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WDFW Commission Liberalizes Bass, Etc., Daily Limits On 77 Lakes

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

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission made decisions on several fishing rule proposals and a land transaction at their Dec. 13-14 meeting in Bellingham. The commission also heard updates on Southern Resident Killer Whales, Baker Lake and Skagit River sockeye fishery management, hatchery reform, non-toxic ammunition, and Columbia River salmon policy.

WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSIONERS INCREASED THE BAG LIMIT ON LARGEMOUTH BASS THIS SIZE ON 77 LAKES FROM FIVE TO TEN A DAY IN RESPONSE TO THE STATE LEGISLATURE’S DIRECTIVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT SALMON SMOLT PREDATION AND INCREASING CHINOOK, COHO, STEELHEAD AND OTHER FISH AVAILABILITY FOR ORCAS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

On Friday, the commission approved a 1.8-acre land acquisition for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in Asotin County. The property will be donated by Larry and Marilou Cassidy, as an addition to the Snyder Bar Water Access Area, located in the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area. The new addition will improve public access for fishing and boating.

WDFW fishery managers briefed the commission on the department’s proposals to simplify forage fish, marine fish, and shellfish sport fishing rules. The commission adopted the department’s recommendations to modify rule language to be more concise and consistent with other regulations. More details on these changes are available on WDFW’s fishing rule simplification webpage.

The commission also approved regulation updates to simplify sturgeon fishing rules and improve conservation efforts. Rule changes include expanding spawning sanctuary areas in the Columbia River, shifting retention fisheries upstream of McNary Dam to catch-and-release only, closing night fishing for sturgeon in the Chehalis River, and defining oversize sturgeon as fish larger than 55 inches fork length. More details are available on WDFW’s sturgeon fishing rules webpage.

In addition, WDFW staff provided an update on the Joint State Columbia River Salmon Fishery Policy Review Committee’s work to recommend possible revisions to the Columbia River Salmon Management Policy. The commission asked the director to present information in January 2020 about the delegation of authority and to contact the director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to discuss possible options for fisheries in 2020.

The committee expects to hold additional public meetings in early 2020, with a possible recommendation to both Oregon and Washington commissions in spring 2020. Information and materials from previous meetings are available on the joint policy review committee webpage.

On Saturday, fishery managers briefed the commission on Baker Lake sockeye salmon management following poor returns in the last several years. WDFW staff provided updates on the harvest shares from the 2019 season and reviewed the department’s efforts to address management challenges, which focused on prioritizing Baker Lake sockeye harvest equity in the 2020 North of Falcon salmon season-setting process.

“We couldn’t have had better public testimony to illuminate the different perspectives on the Baker Lake sockeye salmon fishery,” said Ron Warren, fish policy director for WDFW. “Baker Lake is a beautiful and popular fishery that we want Washingtonians to continue to enjoy.”

Finally, fishery managers presented six options to liberalize limits on bass, walleye, and channel catfish in select waters throughout the state, a requirement passed by the state Legislature this spring as part of House Bill 1579. The bill’s intent was to implement task force recommendations to benefit the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population by increasing salmon availability.

WDFW conducted six months of public engagement on the proposal to change rules for bass, walleye, and channel catfish fishing, which included five public meetings around the state. After reviewing public feedback, 72% of comments supported a warmwater species rule change to reduce the risk of predation on salmon smolts.

All six options presented to the commission include removing size and daily limits on rivers. The options varied in the number of affected lakes, size limits, and daily limits. WDFW staff recommended “Option B” which would affect 77 lakes around the state containing bass, walleye, or channel catfish, and have public access.

The commission supported WDFW’s recommendation and adopted “Option B2”, which includes changes to size and daily limits of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and walleye in 77 lakes around the state:

  • Largemouth bass: Change from 5 to a 10-fish daily limit; only one fish may be over 17 inches.
  • Smallmouth bass: Change from 10 to a 15-fish daily limit; only one fish may be over 14 inches.
  • Channel catfish: Change from a 5 to a 10-fish daily limit.
  • Walleye: Change from 8 to a 16-fish daily limit; only one fish may be over 22 inches.

