Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Idaho Hunt Managers Tout 2019 Spring Turkey Prospects

THE FOLLOWING IS AN IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME PRESS RELEASE

The youth turkey season opens Monday, April 8, and the general turkey season and many controlled hunts in the state open the following Monday, April 15. Hunters can see which units have general hunts in Fish and Game’s turkey hunting rules, in addition to details about the seasons.

COLTYN SMITH, THEN AGE 14 FROM HORSESHOE BEND, IDAHO, AND CONNER TOMLINSON, THEN AGE 13 FROM MERIDIAN, IDAHO EACH HARVESTED THEIR TURKEY DURING THE YOUTH HUNT IN APRIL 2016. THEY WERE ESCORTED BY THEIR FATHERS, KIT SMITH AND SCOTT TOMLINSON. THE BOYS HUNTED ON A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, IN THE IDAHO CITY AREA. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

There are some rule changes for the 2019 season that hunters should be aware of, specifically pertaining to controlled hunts:

  • A general tag or an extra tag may be used with a controlled hunt permit in both the spring and fall seasons
  • Immediately after any wild turkey is killed, the turkey tag and permit, if a controlled hunt, must be validated and securely attached to the wild turkey. To validate the tag and permit, the hunter must cut out and completely remove two triangles on the border of the tag and permit, one for the month and one for the day of the kill
  • The tag and permit must remain attached so long as the turkey is in transit or storage

Hunters will find most general hunting opportunity in the Panhandle, Clearwater, and Southwest and Southeast Regions, while most other areas are limited to controlled hunts.

While much of the state experienced deep snowfall in February, the winter was relatively mild until that point, meaning turkeys were not stressed for a long period of time. Add that to the fact that most of the state’s turkey populations were in good shape heading into the winter, and hunters can expect good to very good turkey hunting in the spring of 2019.

Hunters are warned that many areas experience flooding during late winter and early spring, so they should double check access to their favorite hunting spots. They might also encounter lingering snowdrifts that block them from their hunting spot.

AN I.D.F.G. MAP SHOWS THE PARTS OF IDAHO THAT ARE OPEN TO GENERAL SEASON SPRING TURKEY HUNTING (BLUE) AND AREAS THAT REQUIRE A CONTROLLED TAG. (IDFG)

Fish and Game’s regional staff give an overview of what’s happening with turkey hunting in their regions:

Panhandle Region

Turkey season in the Panhandle is looking quite good despite the snow that accumulated in the lower elevations late winter.

The region currently has near-normal winter snowpack, but the majority of snow fell later in February and March. Turkeys were likely not stressed for a long period because of the mild early winter conditions. Things should begin to melt soon and with the ample late snowfall we should see a very nice spring green-up due to the abundant moisture.

A challenge for turkey hunters this year might be access due to poor road conditions and the potential for flooding, but there should be abundant turkey numbers. Snow may also hang on in some areas of the region potentially affecting access.

During the spring season, hunters may purchase and use up to two turkey tags; only bearded turkeys may be harvested in spring. As always, remember to respect private property, and ask first before you hunt there.

– Micah Ellstrom, Panhandle Region Wildlife Manager

Clearwater Region

Turkeys are present throughout all forested portions of the region with the highest densities found in and adjacent to the Clearwater River drainage up to the confluence of the Lochsa and Selway Rivers, the Snake River drainage up the confluence with the Salmon River, the lower Salmon River drainage up to White Bird, and the Dworshak (Reservoir) area.

Good opportunities for turkey hunting are found on Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area, state and federal property, private property, as well as corporate timber land. The entire region is open to general turkey hunting April 8-14 (youth only) and April 15 – May 25 for the general spring season.

Production the past five years has been at or above the long-term average. Relatively mild conditions during the bulk of the past two winters should result in good overwinter survival. Consequently, turkey numbers this hunting season should be comparable to those observed in recent years.

Late winter snows could potentially preclude access to some higher elevation areas depending on weather conditions and snowmelt between now and the opener. The Hunt Planner is a good tool for showing different federal land ownership. For information on corporate timberland, visit websites for the Potlatch Timber Corporation and the Bennett Lumber Company.

– Dave Koehler, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Upper Snake Region

The Upper Snake Region generally has small populations mainly along the Henry’s Fork and South Fork of the Snake River.

With the late arrival of winter this year and lower than normal temperatures in February and March, we would anticipate some winter mortalities within the region.  With above normal snowpack in higher elevations in many parts of the region, expect to find turkeys at lower elevations later into the season.

Anticipate stable to slightly declining turkey populations in the region for spring hunting.

– Curtis Hendricks, Upper Snake Region Wildlife Manager

Southeast Region

Turkeys fared extremely well last spring/summer with high production and survival rates resulting in flock increases across the region.

Winter conditions were above average, however, turkey numbers were extremely high this past year, and despite some winter mortality, there should still be robust turkey populations for hunters to enjoy.

During the early period of the spring season, hunters might find turkey distributions to be slightly different due to lingering snow at higher elevations.

– Zach Lockyer, Regional Wildlife Manager

Southwest Region

The turkey outlook in the Nampa subregion of the Southwest Region is good. Winter conditions have been mild in the valley and we expect high overwinter survival in GMU’s 38 and 39.

Additionally, 100 turkeys were trapped on private land near Parma (GMU 38) and relocated to public land on the South Fork Boise River below Anderson Ranch Dam (GMU 39).

Turkeys have been faring well in the Treasure Valley for several years and numbers are up. Spring turkey hunting throughout the area should be good this spring.

– Rick Ward, Regional Wildlife Manager, Nampa Subregion

Turkey numbers are increasing throughout occupied parts of the Southwest Region.  Although many areas saw deep snow this winter, it came late and stayed for a relatively short time, so did not adversely affect turkey populations in most places.

Units 22, 31, 32A and 23 all have general spring turkey hunts, as does a portion of Unit 32. In areas around Cecil D. Andrus WMA, Cambridge, Weiser and Midvale, most turkeys will be at low elevations during the early part of the spring season.

Motorized travel is restricted on Andrus WMA until May 1, but walk-in hunting is welcome.  In addition, there is turkey hunting available on Access Yes properties near Cambridge, Indian Valley, and New Meadows.

– Regan Berkley, Regional Wildlife Manager, McCall Subregion

Salmon Region

The region has low turkey densities, about 400 in Custer County and about 125 to 225 in Lemhi County. There are limited controlled hunts for these birds.

The region likely had some late winter mortality but hunting success rates should remain good. Access will not be a problem due to snow.

– Greg Painter, Salmon Region Wildlife Manager

Magic Valley Region

The region has a limited number of turkeys in Unit 54, with most residing on the west side of the unit. Turkeys are limited to controlled hunts only in the region, and normal survival is anticipated after the winter.

– Mark Fleming, Regional Wildlife Habitat Manager

Why A Relatively Unknown Washington Lake May Produce The State’s Biggest Tourney Bass

If a WDFW staffer’s analysis of a decade’s worth of bass tournament catches spiked your interest in hitting Lake Osoyoos, we have a few more details to add about it and other hot spots.

That data posted to Facebook earlier this week showed that out of 18 waters across Washington, the fattest average fish was caught at this relatively overlooked border-straddling Okanogan River lake, 3.34 pounds — more than half a pound heavier than the next closest entry on the list.

