Tag Archives: chinook

National Fishing Trade Group Calls On Inslee To Reject Fish Commission’s Columbia Reforms Vote

A major national trade organization is calling Washington’s recent vote to freeze planned Columbia salmon fishery reforms a “significant threat to numerous fish stocks” and is calling on Governor Jay Inslee to reject it.

GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE GIVES HIS 2019 STATE OF THE STATE SPEECH EARLIER THIS YEAR. (GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

Expressing concern about putting nontribal commercial gillnetters back on the lower river, a letter from the American Sportfishing Association says doing so “is a move against the best available fisheries science and common-sense conservation efforts. Wasteful fishing practices, such as gillnetting, pose a threat to the long-term solvency of both the commercial and recreational fishing industries alike.”

Numerous Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead stocks are listed under the Endangered Species Act, including Snake fall kings, Idaho summer Chinook, upriver springers, and lower river fall tules, plus some summer-runs and coho.

“The gillnetting issue is great opportunity to show your leadership to the angling community by continuing to be a champion for conservation,” states the letter to Inslee, who launched his 2020 presidential candidacy earlier this month.

It’s a response to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission’s 5-1-2 March 2 move that also pushed catch 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.

And it comes as former Washington commissioners instrumental in instituting the reforms on the north side of the Columbia sent state lawmakers their own letter that said they were perplexed by the current board’s decision.

Noting how important sportfishing is to the state’s economy — the organization intends to hold a conference in Washington later this year — ASA’s letter in part will remind Inslee of his October 2015 correspondence to then Commission Chair Brad Smith.

In it, Inslee asked the commission to “seek ways to expand public access to the recreational fishery, promote selective fisheries, implement scientifically credible hatchery practices that ensure hatchery production and consider economic factors when setting seasons for both the recreational and commercial fish industry.”

ASA’s letter was sent on behalf of the board of directors. Among its 14 signatories are Dan McDonald of Yakima Bait (full disclosure: a major Northwest Sportsman advertiser), David J. Pfeiffer of Shimano, Zack Swanson of Rapala, Jesse Simpkins of St. Croix Rods, and Bruce Akins of Bassmaster.

“We urge you to support ongoing fisheries conservation in the Columbia River, including protections provided under the Endangered Species Act, by rejecting the WDFW decision on gillnetting in the Columbia River,” they ask Inslee.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Columbia, Oregon’s citizen oversight panel will also take the issue up at its June 6-7 meeting. Oregon Governor Kate Brown says she still supports the reforms and that leading legislators are keeping an eye on “whether the legislative intent of the reforms is reflected in the policies adopted by the commission.”

Editor’s note: The full text of the letter is as follows:

March 14, 2019

The Honorable Jay Inslee
Governor
416 14th Ave SW Olympia, WA 98504

Dear Governor Inslee,

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the American Sportfishing Association, we are writing you to express our concern regarding the recent decision by the Washington Department Fish and Wildlife to reinstate nontribal gillnetting in the Columbia River. The Washington Department Fish and Wildlife’s decision is a significant threat to numerous fish stocks in the Columbia River – including 13 endangered fish species currently listed under the Endangered Species Act. Furthermore, this move will result in dramatically shortened sportfishing seasons.

The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is the nation’s recreational fishing trade association. ASA provides a platform for the recreational fishing industry to have a united voice when emerging laws and policies could significantly impact sportfishing businesses or sportfishing itself. In the US, over 49 million anglers generate over $45 billion in retail sales with a $125 billion impact on the nation’s economy creating employment for over 1 million people. The recreational sporting industry is an important component of Washington’s economy and tourist industries. In the state of Washington, 1 million anglers spent $1.5 billion dollars on fishing annually and the recreational industry supported 15,208 jobs with an overall output of $2.4 billion. As a testament of the importance of Washington to the angling community, later this year ASA will be convening a conference of approximately 250 leaders in the industry, representing numerous companies throughout the country, at Skamania Lodge along the banks of the Columbia River in Washington. The gillnetting issue is great opportunity to show your leadership to the angling community by continuing to be a champion for conservation.

