, in particular, have a hard time catching fish when the river is running high and dirty, and personal safety has to be everyone’s first priority.”

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

Fishery managers from Oregon and Washington set spring Chinook salmon seasons for the Columbia River Thursday during a joint state hearing in Vancouver, Wash.

The recreational springer season on the Columbia River from the mouth upstream to Bonneville Dam is scheduled to be open from March 1 – April 6, with boat angling restricted to below Beacon Rock.

The Columbia River spring Chinook season is based on a forecast of 227,900 returning spring Chinook, which includes an expected 160,400 upriver fish. The prediction is down from last year’s return of 274,700 springers and is 80 percent of the 10-year average return of 285,900 fish.

From Bonneville Dam to the OR/WA border upstream of McNary Dam, state fishery managers approved a Chinook retention season starting on March 16 and continuing through May 5

On the Willamette River, the spring Chinook forecast is 38,100 adult fish, which is down from last year’s actual return of 47,200 springers and two-thirds of the 10-year average return of 57,600. The 2017 return allows for a harvest of 9,550 hatchery Chinook between Willamette Falls and the mouth of the Columbia River.

The following is a summary of spring recreational fishing seasons approved by the states:

CHINOOK SALMON

Columbia River mouth to Bonneville Dam

Prior to March 1, permanent rules for Chinook salmon, as outlined in the 2017 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations, remain in effect.

From March 1 through April 6, boat fishing will be allowed seven days a week from Buoy 10 at the Columbia River mouth upstream to Beacon Rock, which is located approximately four miles below Bonneville Dam. Bank fishing will be allowed during the same timeframe from Buoy 10 upstream to the fishing deadline at Bonneville Dam. The recreational fishery below Bonneville will be managed prior to a run update based on the available guideline of 6,905 upriver spring Chinook. The season may be shortened or extended depending on actual catch and effort.

The states also adopted a no-fishing sanctuary around the mouth of the Lewis River to protect spring Chinook returning to that Washington tributary. No fishing is allowed within the closure area, which is defined as: A line from a marker on the lower end of Bachelor Island through USCG buoy Red #4 to the Oregon shore, downstream to a line from the lower (north) end of Sauvie Island across the Columbia River to the downstream range marker (0.7 miles downstream of the Lewis River) and continuing along the wing jetty to the Washington shore.

The daily bag limit will be two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a Chinook. The rules also allow retention of up to five adipose fin-clipped jack salmon per day in Oregon.

Columbia River from Bonneville Dam to the Oregon/Washington border

Prior to March 16, permanent rules for Chinook salmon, as outlined in the 2017 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations, remain in effect.

Effective March 16 through May 5, this area will be open to retention of adipose fin-clipped Chinook. Fishing for salmon and steelhead from a boat between Bonneville Dam and the Tower Island power lines, approximately six miles downstream from The Dalles Dam, is prohibited.

This fishery will be managed to the available harvest guideline of 921 upriver spring Chinook and may be shortened or extended depending on catch and effort.

The daily bag limit will be two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a Chinook. The rules also allow retention of up to five adipose fin-clipped jack salmon per day in Oregon.

Select Areas

Except as noted below, permanent fishing regulations for recreational harvest in Oregon waters within Youngs Bay and Blind Slough/Knappa Slough are listed in the 2017 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations.

Effective February 1, 2017, the use of barbed hooks is allowed when angling for salmon, steelhead, or trout in the Youngs Bay Select Area from the Highway 101 Bridge upstream to markers at confluence of Youngs and Klaskanine rivers, including lower Lewis and Clark River upstream to Alternate Highway 101 Bridge and lower Walluski River upstream to Highway 202 Bridge; and in the Knappa/Blind Slough Select Area from markers at the west end of Minaker Island upstream to markers at the mouth of Blind Slough and continuing up Blind Slough/Gnat Creek to the Aldrich Point Road Bridge.

Based on today’s action, effective March 1 through June 15, 2017 on days when the mainstem below Bonneville Dam is open to recreational Chinook harvest, the daily adult salmon/steelhead bag limit in Select Area fishing sites will be the same as mainstem Columbia bag limits. On days the mainstem Columbia is closed to Chinook retention, the permanent bag limits for Select Areas will apply.

Willamette River

Under permanent rules, the Willamette River remains open to retention of adipose fin-clipped adult Chinook salmon and adipose fin-clipped steelhead seven days a week. Fishery managers will monitor harvest and passage and may need to adjust the season depending on actual returns and catch rates.  Effective February 1, 2017, the use of barbed hooks is allowed when angling for salmon, steelhead, or trout in the Willamette River downstream of Willamette Falls.

The bag limit on the Willamette below Willamette Falls is two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon or steelhead in combination. Above the falls, two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon and three adipose fin-clipped steelhead may be retained in the daily bag.

STEELHEAD AND SHAD

Permanent rules for steelhead and shad are in effect, except for the following modifications:

Effective March 16 – May 15, 2017, the Columbia River will be open for retention of adipose fin-clipped steelhead from Buoy 10 to the Highway 395 Bridge and shad from Buoy 10 to Bonneville Dam ONLY during days and in areas open for retention of adipose fin-clipped spring Chinook. Beginning May 16 permanent rules resume as listed in the 2017 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations.

SMELT

A limited recreational smelt fishery may be considered for the Sandy River in 2017 but due to sporadic nature of Eulachon returns and the difficulty predicting their arrival date, ODFW does not intend to propose the 2017 regulations unless circumstances are warranted. Under Oregon’s 2017 sport fishing regulations, smelt-dippers will be required to have a fishing license for the first time this year.

STURGEON

The retention of sturgeon remains open in the mainstem Columbia River from Bonneville Dam upstream to McNary Dam, including adjacent tributaries. Staff is monitoring harvest and will announce closure dates when pool-specific harvest guidelines are met.

Columbia Zone regulation updates can be found online at www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/fishing/reg_changes/columbia.asp