A BASS ANGLER WORKS THE EASTERN SHORE OF LAKE OSOYOOS JUST BELOW THE INTERNATIONAL BORDER IN THIS CROPPED IMAGE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY’S SHORELINE PHOTO VIEWER. (DOE)

“I suspect they are large in there because conditions are perfect and they have been left alone for the most part,” says Dr. Daniel Garrett, a state warmwater fisheries biologist now stationed in Spokane who crunched the numbers from 14 contests held there.

“I’m sure they would eat a sockeye smolt,” he adds, “but I’d be shocked if crawfish wasn’t driving their growth there for most of the year, as in other systems.”

No need to tell that to two Washington anglers who fished a tournament on the British Columbia side of the 5,729-acre lake last April.

They brought a monster smallmouth aboard that might have gone 9-plus pounds had it not been “pooping crayfish all over the deck,” according to an article on Bassfan.com.

ANOTHER BASS BOAT WORKS OSOYOOS — WHICH MEANS “NARROWING OF THE WATERS” IN THE OKANAGAN LANGUAGE — ALONG ITS WESTERN SHORE IN THIS CROPPED IMAGE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY’S SHORELINE PHOTO VIEWER. (DOE)

It stated that the duo’s two-day, 64-plus-pound catch might also have been a record for the entire nation of Canada, though their final margin of victory — 39 pounds, 15 ounces — also suggests that they might have been fishing the spot on the spot on the spot.

The website reports they were dragging 4-inch Yamamoto Hula Grubs in cinnamon-purple flake and green pumpkin on 1/2-ounce football-head jigs around rocks next to weeds.

“This will put B.C. bass fishing on the map,” angler Shane Hoelzle told BassFan, which observed that otherwise, “largely because it’s a long drive from any large population center, and because anglers have kept quiet, Osoyoos remains largely unpressured.”

The lake is also on WDFW’s map, per se, and the agency says it offers “good fishing” from May through September, but ironically doesn’t list smallies in its rundown of “species you might catch” there.

At this writing, those spot-hoarding state zipperlippers only list perch, rainbows, kokanee, Chinook and sockeye as available.

But in Garrett’s analysis, Osoyoos actually had one of the highest percentages of smallmouth in its tourney catch, around 95 percent, topped only by the Mid-Columbia River’s Wallula Pool at roughly 97 percent.

Bronzebacks also comprised more than 70 percent of the bag at Lakes Washington, Sammamish, Banks and Long (Spokane), according to his analysis.

(WDFW)

But largemouth dominated at two other waters, Box Canyon and Potholes Reservoirs, a reflection of the preponderance of habitat for bucketmouths at the Central and Northeast Washington impoundments, he says.

“Box Canyon, for example, has a ton of slough habitat for largemouth,” Garrett says.

Those off-channel waters and drowned tributary mouths of the Pend Oreille River also unfortunately provided prime places for northern pike illegally introduced from Idaho’s Couer d’Alene drainage to establish themselves before WDFW and the Kalispel Tribe began an aggressive suppression program. While that effort appears to be working, walleye are now turning up in increasing numbers.

Garrett hopes to drill further down into the WDFW tournament data, including catches by month and season, but notes that out of the 146,124 bass caught and recorded at events held between 2008 and 2018, at least 112,213 were smallmouth and 33,503 were largemouth.

“They don’t add up to the 146,124 fish because there are a few missing data points because anglers didn’t report their smallmouth and largemouth. Not very many, though,” he notes.

(WDFW)

WDFW’s permit to hold an event requires organizers to report how many fish of each species were caught, their total weight, the biggest and smallest fish, and how many were released alive.

It turns out that this data may also provide key and unique insights into Washington’s bass populations.

Asked on Facebook if the end of size and bag limits on the Columbia in 2013 and 2016 had had any effect, WDFW stated, “Average weights of bass weighed in tournaments have not changed significantly in the Columbia River Pools. The average since 2016 is slightly higher than the 10-year average.”

As for getting on Lake Osoyoos this spring and summer, there are two boat ramps on the Washington side of the lake, including at Osoyoos Lake Veteran’s Memorial Park at its south end and Deep Bay Park on its west side just off Highway 97.

Do be aware that the lake belongs to two countries and boaters on it are watched more closely than on your local neighborhood lake, if this 2013 Wenatchee World story picked up by the Associated Press is any indication.

But over the coming months you might just spot one of WDFW’s warmwater bios doing a little field research here.

“I need to take a trip to see this lake,” says Garrett.

Me too!

Potential 2019 Washington River Salmon Fisheries Posted For Comment

More details are coming out about Washington’s potential 2019 river salmon fisheries and WDFW is looking for public input on them as North of Falcon comes to a boil over the next two weeks.

Overall, there will be seasons, though in places on salt- and freshwaters they don’t look too hot because of low forecasted returns to some rivers, potential impacts on chronically depressed Chinook stocks, efforts to rebuild three “overfished” Washington and BC coho runs, and providing for orca recovery.

ANGLERS WOULD ONLY HAVE SEPTEMBER TO FISH THE SNOHOMISH FOR COHO, WITH A DAILY LIMIT OF ONE AS MANAGERS TRY TO REBUILD THE “OVERFISHED” STOCK. ANGLER JON PULLING CAUGHT THIS ONE WITH GUIDE JIM STAHL A FEW SEASONS BACK. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

On Pugetropolis streams, while WDFW is again proposing bonus limits on coho in the Nooksack system — four a day in the mainstem and North Fork, and up to six on the South Fork — there wouldn’t even be a catch-and-release fishery for pink salmon there.

In fact, there wouldn’t be any humpy fishing in rivers from the British Columbia border all the way down through the Snohomish system, traditionally among the strongest pink populations — at least until The Blob and four big fall 2015 floods hit.

Speaking of the Snoho, WDFW’s proposing just a single month of salmon fishing in it and its two major tribs, September, and only for one coho. That month’s good, but October’s better, harvest wise. The Wallace would only be open for the back half of the month, also for just one silver headed to the hatchery there.

It’s because federal overseers are pushing the state and tribes to improve silver escapement on the key system following several bad years.

But unlike 2016 when none was mentioned, at least this clause is built into WDFW’s fishery proposal: “Extension of season dependent on in-season update.”

Also in the North Sound, the agency would like to open lower Dakota Creek near Blaine for coho, as well as hold a pilot May 1-31 hatchery spring Chinook fishery on the Skagit from the mouth up to Gilligan Creek.

Baker Lake would be open starting July 6 for three sockeye a day, the Samish Aug. 1-Oct. 31 for Chinook and hatchery coho

As for the potential Stillaguamish coho season, that is TBD after comanager discussions, according to WDFW’s literature.

Further south, salmon fishing on the Green-Duwamish could open Aug. 20 below I-405, with Chinook available for harvest starting Sept. 1 from the interstate down to Tukwila International Boulevard.

Fisheries on the Puyallup would open Aug. 15 for hatchery coho and Chinook, but with closures on certain days on the lower river to accommodate tribal openers.

The Nisqually would open July 1 for salmon, with a two-adult daily limit (release wild Chinook).

Things are less cut and dried at Buoy 10 and the rest of the Lower Columbia, where managers are trying to limit Chinook catches but access a good coho run of 900,000-plus fish.

There are multiple options on the table for dealing with August and its fall king runs, but things brighten in September, when the bag could bump to three hatchery silvers a day but no Chinook below Bonneville.