Given the importance of the state to businesses across the country, the sportfishing industry is watching closely the recent deliberations about allowing commercial gillnetting in the Columbia River. This highly controversial move would negatively impact fisheries conservation efforts and impact recreational fisheries from the river’s mouth to the upper Columbia in Eastern Washington. Allowing gillnetting on the Columbia River is a move against the best available fisheries science and common-sense conservation efforts. Wasteful fishing practices, such as gillnetting, pose a threat to the long-term solvency of both the commercial and recreational fishing industries alike. We urge you to support ongoing fisheries conservation in the Columbia River, including protections provided under the Endangered Species Act, by rejecting the WDFW decision on gillnetting in the Columbia River.

Sincerely,

Chris Megan
Publisher
On The Water, LLC

Zack Swanson
General Manager, VP of Sales
Rapala USA

Louis Chemi
COO
Freedom Boat Club

Dan McDonald
President
Yakima Bait Company

Jesse Simpkins
Director of Marketing
St. Croix Rods

Kirk Immens
President
Sportco Marketing, Inc.

Bruce Akin
CEO
B.A.S.S., LLC

Dale Barnes
Division Manager, Marketing
Yamaha Marine Group

Dan Ferris
Publisher
Midwest Outdoors

Steve Smits
President
ZEBCO Brands

Peter Foley
President
Boone Bait Company, Inc.

Patrick M. Gill
CEO
TackleDirect

Carl Liederman
President
Capt. Harry’s Fishing Supply Co., Inc.

Dave J. Pfeiffer
President
Shimano North American Fishing, Inc.

 

WDFW Outlines 2019 Puget Sound Salmon Fishery ‘Ideas’

Don’t make your fishing plans around these options quite yet, but Puget Sound managers yesterday outlined some initial salmon season “ideas” they wanted to talk to anglers about more as North of Falcon gets cranking.

You’ll have that chance tomorrow in Sequim and next Wednesday in Mill Creek. Fishery proposals for other parts of Washington are subject of upcoming meetings too, and all will be negotiated with tribal comanagers before anything is set in stone.

Among Pugetropolis highlights is reopening Elliott Bay for two weekends this summer, one for Chinook, thanks to a “pretty good run” expected this year.

Just under 25,800 hatchery and “wild” kings are forecast to return to the Green-Duwamish, and fishing for salmon in the morning shadow of Seattle’s skyscrapers in August has been rare in recent years, but would follow on a brief opportunity that occurred in 2017.

Also under discussion are two proposals for Marine Area 10, including another June 1 start to the resident coho season.

Managers called 2018’s “highly popular,” and while I wouldn’t say it was very productive whatsoever on my particular beach, it was a different story for boat anglers fishing much deeper waters.

And they are mulling a later start to the mark-selective summer Chinook fishery off Seattle, or adding time to the season, which has typically begun July 16 and run until the quota was caught, which occurred around Aug. 16 last year.

But elsewhere during the meeting held in Olympia Tuesday morning and which was live-streamed they didn’t sound as positive about anglers’ wishes to hold wild coho seasons in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Admiralty Inlet, primarily due to issues with local and Thompson River, Canada, stocks.

Speaking of coho, WDFW Puget Sound manager Mark Baltzell warned that Snohomish River opportunities might be “very minimal” this season.

Federal overseers say that the stock has been overfished in recent years and now needs to be built back up, and Baltzell described how the state and local tribes have been talking about conserving the fish.

On the flip side, it’s possible there might be some coho angling on the Stillaguamish after a number of years without a season, Baltzell said.

But another Stilly stock is going to cause real headaches.