A recording of the Dec. 13 meeting is available at https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019121001 and the Dec. 14 meeting is available at https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019121002.

Baker Sockeye Issues Back On WDFW Commission Agenda

It turns out that my best idea for solving aggravating Baker sockeye harvest inequities would cost on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars — money WDFW doesn’t exactly have at the moment — and require round-the-clock monitoring so thieves don’t steal valuable parts.

In-river sonar that counts salmon, like what’s used on the Fraser and in Alaska, before they reach North Sound tribal nets in the Skagit and sport hooks there and up at Baker Lake could yield better data on relative run strength than the preseason prediction now used to set fisheries and hope the fish come in.

IT’S BEEN AWHILE SINCE ALEC SCHANTZ CAUGHT HIS SOCKEYE LIMIT AT BAKER LAKE, WHERE HE DID SO IN 2013 BUT NOT THIS PAST SEASON WHEN HE TROLLED AROUND FOR TWO DAYS WITH NARY A NIBBLE. HIS GRANDFATHER FRANK URABECK IS TRYING TO ENSURE THAT MORE OF THE SALMON ARE PLACED INTO THE RESERVOIR. (FRANK URABECK)

Forecasts the past few years have been as much as 33 percent too high, leading to a 19,000-plus-fish disparity between the fleets, and that’s been rubbing recreational anglers the wrong way since 2017.

This coming Saturday morning the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will again hear about the issue, and fishermen are being called on to attend the meeting in Bellingham.

“Whenever the actual run is less than the preseason forecast the tribes wind up with more sockeye,” said angler advocate Frank Urabeck, who was rallying anglers on The Outdoor Line radio show on Seattle’s 710 ESPN last weekend.

Currently, the best way to tell how well the run is tracking versus the prediction made the previous winter is how many are showing up at the Baker River trap, minus tribal and plunkers’ catches. The time it takes the fish to swim to the trap limits the effectiveness of inseason actions. And when fewer show up than expected, it means less are put into Baker Lake, where the primary sport fishery is.

So one of the ideas Uraback is pitching is to use a run forecast buffer, like what is done with spring Chinook on the Columbia River. Thirty percent is chopped off the best guess of biologists to set fisheries before the halfway point of the run is reached as a check against overharvesting a weaker than expected return.

He also suggests “following year payback” — adjusting harvests the next season to even out overages the previous one.

That’s similar to how Puget Sound crabbing is managed and why this past summer saw an early closure in Area 10. There, last year’s Dungeness quota was 40,000 pounds, but sport crabbers harvested more than 46,000 pounds, and so through “buyback provisions” in negotiated state-tribal agreements, that dropped this year’s allowable take to 33,212 pounds.

Urabeck, a retired Army Corps engineer, also suggests managers use their “professional judgment” inseason to adjust the forecast.

“We again are asking that the Commission direct (WDFW) to give Baker sockeye harvest equity a high priority for the 2020 season, engaging the three Skagit Basin tribes on behalf of sport fishing license holders in a transparent manner that allows the public to track the discussions,” he said.

The sockeye fishery, particularly in the lake, has become more important in recent years with low returns to the Brewster Pool on the other side of the North Cascades and the decline of Lake Washington.

Sportfishing occurs off the banks of the lower Skagit between Mount Vernon and Gilligan Creek, and in Baker Lake, while three tribes net from the forks of the Skagit up to Mount Vernon, and from Gilligan Creek up to the Baker River, and the Swinomish in the salt to their preseason share.

Most of the nontribal catch occurs in the lake — 10,080 in 2015, according to one set of WDFW catch stats, versus 800 in the river.

With Urabeck and others pushing, Washington’s fish commission has been tracking the issue since at least October 2017, and last fall there was a workshop at WDFW’s Mill Creek office. On Saturday commissioners will be updated on the 2019 season and how harvest inequity issues are being addressed by state staff.

“The department absolutely thinks this is a worthwhile endeavor to find a solution that the state and tribes can live with,” say Aaron Dufault, a WDFW anadromous resources policy analyst in Olympia.

