Tag Archives: CEDAR RIVER COUNCIL

Support For Lake Washington Sockeye Restoration Assessment At Meeting

With a show of hands last night in Renton, anglers and others asked a longtime Lake Washington sockeye advocate to request WDFW look into what it would take to recover the salmon stock and restore the fabled metro fishery.

ANGLERS AND SOME CEDAR RIVER COUNCIL MEMBERS RAISE THEIR HANDS IN SUPPORT OF HAVING FRANK URABECK (STANDING AT LEFT) ASK WDFW TO ASSESS WHAT IT WOULD TAKE TO RESTORE LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It’s a long-shot proposition with seemingly all factors now lined up against the fish, and two of the people who’d gathered in the Red Lion conference room supported just throwing in the towel instead.

But nobody was in favor of the status quo, which is modeled to lead to the extinction of the run in 40 years time — perhaps as few as 30 with this year’s lowest-ever forecast of just 15,153 back to the Ballard Locks is any indication, according to the local state fisheries biologist.

“The reality is, it’s going to be very, very, very tough to get all the players to do something,” acknowledged Frank Urabeck before calling for the vote from the 40 or so members of the public and 10 members of the Cedar River Council.

Not everyone held up a hand for any option, but Urabeck’s plan is to approach WDFW Director Kelly Susewind and ask that the agency conduct a feasibility assessment on what can be done and how much it would cost to bring sockeye back to fishable numbers.

Urabeck said it would likely require “a massive effort, a huge amount of money.”

But even as predation on smolts in the lake grows and more and more adult sockeye are dying between the Ballard Locks and the Cedar River, there are still some glimmers of hope.

The meeting followed on a similar one last year but which did not include Seattle Public Utilities.

Last night, SPU was at the table in the form of watershed manager Amy LaBarge, who gave a presentation about the utility’s Landsburg mitigation hatchery, completed in 2012 with a capacity of 34 million sockeye eggs, but which has only ever been able to collect 18 million due to low returns.

And since that 2018 gathering, Urabeck indicated that there had been talks going on behind the scenes too.

“I can’t say if I’m optimistic, but there has been dialogue,” he said near the end of the two-hour meeting.

Other players in the issue include the Muckleshoot Tribe and WDFW, the latter of which operates the sockeye hatchery for SPU.

Brody Antipa, the regional hatchery manager for the state agency, was in house and he talked about how he began his career as the guy who “lived in a trailer down by the river” at the old temporary facility on the Cedar, which was opened in the early 1990s over concerns that the run at the time was faltering.

The system produced reliably high returns of as many as 400,000 spawners into the river in the 1960s and 1970s, at the end of the era when Lake Washington was thick with blue-green algae that hid the smolts from predators.

Following cleanup efforts, water clarity went from as little as 30 inches in 1964 to 10 feet in 1968 to up to 25 feet in 1990, according to WDFW district fisheries biologist Aaron Bosworth.

Native cutthroat and northern pikeminnow primarily but also nonnative bass, yellow perch and other species suddenly had the advantage over the young sockeye.

The years of 400,000 reds on the redds were over just as anglers had figured out how to reliably catch sockeye in the lake with just a plain old red hook.

In the 1990s, Antipa said that testing at the hatchery determined that feeding the young sockeye was helpful before turning them loose to rear in the lake a year to 14 months.

By the early 2000s, fisheries went from once every four years to once every other year — 2002, 2004, 2006.

But since then there’s been nothing but a string of increasingly bad years, with last fall seeing just 7,476 of the 32,103 sockeye that went through the locks reaching the Cedar, despite no directed fisheries and only a small biological sampling program operating at Ballard.

IF WE DON’T GET OFF OUR COLLECTIVE ASS, THAT FLAT LINE REPRESENTS THE FUTURE OF LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE, BUT A FEW ARE READY TO THROW IN THE TOWEL WITH THE ENORMITY OF THE JOB AND CHALLENGES THE FISH FACE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The rest died from prespawn mortality caused by fish diseases that may have become more deadly and prevalent due to warmer water in the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

During last night’s question-and-answer period, the audience and Cedar River Council members focused on tweaking the hatchery operations — whether or not Baker and Fraser sockeye could be used to reach full eggtake capacity; if the facility was able to hold the fry longer for a feeding and later-release programs that show promise; and if it could be used to just raise coho and Chinook instead.

The short-term answer to all that was “no” — the current management plan that the hatchery operates under doesn’t allow it.

So, asked a member of the council, how do we change that plan?

LaBarge, the SPU staffer, said that would need to go through stakeholders to get buy-in.

“The conversation is starting about that,” she said.

Another issue is all the predators in Lake Washington.

Antipa said that where once just getting 40 million fry into the lake all but guaranteed a fishery a few years later, the 70 million that swam out of the Cedar in 2012 didn’t result in anything.

Partly that’s due to the circular feedback of PSM issues affecting how many eggs are available at the hatchery and in the gravel , but rock bass have joined the suite of piscovores, along with walleye and at least one northern pike.