Just 944 fall Chinook are expected back this year and that will constrain saltwater fisheries. The question is, which one or ones will be cut or pruned to try and limit impacts on the run and get as many back to the river as possible while allowing more plentiful runs to be targeted? This will present a very hard choice for WDFW.

On a much brighter note, salmon managers are mulling how to expand opportunities on relatively plentiful returns to Minter Creek in Deep South Sound. The past few years have seen large numbers of surplus fish, but angler advocate Norm Reinhardt of the Kitsap Poggie Club worried about the potential for the fishery to become “disorderly.”

Baltzell said state game wardens were on board with keeping things under control and pointed out that it’s a relatively small area to police.

KITSAP POGGIE CLUB MEMBER NORM REINHARDT (LOWER RIGHT) RAISES A POINT DURING YESTERDAY’S NORTH OF FALCON DISCUSSIONS IN OLYMPIA. (WDFW)

There’s talk of how to manage Chinook fishing in Marine Area 11 in May, possibly through a “bubble fishery” in its lower end.

And fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull said that the 2019 Skagit River and Baker Lake sockeye fisheries were likely to be “identical” to last year’s editions.

As for the now-annual question about the Skokomish, Fish Program Manager Ron Warren stated that the state has a fishery proposal in to the tribe to evaluate, while Baltzell said that he has been encouraged by ongoing discussions that have included Director Kelly Susewind.

Sport anglers haven’t been able to fish the Skoke the past three years because of a dispute stemming from a federal opinion over ownership of the river on the edge of the reservation.

During yesterday’s meeting, anglers also urged the state to open more of the Puyallup for salmon, add more time for blackmouth in winter, and put September Chinook in the San Juans back on the table.

Puget Sound discussions continue tomorrow at Sequim’s Trinity Methodist Church (100 S. Blake Ave.) from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., and at WDFW’s Region 4 office in Mill Creek ( 16018 Mill Creek Blvd.) on March 27 from 6 to 8 p.m.

There are also three other meetings on salmon fishery proposals for other Washington waters:

Ocean: March 25, Beach Room at Chateau Westport (710 W. Hancock), 7 p.m.

Grays Harbor: march 26, Montesano City Hall (112 N. Main St.), 6-8 p.m.

Upper Columbia: March 26, Douglas County PUD (1151 Valley Mall Parkway, East Wenatchee), 6-8 p.m.

Willapa Bay: March 27, Raymond Elks Club (326 3rd St.), 6-8 p.m.

Mid-Columbia: March 27, Kennewick Irrigation District Auditorium, (2015 S. Ely Street, Kennewick), 6-8 p.m.

Snake River: March 28, Walla Walla Community College, Clarkston Campus Room 104 (1470 Bridge St., Clarkston), 6-8 p.m

Following these discussions, WDFW will take the ideas to tribal comanagers, then return April 3 in Lynnwood to talk to anglers about the results of those negotiations and develop final fishery proposals before North of Falcon wraps up in California in mid-April.

WDFW Scientist Named As New State Salmon Recovery Office Director

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE

Erik Neatherlin, a scientist and longtime manager in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been selected to lead the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office, which coordinates statewide and regional efforts to return salmon from the brink of extinction.

ERIK NEATHERLIN WILL HEAD UP THE WASHINGTON GOVERNOR’S SALMON RECOVER OFFICE INSIDE THE STATE RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE. HE TAKES OVER FROM STEVE MARTIN. (RCO)

The Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office coordinates the efforts of 25 community-based watershed groups and 7 regional organizations across the state that are charged with implementing federally approved recovery plans for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

“Erik is a longtime champion of salmon recovery and will bring his considerable knowledge of the science, the partners and the issues to the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, which is home to the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office. “He has the perfect skills to lead the way forward and help us return these iconic fish to healthy levels.”