Even as it was off by a third this year, a new forecasting tool he and the biologists came up with and which uses environmental factors in the North Pacific is tracking better than the old model, which called for a return of nearly 60,000 sockeye in 2019.

Only 22,440 actually hit the mouth of the Skagit.

Yet Dufault acknowledges that the new model’s overprediction means there is “a little bit more room for improvement.”

He cautions that while ideas like Urabeck’s would impact tribal harvests and represent hurdles that would need to be overcome, WDFW is working with the Swinomish, Sauk-Suiattles and Upper Skagits to get an agreed-to harvest sharing dataset in place for 2020, as well as improve communications between the parties.

Because sockeye are seldom pursued much less caught in saltwater like Chinook, coho and pinks, it’s one of few fisheries where recreational anglers fish behind the tribal guys.

Since 2010, the tribes have harvested 134,035 Baker sockeye, sport anglers 113,074, according to Dufault’s commission presentation.

We caught more in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015, years when more fish came back than were forecast; they caught more in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, years the prediction was too high, the presentation shows.

The disparity since 2017 is 37,864 to 18,782, according to the presentation.

An uptick in marine survival could turn things around quickly, Dufault notes.

He says there are payback provisions in an overarching Puget Sound salmon management document, but that they’re not a silver bullet either as they haven’t been used in “a couple decades.”

Still, it’s an option and one that could have an impact but would have to be agreed to too via the North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process.

But what if everybody had a better, more accurate gauge of run strength, aka in-river sonar?

Dufault calls it “a really cool tool,” and says it could solve a lot of the issues around the inequity.

He adds that the units also cost on the order of a couple hundred thousand dollars — tens of thousands of dollars if rented — and they require pretty specialized operators to perform real-time analysis, another cost.

He says that on the larger Fraser in Southwest British Columbia, five or six people are needed for daily number crunching, and someone has to be onsite 24-7 to guard the valuable equipment used to scan the river.

Needless to say, with WDFW’s current budget issues, the agency has other stated priorities in its whopping $26 million supplemental request to lawmakers. And sonar would need to have tribal buy-in.

Meanwhile, Urabeck is pessimistic about next year’s sockeye run and Puget Sound salmon fisheries, adding importance to Baker Lake, which he speculates “may be one of the few places salmon anglers can troll in 2020.”

“Many sport fishing license holders are giving serious thought to leaving this sport. We must have a reason to continue which only fishing opportunity can provide,” he says.

As it stands, WDFW does report that hatchery fry production in the Baker is increasing, with north of 9 million released in 2019, up from 6 million just four years ago and 2.5 million in 2009.

With sockeye clearly going to be around in the Skagit system for the foreseeable future and representing an important fishery for the state and three North Sound tribes, it behooves the parties to come to an equitable solution.

Saturday’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting comes to order at 8 a.m., with sockeye on the docket at 9 a.m. Public comment will be taken after Dufault’s presentation.

The meeting is in the Chuckanut Room at the Holiday Inn, 4260 Mitchell Way, across from the airport.

Columbia Sockeye Run Downgraded Sharply

Columbia salmon managers have downgraded their expectations for this year’s sockeye run by nearly 42 percent, and it could come in as the smallest in a dozen years.

The Technical Advisory Committee now believe only 58,000 will return to the mouth of the big river, well below the preseason forecast of 99,400.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH CHARTS THIS YEAR’S SOCKEYE COUNT AT BONNEVILLE (RED LINE) AGAINST LAST YEAR’S (BLUE LINE) AND THE 10-YEAR AVERAGE. (FPC)

It’s the opposite direction of last year’s run, which was initially forecast at 99,000 but came in above 210,000.

So far 31,889 sockeye have been counted at Bonneville, and if a Fish Passage Center graph based on daily counts at the first dam on the Columbia is any indication, this year’s run has peaked and is on the downhill slide.

It’s a far cry from just a few years ago, when 512,455 and 651,146 sockeye entered the river, but this year’s run’s parents were also poached by the Blob’s very warm waters in early summer 2015, with large numbers likely dying in the reservoirs and Okanogan and Wenatchee Rivers well before they reached their spawning grounds.