A bill on its way to Gov. Inslee’s desk would require WDFW to drop daily and size limits on largemouth and smallmouth in Lake Washington, along with all other waters used by sea-going salmonids in the state.

Realistically that won’t do diddly to bass populations, but gillnetting efforts the Muckleshoots have begun more seriously next door in Lake Sammamish might.

TWO THUMBS UP FOR SEATTLE SOCKEYE FROM THIS ANGLER DURING THE 2004 SEASON. (RYLEY FEE)

Before the show of hands, Max Prinsen, the chair of the Cedar River Council, recalled how in 1979 he came north from California at a time when bald eagles and condors were “gone” in the Golden State.

“But with changes we made as a society we brought those species back,” he noted.

After Urabeck’s vote, he spoke again.

“These fish aren’t just important as a fishery, but as a part of Northwest life,” Prinsen said. “I think it’s important to conserve this resource. It’s great to see this much interest.”

I would quibble with his use of the word “resource” — by chance this morning on the bus while proofing our Alaska magazine I read a quote from the author Amy Gulick about a Tlingit woman in Sitka who taught her that “The word ‘resource’ implies an end product, a commodity. But ‘relationship’ is so much deeper and multi-faceted. If you have a relationship with salmon, then you also have a relationship to a river, a home stream and the ocean. And you probably have relationships with people in your community connected to each other by way of salmon. We show gratitude for healthy relationships because they make our lives richer.”

But Prinsen was also among those who’d raised their hands, and I’ll bet something along the lines of a relationship with the sockeye was what he meant anyway.

Recovering Lake Washington Sockeye Runs Subject Of Upcoming Meeting

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE

The Cedar River Council will host an important meeting on Tuesday, April 23. at 7 p.m. at the Renton Red Lion Hotel and Conference Center (1 South Grady Way) about the very popular Lake Washington sockeye fisheries which had been largely supported by the Cedar River sockeye run produced by natural spawning and a temporary Cedar River hatchery that began operation in 1991 followed by a permanent hatchery constructed by Seattle Public Utilities in 2011.

ANGLERS PREPARE TO NET A SOCKEYE DURING THE LAST LAKE WASHINGTON FISHERY, IN 2006. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

No Lake Washington recreational sockeye fisheries have been allowed since 2006 when more than 50,000 sockeye were taken by sport anglers over an eighteen day season. That year the number of sockeye surging through the Ballard Locks exceeded 400,000.

The 2019 run is forecast at only 15,000, the lowest forecast ever. There have been no directed harvest fisheries for the last 13 years.

The public meeting will include presentations by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Seattle Public Utilities on the history of the introduced sockeye run, fabulous periodic sport fishing from the early 1970s until 2006, and the likely reasons the run has collapsed.

The role of the sockeye hatchery will be covered. What might be done to restore the run to harvestable levels and the possibilities this could happen will be discussed.

Puget Sound Anglers and other organizations have worked hard over the years to secure recreational sockeye fisheries, and engaged as strong advocates for the permanent Cedar River sockeye hatchery.

Coastal Conservation Association was instrumental in securing funding for a Lake Washington juvenile sockeye predation study that provided important scientific data.

Last Chance To Save Lake Washington Sockeye Fisheries?

Too few young sockeye are surviving as they rear in Lake Washington before going out to sea, and the runs — not to mention the famed salmon fisheries — could peter out in 20 years or so if nothing’s done.

SOCKEYE SMOLTS FACE AN INCREASING HOST OF PREDATORS IN LAKE WASHINGTON (THESE WERE PHOTOGRAPHED IN IDAHO), INCLUDING NATIVE SPECIES SUCH AS CUTTHROAT TROUT AND NORTHERN PIKEMINNOW, AND NONNATIVE ONES SUCH AS SMALLMOUTH, LARGEMOUTH AND ROCK BASS, YELLOW PERCH, AND NOW WALLEYE AND NORTHERN PIKE. (MIKE PETERSON, IDFG VIA NMFS, FLICKR, CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0)

That’s according to modeling put together by Dr. Neala Kendall, a WDFW research scientist, and shared for the first time publicly last night.

“Our analysis suggests that only small numbers of sockeye salmon will persist in Lake Washington under current conditions, much less provide future opportunities for tribal and recreational fisheries,” read one of her slides.

“Maintaining the run and restoring fisheries will be very challenging but not impossible,” it also said.

Kendall was presenting to 50 to 60 anglers and members of the Cedar River Council who’d gathered in a banquet room at Renton’s Maplewood Golf Course on an unusually warm evening for April.

The findings were grim news for the fishermen and state managers, as there are few salmon seasons as popular — or that provide the local economic jolt — as Lake Washington sockeye.

It’s been 12 years since the last one, held in 2006 after “insanely high” ocean survival for that year-class of fish brought home one out of every two smolts that left the lake.