WDFW’s also warning that steelhead fisheries on the big river could see the rolling closures of 2017 and last year’s night closures and one-fish bags.

And things are no less complex in Grays Harbor and its tribs, but at least there are options.

Indeed, it’s better than sitting at home.

Next up in the North of Falcon process is an April 2 meeting in Ridgefield to talk about the Columbia and ocean, and an April 3 meeting in Lynnwood to discuss Puget Sound.

 

Oregon Gobbler Hunting Forecast For Spring 2019

Editor’s note: This is an abridged version of Troy Rodakowski’s Oregon spring turkey prospects story that ran in the March 2019 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine and was written in early February, before heavy winter snows that are now melting fell across eastern portions of the Beaver State.

By Troy Rodakowski

I always wonder where my opening day will take me as I try to think of new options, consider revisiting old haunts and wondering what the new season might have in store.

Talking to a few biologists never hurts and I have found that sometimes they have good insights for hunters looking for new locations and tracking where flocks are moving.

JAYCE WILDER GOT HIS GOBBLER IN 2016 WHILE HUNTING DOUGLAS COUNTY. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

“We are seeing some range expansion in parts of the Columbia Basin and eastern Malheur County, where Idaho birds are pioneering some new areas,” notes Mikal Cline, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s game bird biologist.

The state agency also conducts some trap-and-transplant operations, moving problem birds to more desirable locations, but only to improve existing flocks.

According to several local landowners and turkey hunters there are also improving flocks in the upper Deschutes watershed and locations around Bend, as well as the Hood River Valley.

With below average snowpack and a fairly mild winter – at least as of this writing – larger flocks have been congregating in the lowlands near the mountain ranges of Northeast and Central Oregon. I have also seen some expansion of several flocks throughout the Umpqua River drainage.

According to biologists, we are also seeing some range expansion in southern Wasco and Wheeler Counties, part of the Fremont National Forest north of Lakeview, and south of Ontario. No matter where you look it is very likely that there are some new areas to check out this spring.

NORTH-CENTRAL AND NORTHEAST OREGON SAW QUITE A BIT OF SNOWFALL IN FEBRUARY AND EARLY MARCH, AND WHILE IT IS BEGINNING TO MELT OUT, IT MAY AFFECT WHERE TO HUNT TURKEY AT THE START OF THE SEASON. MATHEW GOODMAN-GRAY GOT HIS TOM DURING SPRING 2015’S HUNT ABOUT A MILE FROM HIS GRANDPA’S PLACE NEAR UNION. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

“The mild winter throughout Oregon has provided good conditions for our wintering turkey flocks,” notes Cline.

It is likely that weather-related mortality will be low, but hens should be going into spring in good physical condition as well.

“This of course also allows the hens to produce plenty of eggs and withstand the energetic needs of incubation,” adds Cline.

We of course have been fooled by mild early and midwinter patterns only to have onslaughts of wet, cold and snowy conditions later on, turning the tables and changing things drastically as we progress into spring.

Of course it is no secret that turkey populations seem to be robust throughout much of the Northwest. Oregon has a very liberal bag limit, with hunters able to purchase three tags apiece throughout the season. The West is becoming a turkey hunting destination for many across the U.S. Throughout Oregon harvest rates have been steady over the past five years, “though this doesn’t reflect the increasing density of wild turkeys that are not in huntable locations,” Cline says.

“Our Eastern Oregon brood survey routes show a 27 percent bump in turkey density from 2017 to 2018, so I would expect a strong showing this spring, particularly in the vicinity of the Umatilla, Malheur, Wallowa-Whitman, and Ochoco National Forests,” she forecasts.

THE TOP FIVE Western Oregon units in recent years have been the Melrose, Rogue, Willamette, Evans Creek and Applegate. All had good harvests, with some of the highest in Melrose and Rogue, followed by Evans Creek and Willamette respectively.

One unit to keep an eye on for this year will be the Siuslaw near Lorane, especially in the southeast portions near the small towns of Drain and Creswell. Also, the McKenzie, Alsea, Chetco and Keno Units have seen increasing numbers of birds on private lands near the foothills.

DON’T TELL THE TRUANT OFFICER BUT KEVIN KENYON MIGHT HAVE SKIPPED SCHOOL A COUPLE SPRINGS AGO TO HUNT TURKEYS WITH HIS UNCLE, SUCCESSFULLY BAGGING THIS WESTERN OREGON TOM. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

In Central and Eastern Oregon, locations near LaGrande, Imbler, Elgin, Union, Cove, Wallowa, Sumpter and Flora all hold decent flocks. The Catherine Creek, Sumpter, Walla Walla, Pine Creek and Minam Units all saw decent harvest in 2017-18. And units that showed significant increases in harvest during the past few years include the Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Keating and Starkey.

Washington 2019 Spring Turkey Hunting Prospects

If 2019 is anything like recent spring gobbler hunts, somewhere around seven out of every 10 toms will be killed in Northeast Washington.

According to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Units 101 through 136 provided 69 percent of 2017’s statewide harvest, 3,331 birds, the third most for this region since 2008.

JEREMY RACE AND HIS SONS, THEN 3 AND 6, SHOW OFF A NORTHEAST WASHINGTON GOBBLER TAKEN DURING THE 2016 SEASON. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

Even though winter struck late and stuck around into March, Annemarie Prince, WDFW’s District 1 wildlife biologist, doesn’t think it will impact turkey numbers.

“The fields in the Colville Valley are already starting to melt out and there are spots under trees that never had much snow,” she said in early March. “I’d say harvest should be similar to last year’s. I can’t see why it would be up or down significantly.”

Hunters typically focus on farms in the Colville, Pend Oreille and other valleys’ floors, as well as the wooded slopes above them, where typically private timberlands and public ground can be found.

“If the snow sticks around, the birds might stay bunched up a little longer in areas without snow,” says Prince. “For the opener, hunters could think about scouting early and contacting private landowners to gain hunting access. I don’t recommend showing up on opening day all decked out in camo and requesting permission. Like in year’s past, I think the map in our hunting prospects showing good areas for turkeys on public lands is helpful and still a good map.”

That’s a reference to a marked-up page in her fall 2018 hunting forecast document, which can be found by going to wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/prospects.

Speaking of bios’ hunting prospects, Michael Atamian’s prognosis for District 2 – Spokane, Lincoln and Whitman Counties – has some interesting details.

Last fall he reported turkeys were doing “very well” in the Mt. Spokane, Mica Peak, Cheney and Roosevelt game units,  which produced 1,132, 232, 410 and 410 birds in 2017 (spring and fall seasons) and that they’re expanding in Harrington, Steptoe and Almota, though these largely open units yielded less than 120 all together.

“Qualitatively, the number of turkeys seen during other survey efforts – moose, deer and elk flights – would indicate the turkey population is healthy in District 2, as would the number of damage complaints our wildlife conflict staff have received,” noted Atamian earlier this month.

“This late winter weather will delay the hens nesting a bit and so decrease their interest in males, which will dampen the strutting a bit, but once the temperatures turn and snow starts to melt off, it will pick up quick,” he forecasted.

Even as his district contributes well to the region’s overall highest-in-the-state take, the knock is the decided lack of public land.

“As for almost all hunting in District 2 some of the best spots are on private ground,” Atamian says, “so I would highly recommend hunters secure private land access if they want to increase their odds.”