In 2007, just 26,604 returned to the Columbia before runs mushroomed following habitat work and better flow management on the Canadian side of the Okanogan River.

There is no scheduled recreational sockeye (or summer Chinook) fishery on the mainstem this season. Preliminary figures from today’s fact sheet show a tribal platform, ceremonial and commercial catch of just under 800 sockeye so far.

Meanwhile, Lake Washington’s sockeye are also coming in low. After several 0-fish days that made the graph look not unlike a rock skipping across the water, the count has picked up, but the best case scenario is that the all-time-low forecast of 15,000 and change is topped.

Right now 1,124 of the salmon have gone through the Ballard Locks.

LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE COUNTS. (WDFW)

That system’s issues are largely linked to smolt predation in the lake and poor adult survival due to disease after the salmon swim through the warm ship canal.

But to the north on the Baker Lake system the count is tracking fairly tightly to the five-year average of just under 21,000 to the Baker River trap.

This one will be watched closely in the coming days and weeks.

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ICYMI: Angler Input Sought On 2019 Baker Sockeye Fishery At Oct. 20 Meeting

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will host a public workshop on Oct. 20 in Mill Creek to discuss Baker Lake sockeye salmon management.

WASHINGTON SOCKEYE SLAYERS SHOULD PLAN ON ATTENDING AN UPCOMING WORKSHOP ON THE 2019 SEASON BAKER LAKE, WHERE BRANDY MCPHEE CAUGHT THIS ONE A FEW YEARS AGO. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The public meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at WDFW’s Mill Creek office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd.

At the meeting, fishery managers from WDFW will briefly summarize this summer’s Baker Lake sockeye fishery and will be there to discuss and share ideas on how to improve the fishery moving into the future.

“We’re refining ideas in preparation for next year’s salmon season-setting process and want the public’s input on what we’ve developed so far,” said Edward Eleazer, regional fish program manager for WDFW.

State, tribal and federal fishery managers plan the Northwest’s recreational and commercial salmon fisheries each year during a series of meetings in March and April. The process, which includes input from representatives of the recreational and commercial fishing industries, is known as the North of Falcon process.

The Baker Lake sockeye fishery first opened in 2010 after a juvenile fish-collection facility was installed at upper Baker Dam and a hatchery was opened at the lake.

This year, 17,241 sockeye were trapped below the lower Baker Dam and 8,441 fish were transported to the lake. The remaining sockeye were used for spawning at the hatchery.

WDFW has more information about Baker Lake sockeye on its website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/salmon/sockeye/baker_river.html.

Baker Sockeye Anglers Renew Call To Manage Fishery With Runsize Buffer

With a lower than expected salmon run leaving them again feeling shorted, some anglers are renewing calls for a Columbia River springer-style fisheries buffer on sockeye headed to a North Cascades reservoir.

Baker Lake reds were supposed to provide sport and tribal fishermen 12,400 fish each, but while members of the latter fleet were able to harvest 12,176, the former’s haul could ultimately come in around just 56 percent of the quota.

FRANK URABECK AND GRANDSON ALEC SCHANTZ SHOW OFF FIVE SOCKEYE FROM BAKER LAKE. URABECK REPORTS THIS YEAR’S FISH ARE TOUGH FIGHTERS. (FRANK URABECK)

Frank Urabeck, a longtime advocate of recreational fisheries, estimates that when it’s all said and done, it’s “likely” that Skagit River plunkers and Baker Lake trollers will have put somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 sockeye on their barbecues, 5,400 fewer than the preseason agreement allowed, and nearly 5,200 fewer than Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle fishermen took.

It’s also in part due to our less efficient methods and that it gets tougher to catch the fish as they near spawning, but the harvest disparity “could have been avoided had (the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) adopted in-season harvest management improvement proposals put forth by CCA and others,” a press release from Urabeck states.

