North of Falcon salmon negotiations broke down between Washington and tribal managers at the 11th hour, and each side will apparently take their own fishing packages for Puget Sound to federal overseers for approval, though state officials hope to reengage their counterparts.
While there is an agreement on ocean fisheries, it also represents a step into uncharted waters and comes as Puget Sound and coastal coho returns are forecast to come in at very low levels, and it follows last year’s last-minute Muckleshoot shenanigans with Area 9 and 10 sport summer Chinook fisheries.
An audibly ticked-off sportfishing radio show host Tom Nelson explained that with no recreational coho fisheries on the table and just 10 days of king fishing potentially on central Puget Sound this summer, sportfishing advisors told WDFW leadership not to make any deals.
“No, and not just no, but hell no,” said Nelson this afternoon.
He pointed to Fish and Wildlife Commission and agency documents that direct WDFW to create diverse fisheries for all its constituents.
A bid this morning by the state for catch-and-release fisheries was rejected by the tribes, Nelson and another source said, and afterwards the state walked.
“We’re disappointed we were unable to find a solution that worked for us and the tribes,” said WDFW Director Jim Unsworth early this evening.
Ron Warren, one of his chief negotiators, said that the door is still open and the state hopes to reach back out to the tribes in the days ahead and reopen discussions. He described the breakdown on talks as occurring around sharing ESA-listed Chinook. He said he thought the parties were close.
“Our desire is to continue communications,” with the goal of getting National Marine Fisheries Service approval and listing on the Federal Register by the deadline of April 28, Warren said.
“We trust that conversations will continue between the comanagers and pray that they will result in an agreement that is transparent, meets our shared conservation burden and is equitable to all parties,” said Liz Hamilton of the Portland-based Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.
The annual weeklong final talks that divvy up the harvestable Chinook, coho, sockeye, chums and odd-year pinks were scheduled to wrap up in Vancouver today.
Past years have seen unresolved issues — Skokomish and Puyallup River fisheries in 2013 — but never this large a part of the package.
The tribes kicked off the negotiations all but dictating no coho fisheries inside, but sport anglers pushed for hatchery retention fisheries where it made sense and C&R at the very least elsewhere, as well as Areas 9 and 10 both open for clipped summer kings. As Chinook stocks have declined, coho have become increasingly important. But last year saw the attack of The Blob that hurt 2015’s returns and, most likely, 2016’s year-class at sea.
And now last year’s bizarre conditions are being followed by this stunning development.
“No deal at the North of Falcon process means that we’re entering uncharted waters and now must place pressure and scrutiny on NOAA to permit our fisheries!” Nelson posted on his The Outdoor Line forum this afternoon, breaking the news.
On the positive side, Nelson said, not agreeing to a fisheries package with the tribes may mean not operating under tribally demanded in-season management, which has been constraining fisheries such as in the San Juans and elsewhere and increasingly getting under the skin of sport anglers, though it’s unclear how everything might shake out with the feds or if negotiations restart.
One area the tribes and state could reach agreement today is on the ocean. The Pacific Fish Management Council reports:
“The recreational fishery north of Cape Falcon does not include a mark-selective Chinook season this year, but opens to all salmon on July 1 and ends in late August or when Chinook or coho quotas are reached. Recreational fisheries in all port areas will have access to 35,000 Chinook (compared to over 50,000 Chinook last year), but coho retention is only allowed in ocean areas off the Columbia River with a modest quota of 18,900 (compared to 150,800 last year). For details, please see the season descriptions on the Council website at www.pcouncil.org.”
The tribal quota in those same waters is 40,000 Chinook, PFMC reports. The nontreaty commercial quota is 35,000.
WDFW has long been maligned for not standing up to the tribes and accepting bad deals. Last year, his first at the North of Falcon negotiations, Unsworth walked into a buzzsaw in the final days and agreed to scrap the Area 10 summer king fishery to save the overall salmon season. But this go-around, Nelson said the agency did what sport anglers had been demanding it do for a long time, and he urged recreational fishermen to stick to WDFW and Unsworth.
The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission blamed the lack of an agreement — the state and tribes are required by the Boldt decision to comanage the stocks — on WDFW leadership not providing a package that meets conservation needs of low stocks.
NWIFC said its proposal to the National Marine Fisheries Service is “conservative,” and says that as an example, the three tribes on the Skagit won’t hold any fisheries except a research one.
The tribes also took an opportunity to lambast state goverment over stream protections.
“These fisheries’ closures are the direct consequence of the state of Washington allowing the destruction of salmon habitat for decades,” Chair Lorraine Loomis said. “Dips in ocean survival will happen every so often, but we wouldn’t have to drastically cut back our fisheries if a better job was done protecting the habitat.”
Things are pretty fluid, but if it is left to the feds, what would be interesting will be how NMFS handles the situation and sets seasons. There is quite a bit on their plate at the moment.