Neatherlin, of Olympia, Wash., has been science director and policy lead for salmon recovery with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife since 2011. In that role, he managed 200 employees and a $26 million biennial budget, and represented the agency on the Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission. Neatherlin started at the Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2003 as a biologist and worked his way up to a leadership position, working with many external partners, such as tribes, local and federal governments and the Legislature and Congress. He has bachelor and master degrees in science from Florida State University and the University of Washington, respectively. Before joining the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Neatherlin worked as the conservation program director for the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute in Portland, Ore.

“Erik is a very thoughtful leader and, as a scientist, understands the need to make decisions based in facts,” Cottingham said. “He knows a lot is riding on our collective success to recover salmon and their habitats. If we don’t recover salmon, many people will lose their livelihoods and we may lose the southern resident orca whales. It’s important that we have a leader experienced in salmon recovery at the helm and we’re very excited for Erik to join our team.”

Across the Pacific Northwest, salmon populations have been decimated. As the number of people grew and demands for water, power and land increased, salmon habitat was altered or destroyed. In the early 1990s, the federal government began listing salmon species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. By 1999, some salmon populations had disappeared completely and listings affected nearly three-fourths of the state. Today, federal agencies have listed 18 species of salmon, steelhead and bull trout as either threatened or endangered.

In addition to being an iconic fish, salmon are big business in Washington. Many businesses, such as bait and tackle shops and charter fishing companies, rely on the world-renowned Pacific salmon. Today, commercial and recreational fishing are estimated to support 16,000 jobs and $540 million in personal income.

“Recovering salmon is paramount to our state and our region,” Neatherlin said. “We know how to recover salmon and we have many talented people already doing this important work, but to be successful, it’s going to take all of us pulling in the same direction. This includes the tribes and our existing partners, as well as new partners who may be new to the salmon recovery table. I come ready to listen and learn.”

The federal Endangered Species Act and Washington State law require development of plans to recover salmon. Washington residents have been working for nearly 20 years to reverse the fate of salmon, and those efforts are beginning to pay off. For details, visit the State of Salmon Web site.

Big Bump In Possible Washington Coast Coho Quota, But Chinook Could Be Similar To 2018

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

Fish managers have developed options for Washington’s ocean salmon fisheries that reflect concerns over chinook stocks and optimism about improved returns of coho projected this year.

The three options for ocean salmon fisheries were approved Tuesday for public review by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), which establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

JENN STAHL SHOWS OFF A COHO SHE CAUGHT OUT OF WESTPORT WHILE FISHING WITH JOHN KEIZER. (SALTPATROL.COM)

The three alternatives are designed to protect the low numbers of chinook expected to return to the Columbia River and Washington’s ocean waters this year, said Kyle Adicks, salmon fisheries policy lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“With these alternatives in hand, we will work with stakeholders to develop a final fishing package for Washington’s coastal and inside waters that meets our conservation objectives for wild salmon,” Adicks said. “Anglers can expect improved opportunities to fish for coho salmon compared to recent years while fishing opportunities for chinook likely will be similar to last year.”

Similar to 2018, this year’s forecast for Columbia River fall chinook is down roughly 50 percent from the 10-year average. About 100,500 hatchery chinook are expected to return to the lower Columbia River. Those fish – known as “tules” – are the backbone of the recreational ocean fishery.

Meanwhile, fishery managers estimate 905,800 coho will return to the Columbia River this year, up 619,600 fish from the 2018 forecast. A significant portion of the Columbia River run of coho contributes to the ocean fishery.

State fishery managers are working with tribal co-managers and NOAA Fisheries to take into account the dietary needs of southern resident orcas while developing salmon fishing seasons. The declining availability of salmon – southern resident orcas’ main source of prey – and disruptions from boating traffic have been linked to a downturn in the region’s orca population over the past 30 years.

“We will continue to assess the effects of fisheries on southern resident killer whales as we move towards setting our final fishing seasons in April,” Adicks said.

