When WDFW fired off a press release about their 2010-2012 fishing rule proposals on Wednesday, I posted some of the “highlights” here and a link to more information, then went back to hammering the last bits of the October issue into shape.
But I took the 100-page document home that night for further study.
Glad I did, because the deeper I read into it, the more my eyebrows rose.
WDFW is proposing a lot of big changes that steelheaders, Columbia River oversize sturgeon and salmon anglers, rockfishers and trout fishermen should keep an eye on.
Some of the tweaks would change the face of fisheries, and would result in less opportunity for us — but at the same time protect troubled stocks.
Anglers who back-troll FlatFish or Kwikfish or big spinners below the dams or troll Warts in the pools above for salmon or steelhead should know about proposal 31.
It would require anglers to ditch all their trebles for single, barbless hooks everywhere from the mouth of the Columbia up to McNary Dam.
“It’s going to hurt sport fishing, there’s no doubt, it’s going to hurt sport fishing,” says Buzz Ramsey, a noted Columbia River salmon and steelhead angler, brand manager for Yakima Baits and Northwest Sportsman columnist.
WDFW explains that the requirement would make it easier to release fish.
WDFW wants to chop two weeks off winter steelhead season on North Puget Sound rivers, just as wild stocks begin to return to them.
They want to move the last day of season from the end of February to midmonth on the Nooksack system, Pilchuck River, much of Pilchuck Creek, all of the Raging and Snohomish, most of the Skykomish and Snoqualmie, and lower Stillaguamish rivers.
On the Skagit, selective-gear requirements from mouth up to Highway 536 would begin half a month earlier (Feb. 15) and the catch-and-release season from The Dalles Bridge to the Cascade would begin a month earlier as well.
The intent, explains WDFW, is to “provide more protection for wild steelhead present in these rivers. Most hatchery steelhead will have cleared these areas by the middle of February, so anglers are fishing for wild fish (catch-and-release) until the end of the month under current rules.”
However, hatchery steelhead areas such as the Sky from the Wallace to the forks, Snoqualmie above Plumb Landing and North Fork Stilly would remain open through the end of the month.
And a selective-gear, two-hatchery limit, fishing-from-an-unpowered-boat, Feb. 16-March 31 fishery would be opened from Highway 536 to The Dalles Bridge on the Skagit.
WDFW is also proposing a complex new “stream strategy” in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to protect waters that act as nurseries for juvenile anadromous fish. Rather than unlisted rivers, streams and beaver ponds being open under statewide rules and seasons, if they weren’t in the regulations, they would be considered closed waters.
“… Much of the juvenile rearing habitat for resident trout and Dolly Varden and anadromous salmon, steelhead, cutthroat, and Bull Trout is currently open for fishing. As a result, these juvenile salmonids are at risk of being incidentally caught and may not survive being handled and released, especially if bait is used,” the state explains.
The agency wants to reduce the number of rivers open for wild steelhead retention by three by closing seasons on the Hoko and Pysht rivers on the Coast and the Green River in King County.
While return numbers on the Hoko and Pysht are meeting goals, WDFW cites declining sport harvest, “an indication of a reduced return of an already small stock, and the need for a more cautious management approach.”
The number of unclipped steelhead on the Green has also been shrinking in recent years, they say.
WDFW also proposes to move back retention seasons on coastal streams from December 1 to February 16. Not many wilds are kept during that timeframe on the Sol Duc, Hoh, Bogachiel and others, but WDFW wants to protect the early segment of the run to promote diversity within the stocks.
“In the past, these early runs were large and known to migrate higher in the watershed during early high flows and occupy spawning areas not often accessed by later running fish,” a state document explains.
And as a preventive measure, the state is calling for new selective gear rules on all of the South Fork Calawah and parts of the Bogachiel, Hoh and Sol Duc, and catch-and-release (except for hatchery steelhead) on the latter two streams.
Perhaps hoping to stave off an Endangered Species Act listing, rockfish would be completely off-limits in Puget Sound, the San Juans and eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca. The daily catch now is the first legal one caught (yelloweye and canary rockfish can’t be retained).
“Populations of several species of rockfish have been in decline and the Federal government has proposed that three species of rockfish be listed under the Endangered Species Act; two species (canary and yelloweye) as threatened and one species (bocaccio) as endangered,” WDFW explains.
And in the western and central Straits, retention would be barred in waters deeper than 120 feet.
Shad, that candy for sturgeon below Columbia River dams during “a biologically sensitive time of year,” would be outlawed, to protect broodstock populations, under one proposal.
“Large adult sturgeon inhale whole shade and often end up getting hooked so far down the throat that the hook cannot be removed. Staff conducting weekly surveys for dead sturgeon found that up to 40% of oversize sturgeon carcasses contained hooks in the gut,” WDFW explains.
The agency appears to admit it wants to shift the focus of the sturgeon fishery to the smaller, legal-sized fish.
“Sport fishery opportunity can be maintained as focused on legal-sized fish with over-sized as incidental handle as opposed to an advertised exploitable resource,” says WDFW.
To spread out the catch, daily limits for larger trout would be reduced at Blackmans Lake in Snohomish and Beaver Lake in King County as well as nearly five dozen others in Pierce, Mason, Kitsap, Jefferson, and Thurston counties where WDFW wants to begin planting bigger rainbows.
Other proposals include:
* Closing the west end of Sprague Lake to fishing to protect water birds
* Making the bank-fishing-only area at Drano Lake during spring Chinook fisheries permanent
* Encourage the harvest of hatchery summer Chinook over unclipped kings in the upper Columbia and Okanogan rivers with three-hatchery-fish OR one-wild king limits
* Reducing the daily Puget Sound crab limit to four from five but shifting the open days to Friday through Monday from Wednesday through Saturday.
The agency will hold seven meetings in the next month on all the proposals where the public can discuss the ideas with state staffers.
Meetings will be held:
Sept. 28 – WDFW’s Ephrata Office, 1550 Alder St. N.W., Ephrata
Sept. 29 – WDFW’s Spokane Office, 2315 North Discovery Place, Spokane Valley
Sept. 30 – Carpenter’s Hall, 507 Third St., Yakima
Oct. 6 – WDFW’s Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek
Oct. 7 – Peninsula College, 1502 E. Lauridsen Blvd., Room J47, Port Angeles
Oct. 8 – WDFW’s Vancouver Office, 2108 Grand Blvd., Vancouver
Oct. 13 – WDFW Headquarters, Natural Resources Building, Room 172, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia
Every meeting except the one in Port Angeles starts at 6 p.m. The one in PA begins at 6:30 p.m.
The public will also have an opportunity to provide testimony and written comments on the proposed rule changes during the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Nov. 6-7 meeting in Olympia.
The commission will vote on final proposals in February.