This year’s seasons were set on the expectation 35,002 sockeye would come back, but after tribal fishermen hit Skagit Bay and the lower river it begin to become apparent that fewer of the salmon were actually returning, somewhere around 30,000. Over 14,450 have been tallied at the Baker River fish trap and nearly 6,850 have been transported up to the lake.

It’s led Puget Sound Anglers President Ron Garner to renew the call to use something like the 30-percent set aside on the Columbia in case the ESA-listed spring Chinook run doesn’t come in as predicted.

That effectively reduces how many kings are available in the early portion of the season until managers are comfortable that preseason predictions will be met, or exceeded, and can reopen angling if enough fish are available.

“Under today’s complex salmon fisheries layout there are many problems in dividing fish as each area presents its own set of problems of how to secure equity,” said Garner in a press release. “Baker Lake sockeye is one fishery where we have the ability to do that using the Puget Sound Energy Baker River fish trap at Concrete, where Skagit Basin tribes can secure make-up sockeye, if needed, beyond what is achieved from net fishing.”

He says in years when the run comes in low, inequities can be avoided or minimized using the buffer.

Last fall, when the sockeye issue came before the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staffers appeared hesitant to institute a buffer because of perceived tribal pushback over the potential for not being able to harvest their share. They wanted to try improved forecasting and opening more of the Skagit to fishing to achieve a closer balance.

“Unfortunately, while advocated by sport fishing groups, the department chose not to pursue a buffer, resulting in a significant disparity again. A buffer has to be part of harvest management next year,” Garner said.

Others expressing frustration over the issue include Al Senyohl of the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington, Nello Picinich of Coastal Conservation Association of Washington, and Roger Goodan of CCA Washington’s North Sound Chapter.

Urabeck says that this year’s imbalance means the tribes will have caught 24,000 more sockeye than sports since 2013.

But WDFW appears to be taking the long view. While Urabeck calls the 2010 and ’11 seasons “outliers,” state managers point out that between 2010 and 2017, the score was actually pretty close, 98,390 treaty fishermen, 94,737 recreational anglers.

And they say it’s likely to even out over time and even sway in our way if we see more big years like 2012, ’13 and ’14.

As for dipping into the fish trap, that’s likely a nonstarter with tribal fishermen. I hear over and over they want to fish the way they want to fish, and that means with a net, not lining up for a salmon handout.

Ultimately it’s in everybody’s best interest to get the forecast right the first time, though that is easier said than done.

Baker, Skokomish Sockeye Issues Raised With Washington Fish Commission

Sockeye issues are boiling to a head in Western Washington.

Sportfishing representatives went to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in late October to ask for a more equitable share of one river’s salmon.

And they expressed opposition to the use of eggs from those fish so a tribe elsewhere can try and jumpstart a run but in the meanwhile are blocking recreational fishermen from accessing state hatchery-raised Chinook and coho.

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNS ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE BANKS AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILLED THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“This egg transfer program needs to be put on hold until the sportfishing harvest inequities for the Baker Lake sockeye run is addressed and the sport salmon fishery is reestablished on the Skokomish River,” Al Senyohl of the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington told the commission in late October. “What’s missing here in the whole equation is opportunity — opportunity for us to get our fair share on the Skagit River and opportunity for us to fish on the Skokomish River.”

Ultimately, Senyohl and others are trying to use whatever leverage they can to get more state focus on reopening the Skokomish, which was closed in 2016 and this year, and where some 35,000-plus surplus Chinook have returned to WDFW’s George Adams Hatchery this fall.

Fishing advocate Frank Urabeck reports that with the Skokomish Tribe having harvested 55,000 Chinook this year, he figures that if the river had been open, anglers might have caught as many as 15,000.

The Baker sockeye eggs come from several hundred fish captured at Puget Sound Energy’s Baker River trap and are part of a broader, longterm enrichment of salmon runs in southern Hood Canal as Tacoma Power updates their dams there.

But anglers are leery that they will ever be able to access those fish following on the Skokomish’s use of a federal solicitor’s opinion to take over the entire width of the river.

