WDFW, Utilities Holding Meeting June 29 On Baker-Skokomish Sockeye Egg Transfer

State fishery managers and utility officials are holding a special meeting later this month to shed more light on a project using North Sound sockeye to seed a Hood Canal watershed.

It’s being held the evening of June 29 in Sedro-Woolley to address the continued transfer of fertilized eggs from the Baker Lake system to the Skokomish River.

That’s drawing concern from anglers who object to providing the eggs while the Skokomish Tribe uses a federal solicitor’s opinion to block access to a popular salmon fishery fueled by a state Chinook and coho hatchery.

A PLAN TO SEED LAKE CUSHMAN AND THE SKOKOMISH SYSTEM WITH SOCKEYE FROM THE NORTH SOUND IS GETTING A FROSTY RECEPTION FROM SOME ANGLERS. (JOEL NOWACK, USFS)

Fishermen would also like more surety that, if the egg program that’s literally still in its infancy is successful, nontribal fishermen will be able to access returning harvestable salmon in Hood Canal and Lake Cushman.

In late April we wrote about the Steelhead Trout Club’s request for WDFW to hold a public meeting before signing an agreement with the Skokomish Tribe, Tacoma Power and Puget Sound Energy to continue supplying eggs from Baker fish, and this past Saturday morning, it was the subject of a segment on 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line.

“The [Skokomish] should reopen the river to recreational fisheries as a prerequisite for giving them any eggs from the Baker because it will have some impact, it will have some impact on our (Baker Lake) fishery,” maintains Frank Urabeck, a sportfisheries activist.

As part of the federal relicensing of its dams on the North Fork Skokomish River, Tacoma Power is upgrading fish passage around them as well as building a pair of hatcheries to rear as many as 2 million sockeye and 375,000 spring Chinook, plus some steelhead and coho.

The red salmon eggs are coming from 400 adults collected at the Baker River trap and which are supposed to represent an equal split between state and tribal shares. That pencils out to around up to 500,000 eyed eggs annually, though Tacoma Power states it was incubating 250,000 for release into Lake Cushman this year.

Last year was the first year, and Tacoma Power and the Skokomish Tribe are footing the entire bill for the egg transfer, according to WDFW.

The agency’s Edward Eleazer says the program will initially run for five years to see if sockeye actually rear in and return to Cushman before a long-term agreement is implemented.

He says that Tacoma Power is modeling fish passage at Cushman on Puget Sound Energy’s successful juvenile collector at Baker Lake.

With dams on other watersheds around Pugetropolis, the program could also serve as a model for building sockeye runs elsewhere, but the equipment is not inexpensive and could be a tough sell to utility managers and ratepayers unless dam relicensing is at stake.

In comments about the egg-transfer implementation agreement prepared for WDFW several months ago, Urabeck found vague terminology that “… fishery opportunity would likely be provided in Marine Area 12, north of Ayok (sic) Rock and possibly in Cushman Lake” “unacceptable” and said it shouldn’t be signed unless it specifically guaranteed sport access to salmon.

And he said that broodstock collection at the Baker River trap shouldn’t begin until after Aug. 1 to minimize impacts to the Baker Lake fishery, and that if inseason updates peg the run at 30,000 to 40,000 only 100,000 eggs should be provided, nothing if the return is under 30,000.

Puget Sound Anglers president Ron Garner is urging organization members to attend the June 29 meeting, which will be held at Sedro-Woolley High School, 1235 3rd St., starting at 6 p.m.

He and others also want WDFW to move back the Baker Lake sockeye opener from July 8 to July 6, when it opened last year thanks to good early numbers. The lake had otherwise been opening on July 10 in recent years, July 1 in 2012, and varying dates in the two prior Julys based on run timing and strength.

Urabeck says July 6 should be the opener regardless of how many sockeye have been trucked up to the lake, leaving it up to anglers whether or not to participate.

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