The options include the following quotas for recreational fisheries off the Washington coast:

Option 1: 32,500 chinook and 172,200 coho. Marine areas 3 (La Push) and 4 (Neah Bay) would open June 15 while marine areas 1 (Ilwaco) and 2 (Westport) would open June 22. All four areas would be open daily and La Push would have a late-season fishery under this option.

Option 2: 27,500 chinook and 159,600 coho. Marine areas 1, 3, and 4 would open daily beginning June 22 while Marine Area 2 would open daily beginning June 29. There would be no late-season fishery in Marine Area 3.

Option 3: 22,500 chinook and 94,400 coho. Marine areas 1, 3, and 4 would open daily beginning June 29 while Marine Area 2 would be open five days per week (Sunday through Thursday) beginning June 16. There would be no late-season fishery in Marine Area 3.

Fisheries may close early if quotas have been met. For more details about the options, visit PFMC’s webpage at https://www.pcouncil.org/blog/, where information can be found about a March 25 public meeting in Westport on the three alternatives for ocean salmon fisheries.

Last year, the PFMC adopted recreational ocean fishing quotas of 27,500 chinook and 42,000 coho.

Chinook and coho quotas approved by the PFMC will be part of a comprehensive 2019 salmon-fishing package, which includes marine and freshwater fisheries throughout Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington’s coastal areas. State and tribal co-managers are currently developing those other fisheries.

State and tribal co-managers will complete the final 2019 salmon fisheries package in conjunction with PFMC during its April meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif.

Several additional public meetings are scheduled in March and April to discuss regional fisheries issues. The public will also soon be able to comment on proposed salmon fisheries through WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/, where a list of scheduled public meetings can be found.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is the primary state agency tasked with preserving, protecting and perpetuating fish and wildlife and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing and hunting opportunities.

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.

NOAA Sharpening Its Eye On West Coast Chinook Fisheries

Federal overseers could press for new Chinook fishing restrictions for select stocks at sea in the coming years to provide more salmon for orcas.

In a guidance letter earlier this week to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages fisheries off the West Coast, NOAA made known that it wants to reengage with the panel on season setting.

AN ANGLER SHOWS OFF A 28-POUND FALL CHINOOK CAUGHT OFF WESTPORT ABOARD THE CHARTER BOAT SLAMMER IN A RECENT SEASON. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The agency last did that in 2009 and found that the council’s commercial and recreational fisheries in Washington’s, Oregon’s and California’s ocean waters, didn’t jeopardize southern resident killer whales at the time, but the salmon-eating J, K and L Pods have declined since then and last year an analysis identified important king stocks for the hungry marine mammals.

“Several of the high priority Chinook salmon stocks currently identified in the framework contribute substantially to Council fisheries, including lower Columbia River, Sacramento River, and Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon stocks [bolding in the original]. Identifying high priority Chinook salmon stocks for SRKW is an important step to assess impacts and prioritize management and recovery actions that will benefit the whales,” the March 6 letter from NOAA Regional Administrator Barry Thom to PFMC Chair Phil Anderson states.


Concerned about closures in your area? Book the world’s best salmon and halibut fishing in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), Canada. Click HERE to learn more.

Lower Columbia stocks are key to Washington Coast salmon fisheries, while the other two runs are important off Oregon and California.

Puget Sound fall Chinook were found to be even more important to orcas, according to NOAA’s and WDFW’s joint review last year, but are not mentioned in the letter. Still, the state agency is developing seasons with an eye towards the species’ “dietary needs.”

The letter does say that the feds are developing a “risk assessment” for analyzing salmon fisheries past, present and future in terms of overlap with SRKWs, and how they impact orca prey availability.

“If adjustments are needed, this framework could guide fisheries actions to limit impacts to prey availability in specific areas and times that are believed to create the greatest benefit to the whales. We believe adaptive frameworks like this, or other equally protective tools, provide confidence that fisheries can respond to the highest risk conditions and help improve conditions for SRKW in the future,” the letter states.