“Why are we rewarding a neighbor who is behaving badly? Why?” asked Norm Reinhart of the Kitsap Poggie Club. “I understand that the (sockeye) may not belong to WDFW, but we most certainly are supporting that transfer with our science and our staff. Why are we doing that?”

(For the state’s position, go here.)

It has angler advocates looking around for options.

“We’re going to have to play hardball again,” Ron Garner, state president of Puget Sound Anglers, told the commission.

Back up on the Skagit River, as sockeye runs have increased to the Baker in recent years, North Sound tribes and recreational anglers have benefited, but in two of the past four summers, there’s been a sharp harvest inequity in favor of the former fishermen.

That’s due to returns that have come in lower than preseason forecasts. While tribes fish to that forecast, it can mean far fewer sockeye are hauled up to Baker Lake, a prime sportfishing opportunity.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff outlined several possible ways to address that for the commission.

One idea is to use a Columbia River spring Chinook-like 30 percent run buffer before an inseason run update, but the agency appears hesitant to do that because of perceived tribal pushback because of potentially not being able to harvest their share.

Staffers appear to prefer improving run modeling and increasing the sport fishing area on the Skagit River to better balance the harvest.

But Urabeck wanted the commission to get involved.

“Given the complexity, seriousness of the situation, and inability so far for the Department to adequately address the harvest imbalance issues, we ask that the commission have your Fish Committee work with us and the department to achieve the cooperation of the affected Skagit Basin tribes to secure harvest fairness and equity,” Urabeck asked commissioners. “It might be appropriate to have the Fish Committee also take a look at the implementation plan for the transfer of Baker sockeye eyed eggs to the Skokomish Tribe’s Salt-water Park Sockeye Hatchery. We ask that you also could encourage (WDFW) Director (Jim) Unsworth and Governor (Jay) Inslee to renew their efforts with the Skokomish Tribe to allow Skokomish River sport salmon fishing to resume in 2018.”

Members of the Fish Committee include Vice Chair Larry Carpenter, Bob Kehoe, Dave Graybill and Kim Thorburn.

At least two expressed interest in taking some of the issues up. Carpenter noted that without other fishing opportunities on the Skagit in recent years, sockeye’s all that anybody — tribal and recreational alike — have really had.

Next Thursday, November 16, Tacoma Power is hosting a public meeting on Skokomish River salmon restoration. It will be held at the Cushman Fire Hall (240 North Standstill Drive) and begins at 6 p.m

Lake Washington Sockeye Closing Fast On Forecast, Columbia Tally

More sockeye have now been counted at the Ballard Locks this year than in all of 2016 and 2015 combined.

According to the latest tally posted by WDFW this afternoon, some 62,587 of the salmon have returned to the Lake Washington system.

And with a 6,200-fish day yesterday, the count is rapidly closing in on this year’s forecast of 77,000-plus.

An angler is calling on WDFW to open a fishery on the lake should the count reach 100,000, and that bid got TV coverage late last week.

In response, a state fishery manager spoke carefully in the written version of KING 5’s interview with sport advocate Frank Urabeck.

Urabeck is hoping to highlight the plight of a run that once regularly produced enough sockeye to hold semiannual fisheries, but hasn’t since 2006 because no returns have come anywhere close to meeting the 350,000-fish escapement goal needed to hold sport and tribal commercial seasons.

Meanwhile, as Seattle celebrates the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Ballard Locks tomorrow, a pair of local tribes will be gearing up for their annual ceremonial and subsistence fisheries on either side of the structure.

The Suquamish have a target catch of 2,500 sockeye, the Muckleshoots 1,000.

Of note, the Ballard Locks count is poised to take the lead over Bonneville Dam, where only 67,621 have been counted and the run appears to be tailing off a bit.

Columbia River tribes are fishing as if the return will be half of the preseason forecast, according to a state factsheet out last week.

If trends continue, this will be the first year since 2007 that more sockeye will have entered Lake Washington than the Columbia River.

And on Washington’s other sockeye front, 1,631 sockeye have shown up at the Baker River trap, with 546 of those transported up to Baker Lake, where angling opens this Saturday, July 8.

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.