There are very scattered patches of state land, and the big paper company’s properties might be another option.

Atamian encourages turkey hunters to also look into fall opportunities.

WHILE THE GENERAL TURKEY SEASON OPENS APRIL 15, YOUNG HUNTERS CAN HEAD AFIELD A WEEK EARLIER FOR THE APRIL 6-7 YOUTH WEEKEND. JOHNNY HONE TOOK HIS NICE TOM DURING 2017’S EDITION. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

To the south, the Blue Mountains harvest has been down from high marks earlier this decade, likely due to increased fall hunts meant to lower damage complaints. In spring 2017, 499 turkeys were taken here, representing 10 percent of the statewide kill.

Assistant wildlife bio Mark Vekasy reported big flocks in late winter, likely due to snows, but with no real winterkill issues to report he expected an average season.

“It seems like turkeys are everywhere we would expect them to be – and lots of places we don’t want them – so I can’t point to any particular areas,” he says.

That said, there are some public lands.

“Some out-of-the-way spots that often don’t get as much pressure are on the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area up beyond the road on Joseph Creek, and the George Creek unit of the Asotin Creek WA. The McDonald Bridge and Swegle Units of the Wooten WA on the Walla Walla River are good ones for disabled hunters to access,” Vekasy tips.

“If you’ve got a boat, it would be fun to access some of the Army Corps of Engineers hunt management units along the Snake River,” he adds. “We saw good numbers of turkeys on the breaks of the Snake River during our mule deer surveys, and I don’t think those turkeys get much pressure at all.”

Vekasy does advise hunters to get ahold of good maps showing HMU boundaries.

Outside of one off-the-charts year, Klickitat County has annually kicked out 370 to 514 birds each spring over the last 10 years, and you can expect that to continue.

“The spring 2018 season looks like it was on par with the four previous seasons, which have been very stable at between 400 to 500 birds harvested and a success rate between 25 to 35 percent,” says WDFW’s Stefanie Bergh. “I expect the same this year.”

While cool, damp weather can impact spring production, she points out that last year was hot and dry, leading her to suspect a good hatch in 2018, which could mean more birds down the road.

The Klickitat Wildlife Area may be most popular, but there are scattered Western Pacific Timber parcels west of Highway 97.

“If hunters can secure access to private lands, especially at lower elevations, their chances of encountering turkeys will be good. We also have a spot for disabled turkey hunters that is part of our Private Lands Access Program,” adds Bergh, pointing to  WDFW’s 40-acre Lovers Lane parcel just east of the town of Klickitat.

KEITH MOEN, THE SUBJECT OF A FEATURE ARTICLE IN A PAST ISSUE OF NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE, POSES WITH A NICE TURKEY, THE SECOND HE’D TAKEN IN A THREE-YEAR STRETCH AT THE TIME. “OMETIMES IT’S HARDER FOR DISABLED HUNTERS TO GET TO GOOD AREAS AND MAKE A SHOT BUT HE IS BREAKING THE MOLD,” WROTE HIS WIFE MARY IN SENDING THE IMAGE. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

To the north, state managers report that East Cascades flocks are probably at the region’s carrying capacity, in terms of winter severity, available habitat and resident tolerance, though the agency’s latest game report does note an increase in Chelan County in recent years that might be worth checking out.

Gillnet Ban Dies In Olympia, But Some Fish-Wildlife Bills Still Kicking

The Olympia Outsider™ has been taking his name very literally, soaking up some serious ray-age the past few days, but back indoors Washington lawmakers have been busy girls and boys in the halls of power, amending, debating and voting on all sorts of bills.

(THE INTERWEBS)

While some fish and wildlife bills are still moving along smartly, other major pieces of legislation don’t appear to have escaped last week’s cutoff to get out of their chamber of origin.

May we have a moment of silence for:

Senate Bill 5617, the statewide nontribal gillnet phaseout. Not that it ever had a chance in the House, but on its first drift this bill netted a whopping 24 then 27 cosponsors — more votes than it even needed to get it out of the upper chamber! all but assuring passage! pack up your nets, NT comms! — but then it was pared back to just the Columbia, then three cosponsors somehow wriggled out of the webbing, and then somebody must’ve thrown some haybales into the Senate because this bill sank way out of sight before ever getting a hearing before Ways and Means.

House Bill 1824, directing WDFW to apply to NOAA for a permit to take out the maximum number of sea lions to increase salmon survival to benefit orcas. Anglers might have been ready to lock and load this bill out of the House, but while there was no opposition, WDFW signed in as “other” on this bill, because, well, it is a bit more complicated than that and I’ll just let the agency’s Nate Pamplin explain why that is starting at the 16:58-minute mark.

NOW, OLYMPIA IS A FUNNY PLACE, and not just because its name can be rearranged to Oily Map and Mayo Lip. In similarly slippery fashion, some bills that don’t meet deadlines aren’t necessarily dead-dead.

Those that can help set the state budget but didn’t hit cutoffs can still technically be “slightly alive,” in the words of my colleague Miracle Max.

Trying to sort this year’s “only mostly dead” bills, I called the Legislative Hotline in hopes they had a master list of NTIB, or necessary to implement the budget, bills, but sadly they hadn’t received anything along those lines from lawmakers yet.

Still, last week, a key source at WDFW informed me that based on what they were hearing several key bills were dead for the session, but we’re categorizing them as “mostly dead” just to be on the super-safe side.

HB 2122, the tiny tax on big-ticket recreational gear and clothing to help fund WDFW’s wildlife management. No sooner did a bipartisan coalition of urban and rural lawmakers propose the two-tenths of 1 percent tax on tents, rain jackets and certain other goods over $200 than one of those huge-ass firefighting jetliners must’ve come in real low and doused that campfire right the hell out because very little has been written about it. Still, an Audubon Washington update earlier this month lists it as a “conversation starter this legislative session.” Under it, license-holding sportsmen would be exempt because we already gladly contribute more than our fair share because we are awesome and other nature lovers could learn from our example.

HB 1662/SB 5696 would change the way WDFW compensates counties for the million or so acres it has taken off local tax rolls to match how DNR does it. During public hearings literally nobody opposed this important change to the PILT, or payment in lieu of taxes, program proposed by a number of lawmakers from parts of the state rich with state wildlife areas (and where ideally more lands are purchased from willing sellers), so it’s puzzling why it didn’t advance further. Aliens could be to blame — the Senate version was placed in the “X File” … which actually means it’s “no longer eligible for consideration,” though even then it could be plucked out of the ether should some lawmaker need it for a little leverage with another.

HB 1230, which would broaden eligibility of disabled sportsmen who could get discounted licenses. Another bill with literally no opposition but just couldn’t get out of the House. What. The. Hell?

YET DESPITE THOSE UNTIMELY DEATHS as well as the possible but not fully finally Miracle Max-confirmed deaths, other critter bills are still grazing/swimming/prowling along in Olympia, including:

HB 2097, gray wolf status review, passed House 98-0, referred to Senate ag-natural resources committee;

SB 5148, hunter pink, passed Senate 48-0-0-1 (yes-no-abstain-absent), referred to House ag-natural resources committee and scheduled for an executive session today.

HB 1061, designating the razor clam as the state clam, passed the House 98-0, scheduled for a hearing in the Senate government and tribal relations committee March 27.