RUB A DUB DUB! THREE MEN TROLL FOR SOCKEYE DURING THE 2006 LAKE WASHINGTON SEASON, WHICH YIELDED THE HIGHEST CATCH IN A DECADE BUT HAS ALSO BEEN THE ONLY FISHERY IN A DOZEN YEARS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Despite the promise and production of the new Seattle Public Utilities hatchery on the Cedar River, returns have only averaged 84,000 since then, with even the best of those years more than 200,000 fish shy of the mark to open the lake.

Aaron Bosworth, the state district fisheries biologist, was also on hand and said that smolt survival is now not only lower than it used to be but well below what it is to the north of the continent’s southernmost sockeye system, 2 to 4 percent versus 16 to 20 percent.

As for why that is, Bosworth said that University of Washington studies have ruled out forage and competition — there’s enough zooplankton in the lake to support the pelagic salmon as well as the huge biomass of longfin smelt.

A big and increasing problem is prespawn mortality on returning adults.

His data showed that between 1995 and 2013, from 45 to 85 percent of the sockeye that went through the locks turned up in the Cedar River. But since 2014 only 20 to 33 percent have. That may be function of warm waters in the ship canal making less-healthy fish more susceptible to disease. With the stock comprised of roughly 60 percent natural-origin fish, fewer spawners produce less eggs overall.

SOCKEYE MANAGERS SAY THAT THE PAST FOUR RETURNS OF SALMON THROUGH THE LAKE WASHINGTON SHIP CANAL (BACKGROUND) HAVE SEEN ABNORMALLY HIGH MORTALITY, WITH 67 TO 80 PERCENT OF THE FISH NOT SHOWING UP IN THE CEDAR RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Still, the “leading theory” now for why the runs aren’t better is predation by native cutthroat trout and northern pikeminnow, as well as nonnative species such as largemouth, smallmouth — Lake Washington was rated as the West’s eighth best for bass by Bassmaster as recently as 2016 — rock bass and perch.

The latter stocks might not eat as many smolts as the former, but they do exacerbate the problem, Bosworth said. With a warming climate, they’ll only do better too, it’s assumed.

Another invasive, walleye, are also now being found in the lake, and earlier this year a bass angler caught but unfortunately released a pike, the second known northern here in the past 15 months.

But sockeye snackers are also getting a helping hand from humanity.

Amy Windrope, who was WDFW’s director for the North Sound region before named acting deputy director for the agency, brought up a factor she’d heard a person in the audience mention: light pollution.

Essentially, between sunset and sunrise, all the bulbs we turn on to light the streets and highways, our sideyards, parking lots and more, create an overhead aura that has benefited the fish-eaters to the detriment of young sockeye as well as Chinook.

Kendall said that the effect has extended the time that salmon smolts are visible through the night, making them more vulnerable to predation and providing fewer hours for them to eat without risk.

Scott Stolnack, a King County watershed ecologist, said data showed that 20 years ago there was a definite period when cutthroat were not feeding, but for the past five years, their stomachs are now full at all hours.

“It’s always dusk for cutthroat,” he said.

Driving home afterwards as night fell on Seattle, that really hit home for me.

As I crossed the bridge between Bellevue and Mercer Island, I looked to the south and saw a particularly bright bank of big lights by the lake. And zipping along Interstates 405, 90 and 5 while illuminated for vehicle safety from above, it was like me and the other cars were smolts, any staters in the shadows cutts.

The question of the night really boiled down to: Do we want to do something about this in hopes of having sockeye fisheries again, and if so, What is that path?

Kendall’s modeling suggests the best way would be increasing survival of the young salmon, and that lifting it to rates of 4 to 8 percent yields a good response.

DR. NEALA KENDALL EXPLAINS LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE MODELING. A MODEL SUGGESTS THAT INCREASING SMOLT SURVIVAL WILL HELP REBUILD THE SALMON’S POPULATION OVER TIME. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

She did face questions from the audience about how confident she was in her work, which is based on current conditions continuing.

Tom Allyn, vice chair of the Cedar River Council, wanted to know how much increasing survival and other tweaks might cost.

When fellow panel member and sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck called for a show of support for asking WDFW to crunch the numbers, most if not all fishermen raised their hands.

In other words, for our part we’re not ready to give up on the salmon.

“After having heard how difficult a challenge it will be to restore Lake Washington sockeye sport fisheries, the public attending the meeting last night overwhelmingly voted for us to continue to see if that can be done,” said Urabeck. “This means convincing the Department of Fish and Wildlife and other entities like the Muckleshoot Tribe, King County, City of Seattle, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, etc., to engage in a feasibility assessment of a sockeye recovery action plan. I hope that my colleagues on the Cedar River Council will work with me to this end.”

Even as the Muckleshoots plan another year of walleye studies in the lake and WDFW biologists will again sample for diet and abundance of spinyrays in the ship canal, when talk centered around whether there were any current plans to actively remove predators — there are not — one fisherman pointed out, “You have a room full of volunteers.”