HB 1187, streamlining approval of conservation districts’ fish passage improvement projects, passed House 96-0-0-2, referred to Senate ag-natural resources committee;

HB 1579, hydraulic code enforcement and Chinook habitat, passed House 59-39, scheduled for a hearing before Senate ag-natural resources committee today;

HB 1580 / SB 5577, addressing SRKW watching from boats, watered down and passed by the House 78-20, referred to Senate ag-natural resources committee and scheduled for a public hearing tomorrow;

HB 1516, training hounds for nonlethal pursuit of predators, passed House 96-0-0-2, scheduled for a hearing before Senate ag-natural resources committee today;

SB 5322, essentially bars suction and other motorized mining in critical salmon habitat, passed Senate 30-17-0-2, had hearing before House environment committee last week;

SB 5404, adds eel grass and kelp beds to streamlined reviews for fish enhancement project funding, passed Senate 48-0-0-1, scheduled for a hearing before House ag-natural resources committee tomorrow

SB 5525, gives WDFW goal to up whitetail numbers so surveys find 8 to 9 a mile, passed Senate 48-0-0-1, scheduled for a hearing before House ag-natural resources committee tomorrow;

SB 5597, creates work group to study aerial applications of pesticides on forestlands, passed Senate 47-0-0-2, scheduled for a hearing before House ag-natural resources committee on March 22.

AND THAT BRINGS US TO THE BIG BILLS still hanging out there for Washington sportsmen, WDFW’s fee increase.

HB 1708 and SB 5692 have both had a hearing in their respective chambers, but haven’t budged too far off that initial starting line, though that doesn’t matter much because they’re NTIB bills.

If passed all individual licenses would go up in cost by 15 percent (see breakout of costs here), but thanks to Fish and Wildlife Commission concerns, anglers would only end up paying a maximum of $7 more on bundled packages such as the Combo License and Fish Washington, and hunters $15 more on the “Big Four” (deer, elk, cougar, bear) plus small game.

The commission would be allowed to make small increases to license fees to account for inflation starting two years from now, and the Columbia River endorsement would be extended to 2023.

The bills are part of a $60-plus-million ask of lawmakers to help deal with shortfalls, inflation and unfunded mandates from the legislature, as well as provide better fishing and hunting ops, but only a quarter of that would be raised through the license hike, the rest through the General Fund.

Groups like Puget Sound Anglers, Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, Mule Deer Foundation, Ilwaco Charterboat Association, Conservation Northwest, Hunters Heritage Council, Trout Unlimited and others have offered strong support, but the commission’s recent backtrack on Columbia River salmon reforms saw the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association switch from “other” to opposition.

The fee bills’ updated odds of passage weren’t immediately clear to the Olympia Outsider™, but to learn more about them, check out this WDFW brochure and stay tuned to this station — the OO is monitoring the situation, albeit from a far sunnier locale than the chambers of the state legislature.

Editor’s note: For previous coverage of this year’s legislative session from the OO, see this blog, that blog, the other blog, the other-other blog, the other-other-other blog, and the one that kicked off this whole tired, boring, sure-to-get-two-views (thanks, Mom and Dad) series.

NSIA On The Attack After Columbia Reforms Vote As WDFW’s Susewind Defends It

As a major organization in the Northwest fishing world now openly urges its members to oppose WDFW’s fee increase proposal because of the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Columbia reforms vote last weekend, the head of Washington’s agency has issued an extraordinary statement about why it was passed.

WDFW POSTED A STATEMENT FROM DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND ON THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION’S COLUMBIA REFORMS VOTE AT TOP LEFT ON ITS WEBPAGE FRIDAY AFTERNOON, THOUGH IT WAS NOT SHARED ON SOCIAL MEDIA AT THIS WRITING. (WDFW)

“These actions are not only important in sustaining the economic viability of the commercial fleet,” reads an explanation from Director Kelly Susewind out this afternoon. “They are also a key factor in maintaining federal support for hatchery production and achieving compliance with WDFW’s hatchery reform policy for the lower Columbia River, because they play an important role in removing excess hatchery fish from wild spawning areas.”

With wild salmon runs overall in rough shape, judging by the myriad Endangered Species Act listings, clipped fish fuel fisheries.

The commission’s 5-1-2 vote in Spokane on Saturday morning essentially keeps nontribal gillnets on the mainstem below Bonneville as well as pushes long-planned spring and summer Chinook allocations from 80-20 recreational-nontribal commercial, where they were in 2018, down to 70-30, where they were in 2016 before the reforms began to unravel, and roughly where fall Chinook allocations have also been paused at.

That infuriated supporters of the half-decade-plus-long process such as the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, which today issued an “urgent industry call to action.”

“Their vote restores year-round non-tribal gillnetting on the Columbia River’s 13 ESA listed stocks, and dramatically shortens sportfishing seasons already pummeled due to drastic declines in salmon and steelhead returns,” an email reads.

Though this year’s coho run looks good, low fall Chinook and B-run steelhead returns could mean another year of restricted fisheries.

NSIA asked its many member companies and individuals to contact their Washington lawmakers to oppose a pair of bills in the legislature that would increase the cost of fishing and hunting licenses by 15 percent and extend a surcharge for fishing the Columbia and tribs.

Previously, the organization as well as Coastal Conservation Association of Washington had been on the fence over WDFW’s proposed fee hike, neither in favor or opposed, rather “other.”

But with the commission vote and the apparent stalling of a nontribal gillnet ban bill in the state legislature, they now appear to be trolling right through WDFW’s lane.

“Tell them [state lawmakers] you oppose the Commission’s decision to abandon the Columbia River Reforms and ask them to oppose House Bill 1708 and Senate Bill 5692 (Columbia River Endorsement and Agency Fee increase) until the agency’s bills are amended to reverse this horrible decision and hold WDFW accountable to implement the reforms,” NSIA’s email reads.

This year WDFW is asking Evergreen State legislators for a $60 million-plus bump to its budget, a quarter of which would come from the license increases, the rest from the General Fund.

And on the Southern Front, members are also being urged to contact Oregon’s governor and commission chair to try and head off changes ahead of a feared vote next week.

“We’ve got to stop this all-out assault on wild fish, sportfishing and our industry!” NSIA states.

A GRAPHIC FROM AN NSIA FACEBOOK POST CALLS ON ANGLERS TO CONTACT GOV. KATE BROWN AHEAD OF THAT STATE’S MARCH 15 FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION MEETING. (NSIA)

An ODFW spokeswoman says that Oregon commissioners involved in the Columbia discussions “may” give the rest of the citizen panel an update at this coming Friday’s meeting.

“No rule making actions will occur,” said Michelle Dennehy via email this evening.

As for Susewind’s WDFW statement, noting the amount of feedback his agency has received this week — confirmed by a source deep in reform issues — it outlines what led up to the commission’s decision.

The director notes that the policy agreed to by both states in 2012 and which began to be implemented in 2013 and included moving gillnetters out of the Lower Columbia and into off-channel areas of the river and testing alternative gear, included “flexibility” in its transitions.

“Despite years of effort, no new off-channel areas have yet been established in our state and none of the alternative gear are fully tested and ready to support a viable commercial fishery (although test results for some options continue to look favorable). That is why the commission took action to extend the gillnet transition period, first in 2017 and again this month,” Susewind’s statement reads.

“The goal of the Columbia River reform policy is to build a future for both recreational and commercial fisheries, not put the commercial fleet out of business,” he continues, pointing out that the recreational spring Chinook allocation has increased from 65 percent to 80 percent.

WDFW’S NEW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

That level is scheduled to remain there in 2019, unless a runsize update finds that this year’s poor forecasted run of 99,300 upriver-bound fish is likely to come in at 128,000 and change, which would result in a 70-30 split of what are essentially allowable impacts on ESA-listed salmon.

Susewind also says that the 70-30 rec-comm split of fall Chinook impacts — below WDFW’s 75-25 policy — was meant to ensure concurrency with Oregon salmon managers.

He says that with the annual salmon-season-setting process known as North of Falcon ongoing and wrapping up next month, the Washington commission’s vote was meant to make sure that fishery regulations on the shared river matched up, as well as “to fulfill (the reforms’) objective to ‘enhance the economic well-being’ of the state’s sport and commercial fisheries.”

Susewind claims that delaying the implementation of fall Chinook allocations from the planned 80-20 “would reduce fishing days in 2019 by less than 2 percent, based on model runs from previous years.”

And citing NOAA’s plan to reduce hatchery production in the Lower Columbia due to too many marked fish straying onto the gravel, he says that while “gillnets are not the final answer to this problem … we remain committed to developing new selective methods for commercially harvesting salmon in the Columbia River and implementing the objectives in the Columbia River Basin Salmon Management policy.”

As I’ve reported before, it’s been very rare for a WDFW director to issue statements like this in recent years, but Susewind appears to be bucking that with this and another recent one on the region’s other hot-button issue, wolves.

I appreciate that.

Yes, posting it on a Friday afternoon on the agency’s website but not sharing on social media will allow the agency to say it did put the word out without bearing the brunt of a weekend full of undefended comments on its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

But it will not stop the heated debate about how to manage fisheries on the Columbia.

An observer draws attention to a passage about the adopted recommendations and alternatives presented to the full Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission before last weekend’s vote: “There is no substantial difference between the options concerning conservation benefits,” a staff summary reads.

The debate is sure to continue.

WDFW Fish Commission Adopts Columbia Subpanel Reform Recommendation; NSIA: ‘No Words’

Updated 3 p.m. March 4 and 10 a.m. March 5, 2019 at bottom with WDFW press release.
Updated 3:10 p.m. March 2, 2019 with reaction from NSIA

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission late this morning voted in favor of a joint-state subpanel’s recommendation to decrease recreational salmon fishing allocations on the Columbia and keep gillnetters on the big river.

THE ASTORIA-MEGLER BRIDGE ARCS OVER THE WEST MOORING BASIN IN ASTORIA DURING 2014’S BUOY 10 FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

A step backwards in terms of the planned fishery reforms that WDFW and ODFW had agreed to and sport anglers and organizations wanted to continue moving forward, the 5-1-2 vote pushes spring and summer Chinook allocations from 80-20 recreational-nontribal commercial, where they were in 2018, down to 70-30, where they were in 2016 before the process began to unravel, and roughly where fall Chinook allocations have also been paused at.

“There are no words to describe the depths of this betrayal to the license-buying public, and to the industry that sends millions in excise tax to the agency and hundreds of millions in taxes to the State of Washington,” said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “It’s mystifying how this Commission expects the angling public to support any sort of fee increase in the face of this level of utter disregard? I suspect the people who fund this agency will be in revolt until this shameful vote is overturned.”

Thrown into the bargain is a relaxing of the mandatory barbless hook requirement.


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The vote, held in Spokane, followed 30 to 45 minutes of public input from members of both fleets, as well as deep dives into the program by Washington and Oregon agency staffers that led to the six-member subpanel’s 3-2-1 recommendation vote earlier this week on “Option 1.”

As he did on the subpanel, Commissioner Dave Graybill of Leavenworth voted against it as the full commission took the matter up today in a Ramada conference room.

“I’m not going to accept going backwards,” Graybill said during final comments.

Pointing to low forecasted runs of Chinook this year, he said the Columbia was in “serious trouble” and supporting an increase in nontribal commercial impacts wasn’t something “I can do.”

Voting in favor were Commissioners Bob Kehoe of Seattle, Don McIsaac of Hockinson, Barbara Baker of Olympia, Kim Thorburn of Spokane and Jay Holzmiller of Anatone.

McIsaac, who chaired the subpanel, said that sorting out Columbia management issues ahead of March and April’s North of Falcon salmon-season-setting negotiations was very important and that the change would help achieve concurrency with Oregon in terms of fisheries held on the river.

Spring Chinook allocations will stay at 80-20 this year unless an inseason upriver run update increases the forecast from 99,300 to around 128,000.

Thorburn said there is still work to be done on the policy but that the recommendation most closely aligns with one of the commission’s and it provides economic benefits for all fisheries.

Holzmiller contrasted the infighting between the recreational and commercial fleets with the unified voice of Northeast Washington residents who’d shared their concerns about the region’s whitetail deer and high predator populations with the commission on Friday. In “not wanting to sound like a hippie” from the 1960s, he urged all anglers to work together to figure out how to get more fish back.

Abstaining in favor of holding more discussions were Commissioners Larry Carpenter Mount Vernon and Brad Smith of Bellingham, the current chairman and previous one.

PRC Recommendation
* Option 1 – Transition Period with amendment for spring Chinook
* Transition Period refers to all the allocations and gear types allowed in 2016.
                * Last year moving from gillnets to alternative gear.
* Change from mandatory barbless hooks to voluntary barbless hooks effective as soon as practical but by June 1, 2019 at the latest.
* Good faith progress towards recommending a comprehensive Columbia River salmon fishery policy for 2020 and beyond, to be completed as soon as possible. The policies embodied in this motion are intended to be in place until such comprehensive policy is adopted.
* To be used only in 2019, the motion is amended such that the 80%/20% sport/commercial allocation, with no buffer applied to the commercial share and no mainstem commercial fishing, is to be used unless the Upriver run size update is more than 129% of the Upriver spring Chinook pre-season forecast of 99,300.

THE COLUMBIA REFORMS WERE AGREED TO BY Washington and Oregon back in 2012 and began to be implemented in 2013.

They prioritized developing new alternative nontribal commercial gear in the mainstem, moving netting to off-channel areas near the mouth, and increasing allocation for sportfishers.

Allocations are essentially allowable catch impacts on Endangered Species Act-listed salmon.

In part, the move also aimed to help more wild salmon and steelhead get through to upstream spawning grounds.

But certain aspects have proved difficult to achieve, including the search for alternative gear and finding bays on the Washington side for the net fleet, leading to discontent from commercial interests.

That first led to a pause in the transition for fall Chinook and then a large review of how the whole program has worked and review by the subpanel, which brings us to today’s Washington commission vote.

Oregon’s citizen oversight panel is expected to take it up March 15.

In the end, 70-30 is still above where allocations stood in the so-called 2010-12 “base period,” when they were 60-40, 50-50 and 59-41 on spring, summer and fall Chinook, according to WDFW staff.

But still in the wings is a bill in Olympia, SB 5617, that would ban nontribal gillnetting on the Washington side of the Lower Columbia. If passed and signed into law, that would primarily affect a commercial fishery targeting fall brights above Vancouver.

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

Editor’s note: On the morning of March 5, 2019, WDFW issued a clarification on their original March 4 press release, tweaking verbiage in the eighth and ninth paragraphs about fall and spring Chinook allocations. This version includes both the original paras in strikethrough and the new paras.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has agreed to allow the use of gillnets during the fall salmon fishery on the lower Columbia River while state fishery managers work with their Oregon counterparts to develop a joint long-term policy for shared waters.

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), took that action and received public comments on proposed hunting seasons for 2019-21 during a public meeting March 1-2 in Spokane.

The commission’s action to extend the use of gillnets was one of a number of recommendations for Columbia River fisheries developed by a joint committee with members of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. Oregon’s full commission will also consider the recommendations when it meets later this month.

Commissioners from both states are working on an overhaul of their respective Columbia River salmon management policies, which are designed to achieve conservation goals for salmon and steelhead, promote orderly fisheries in concurrent waters, and maintain and enhance economic stability in sport and commercial fisheries.

The change in policy affects allowable commercial fishing gear and the allocation of catch between sport and commercial fisheries, among other adjustments. Conservation measures remain unchanged, and no additional fishing pressure was approved beyond the annual amount allowed in full compliance with all salmon and steelhead Endangered Species Act requirements and sustainable fishery management practices.

The Washington policy, approved in 2013, intended for the commercial fishery to have completed a transition from gillnets to alternative gear this year and be relocated away from mainstem Columbia River areas. However, the use of alternative gear has not yet been refined and the off-channel areas have been determined to be unsuitable.

The commission modified that policy in response to a comprehensive performance review conducted over the past year. Without that action, fishing rules for Washington and Oregon would have been incompatible, because Oregon plans to allow the use of gillnets during the upcoming fall season.

The recommendation approved by the commission at the meeting in Spokane will allow commercial fisheries to proceed similar to 2018. A maximum of 70 percent of the fall chinook catch will be allocated to the recreational fishery, the same amount allocated under Oregon’s policy.

The recommendation approved by the commission at the meeting in Spokane will allow commercial fisheries to proceed similar to 2018. A maximum of 70 percent of the fall chinook catch will be allocated to the recreational fishery, the same amount allocated in 2018.

Washington commissioners also agreed to retain the recreational fishery’s share of 80 percent during the spring chinook fishery. The allocation for the commercial fishery was set at 20 percent with no commercial fishing in the mainstem Columbia River unless the in-season run-size update for upper river spring chinook is more than 129 percent of the pre-season forecast of 99,300 fish.

Washington commissioners also agreed to retain the recreational fishery’s share of 80 percent during the spring chinook fishery for this year. The allocation for the commercial fishery was set at 20 percent with no commercial fishing in the mainstem Columbia River unless the in-season run-size update for upper river spring chinook is more than 129 percent of the pre-season forecast of 99,300 fish.

Additionally, the commission made the use of barbless hooks voluntary in Columbia River fisheries as soon as possible, but no later than June 1, 2019.

Five Washington commissioners voted to approve the recommendation: commissioners Kim Thorburn, Barbara Baker, Robert Kehoe, Donald McIsaac and Jay Holzmiller. Commissioner David Graybill voted “no,” and commissioners Bradley Smith and Larry Carpenter abstained.

Details of the motion that passed and more information on the Columbia River Policy Review can be found at https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/.

Prior to that decision, the commission was briefed by WDFW wildlife managers and accepted public comments on proposed hunting rules for deer, elk, waterfowl, and other game species. The commission is scheduled to take final action on those proposal at a public meeting April 5-6 in Olympia.

For more information on the season-setting process see https://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/seasonsetting/

Columbia Salmon Reforms Subpanel Recommends 2016 Allocations To OR, WA Fish Commissions

Supporters of Columbia River salmon reforms are urging anglers to get in touch with fishery overseers and one state’s lawmakers after a subpanel of the Oregon and Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissions this week voted to revert to 2016 benchmarks.

ANGLERS RUN UPSTREAM DURING THE 2017 SPRING CHINOOK SEASON ON THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“.. Stop bowing to small special interest groups and start leading in managing our fisheries for abundance,” reads a Coastal Conservation Association of Oregon letter posted on Facebook after Tuesday’s recommendation on an amended “Option 1.”

That came out of a six-hour meeting of three members from both states and now goes to the full commissions for consideration and final approval, with Washington possibly deciding as early as tomorrow whether to go along with the pause or not.

Essentially, sport and commercial allocations for spring and summer Chinook would fall back from 2018’s 80-20 to 70-30, the level that fall kings are being fished at, and the transition from gillnet to alternative gear only in the mainstem would be postponed, with both allowable.

Thrown into the bargain is a relaxing of the mandatory barbless hook requirement for anglers “effective as soon as practical but by June 1, 2019 at the latest,” according to a WDFW staff summary.


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Members voting against the proposal were Washington’s Dave Graybill of Leavenworth and Oregon’s Bob Webber of Port Orford.

Voting to recommend it were Bob Kehoe of Seattle, Bruce Buckmaster of Astoria and Holly Akenson of Enterprise.

Hockinson, Washington’s Don McIsaac, who chaired the subpanel, “announced the motion would pass without the Chair voting and did not vote,” according to WDFW documents.

Option 2 would have stuck to Washington’s 2018 policy — 80-20, 80-20, ~75-~25 for spring, summer and fall Chinook with no mainstem gillnets — while Option 3, the “no loss of economic benefit alternative,” had two choices with ~65-~35 splits on fall Chinook with one banning gillnets and the other allowing it.

Under Option 1, 2019 spring Chinook shares would remain at 80-20 unless an inseason update suggests we’ll see more than 128,000 upriver-bound kings, and then 70-30 would come into play.

THE COLUMBIA REFORMS WERE AGREED TO BY Washington and Oregon back in 2012 and began to be implemented in 2013.

They prioritized developing new alternative nontribal commercial gear in the mainstem, moving netting to off-channel areas near the mouth, and increasing allocation for sportfishers.

Allocations are essentially allowable catch impacts on Endangered Species Act-listed salmon.

In part, the move also aimed to help more wild salmon and steelhead get through to upstream spawning grounds.

But certain aspects have proved difficult to achieve, including the search for alternative gear and finding bays on the Washington side for the net fleet, leading to discontent from commercial interests.

That first led to a pause in the transition for fall Chinook and then a large review of how the whole program has worked and review by the subpanel, which brings us to today.

ACCORDING TO WDFW DOCUMENTS, ALL THE POTENTIAL OPTION 1 ALLOCATIONS ARE ABOVE WHERE THEY WERE FOR SPORTFISHERMEN IN THE SO-CALLED 2010-2012 BASE PERIOD, 60-40 ON SPRING CHINOOK, 50-50 SUMMER CHINOOK AND 59-41 ON FALL CHINOOK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

A WDFW STAFF SUMMARY OF THE SUBPANEL’S “RATIONALE” for recommending Option 1 states:

* Comprehensive Evaluation of Washington Policy showed Policy did not work as expected.
* Goal to have concurrent policies for 2019 (and beyond).
* Current WA Policy includes an adaptive management provision –make changes when the assumptions are not met.
* There is no substantial difference between the options regarding conservation benefits.
* No significant change in angler trips between options, and remains above pre-policy baseline.
* Option 1 goes the furthest towards increasing commercial ex-vessel values.
* Original policy goals were good but did not sufficiently employ the adaptive management provisions that were included in the policies.

Subpanel members who opposed it believed it:

* Should not increase allocation for commercial fishery in 2019 due to forecasts.
* Maintain escapement to upriver areas by not increasing commercial allocation

This year’s Columbia Chinook expectations are on the low side, with 99,300 upriver springers and 157,500 overall, 35,900 summer kings and 340,400 fall brights and tules.

EVEN AS ODFW AND WDFW’S FULL COMMISSIONS PONDER this week’s recommendation, a bill active in Washington’s legislature seeks to remove nontribal gillnets from that state’s side of the Columbia.

While three cosponsors — Sens. Mona Das, Joe Nguyen and Emily Randall, all Democrats — appear to have since abandoned it, SB 5617 cleared one committee ahead of last week’s initial bill deadline and has been referred to Senate Ways and Means.

That committee is chaired by Sen. Christine Rolfes (D), who earlier this session spoke in favor of the bill as codifying WDFW policy.

And CCA Oregon has drummed up a letter for fishermen to send to both states’ managers and overseers.

“Over a hundred thousand sport fishers in each state are funding both DFWs while a few dozen are driving reversals to allow antiquated, non selective commercial fishing gear, that was outdated and outlawed in the rest of the state (of Oregon) since the last century,” the letter reads in part.

“I respectfully ask you to please not endorse the proposed changes to allow more commercial gillnet seasons on the river. I also urge you to stop bowing to small special interest groups and start leading in managing our fisheries for abundance.”

And they’ve also come up with information to send to Oregon lawmakers.

AS FOR NEXT STEPS, ON SATURDAY MORNING IN SPOKANE, Washington’s full Fish and Wildlife Commission will take up the subject — here are links to documents WDFW staff has prepared — with Oregon’s expected to on March 15.

The overarching goal is to set concurrent seasons ahead of the bulk of 2019’s fisheries, which are being discussed and set this month and next through the annual North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process.

How it all shakes out will be very interesting. Hold on to your hats, kids.

2019 Puget Sound, Coast Salmon Forecasts Out As North Of Falcon Live-streamed For First Time

The big North of Falcon salmon forecast reveal was live-streamed for the first time today on WDFW’s website, where the predictions for Washington Chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum runs are also posted, as are comparisons to past years.

(WDFW)

If you’re looking for a highlight at first glance it would be that nearly 2 million silvers overall are expected back to the Columbia, coast and inside waters, well up from last year’s forecast.

“The expected return of 670,200 (Puget Sound) hatchery and wild coho is up about 15 percent from the 10-year average,” a WDFW report adds. “It’s also an increase of 113,000 fish from the projected returns for 2018. Bright spots include mid- and South Sound rivers such as the Green, Puyallup, and Nisqually as well as marine areas 11 and 13.”

However, Hood Canal expectations are lower and exploitation rates are dropping from 65 percent to 45 percent and that may affect fisheries, and the escapement goal for the Snohomish is being bumped up to 50,000 due to concerns about recent years’ returns, and that may impact fisheries.

On the Coast, WDFW says, “The number of coho returning to Grays Harbor is forecasted at 135,900 fish, up from 93,800 in 2018. Fishery managers expect coho fisheries in Grays Harbor will be more robust in 2019 than last year.”

To the south, just over 900,000 coho are predicted back to the Columbia (537,000 earlies, 359,000 lates), about three-quarters of a million more than actually did in 2018, and allowing for a higher exploitation rate in the ocean and river — “I’m kind of excited for the first time in three years,” says WDFW’s ocean manager Wendy Beeghley — but accessing them in the Columbia may be tricky.

“The total forecast – including upriver brights and tules – of fall chinook to the Columbia River is 340,400 fish,” WDFW reports. “That’s about half of the 10-year average and is down slightly from 2018’s forecast of 365,600. Approximately 290,900 fall chinook actually returned last year. Fisheries for fall chinook will likely be limited in several areas of the Columbia River due to low returns both of fall chinook and ‘B-run’ steelhead bound for the Columbia and Snake river basins.”

The B-run forecast is 8,000, “a player in a our Columbia River discussions,” according to WDFW manager Ryan Lothrop. Recent years saw rolling restrictions to protect the Idaho-bound stock.

Just under a quarter million wild and hatchery Puget Sound Chinook are expected, just slightly down from the 2018 forecast.

“The projected return of 217,000 hatchery chinook is down 13,500 fish from 2018 but 11 percent above the 10-year average,” WDFW reports. “Continued low returns to mid-Hood Canal and Stillaguamish will continue to limit fisheries.”

As for accessing Skokomish River hatchery kings, which have been off limits for several seasons now over a boundary dispute, Puget Sound manager Mark Baltzell says that WDFW is still talking with the Skokomish Tribe about access and that getting anglers back on the water “is a goal of ours.”

Lake Washington sockeye are expected at 15,000 and change, “down 82 percent from the recent 10-year average,” and less than HALF of 2018’s lowest run on record, but Baker River reds are better, 33,737, “up 6 percent over the recent 10-year average, makes a fishery a possibility,” WDFW says.

As for pinks, it looks very poor, some 604,146 to Puget Sound streams, down from 2017’s preseason forecast of 1.5 million, but about 100,000 more than actually came back. Still, it would be among the lowest runs on record back to 1959, due to the hit the fish took at sea during the height of The Blob and poor river conditions when they returned to natal streams.

“We’re digging out of a pretty big hole,” said Aaron Dufault, a state stock analyst.

“We’re probably not going to have our bonus bag limit in the salt and in some of our rivers,” added Baltzell.

The Sound forecast of 1.035 million fall chum is down from 2018 but in line with 2017.

“Several areas, such as north Puget Sound rivers, are expected to have very low returns of wild chum, similar to recent years. Anglers should not expect to see chum fisheries in these areas,” WDFW reports.

But things are brighter for chums in the South Sound and Hood Canal.

Briefing meeting-goers, the agency’s Marissa Litz spoke to multiple blobs, El Ninos and La Ninas since 2013 leading to “a lot of instability across food webs” for salmon, including lower body sizes and fecundity for many stocks, but also surprisingly high returns in places, namely Alaska.

https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019021004

The release of the forecasts, drummed up by state and tribal fishery biologists over the winter, marks the first step in setting recreational, tribal and commercial spring, summer and fall seasons in Washington waters.

This year’s NOF — the 35th since the process was initiated in 1984 — will have a focus on what fisheries can be held without jeopardizing southern resident killer whales, according to the state agency’s Fish Program manager Ron Warren at the outset of today’s meeting at the Lacey Community Center.

“We’re working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for orcas,” he said in a press release last week. “These upcoming meetings provide opportunities for the public to understand the steps we’re taking to protect orcas this year.”

Prompted by a question from Norm Reinhardt of the Kitsap Poggie Club during the meeting Warren expressed caution that efforts to increase hatchery Chinook production — 24 million in Governor Inslee’s proposed budget — would lead to more fishing opportunities, noting that underlying impact rates on ESA-listed wild kings still govern seasons.

That makes river fisheries all the more important, angling advocate Frank Urabeck pointed out.

“Let’s do better for sportfisheries in the terminal areas,” he stated.

As for how the new Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada will affect this year’s seasons, Phil Anderson, the chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council was hesitant to say that reductions in northern interceptions would increase fishing opportunities in Puget Sound but would instead “alleviate” impact rates on stocks in our southern fisheries.