While it says that the new tool won’t likely be available to apply to 2019 fisheries, NOAA still wants to get with PFMC about this year’s proposed seasons and their impacts on the aforementioned stocks.

Lurking in the background is the threat of a lawsuit against NOAA to look into fishery effects on orcas.

According to The Seattle Times, which broke the story yesterday afternoon, fishing interests involved in the process say fisheries aren’t to blame for the downfall of the “blackfish,” but seasons are an easy “knob” to try and turn, and that habitat issues in the spawning and rearing waters are the real problem for low Chinook numbers.

The letter goes on to say that efforts are also being made to reduce disturbance from boats in orca foraging areas.

A bill passed out of Washington’s House yesterday on a 78-20 vote expands the don’t-go distance around orcas from 200 to 300 yards, prohibits approaching closer than 400 yards from behind, and requires vessels to slow to 7 knots within a half-mile bubble around them. It now goes over the Senate.

Here’s What WDFW Says About Commission’s Columbia Reforms Vote

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

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.

WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSIONERS BOB KEHOE, DON MCISAAC AND BARBARA BAKER RAISE THEIR HANDS IN VOTING YES TO GO ALONG WITH A SUBPANEL’S RECOMMENDATION ON FREEZING COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON REFORMS AT 2016 LEVELS. ALSO VOTING YES BUT OUT OF THE WDFW VIDEO FRAME WERE KIM THORBURN AND JAY HOLZMILLER. (WDFW)

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.


Concerned about closures in your area? Book the world’s best salmon and halibut fishing in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), Canada. Click HERE to learn more.

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.

VOTING NO WAS COMMISSIONER DAVE GRAYBILL. (WDFW)

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.

AND VOTING TO ABSTAIN IN FAVOR OF CONTINUED DISCUSSIONS WERE CHAIR LARRY CARPENTER AND COMMISSIONER BRAD SMITH. (WDFW)

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/

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.


Concerned about closures in your area? Book the world’s best salmon and halibut fishing in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), Canada. Click HERE to learn more.

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/

More Details From WDFW On This Year’s Salmon Forecasts; Coho Top Prospect

Editor’s note: Here is a link to our coverage from earlier in the day: http://nwsportsmanmag.com/north-of-falcon-being-live-streamed-2019-puget-sound-coast-salmon-forecasts-out

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

Fishery managers estimate higher numbers of coho salmon will return to Washington’s waters in 2019 compared to last year, but expect low returns of wild chinook will again make setting fishing seasons a challenge.

COHO FORECASTS LOOK GOOD FOR FISHING ON THE OCEAN, PUGET SOUND WATERS AND THE COLUMBIA, WHERE CHRIS SPENCER TROLLED UP THIS ONE SEVERAL SEASONS BACK. (CHRIS SPENCER)

Forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and pink salmon – developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty Indian tribes – were released today during a public meeting in Olympia.

The forecast meeting marks the starting point for crafting 2019 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. The annual process for setting salmon fisheries is known as “North of Falcon.” Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through early April before finalizing seasons later that month.

Kelly Susewind, WDFW director, said fishery managers will look to design fishing seasons that not only meet conservation goals for salmon but also minimize impacts on the region’s struggling southern resident killer whale population.

“In the coming weeks, we’ll be working with tribal co-managers and constituents to make sure that we meet our conservation objectives while providing fishing opportunities where possible,” Susewind said. “It’s complicated, but important work.”

The forecasts are based on varying environmental indicators, such as ocean conditions, as well as surveys of spawning salmon, and the number of juvenile salmon migrating to marine waters.

As in past years, salmon-fishing prospects in 2019 vary by area:

Columbia River: About 218,200 “upriver brights” are expected to return to areas of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam. That’s similar to the return in 2018 but down more than 50 percent from the most recent 10-year average.

An estimated 905,800 coho are projected to return to the Columbia River this year, an increase of 619,600 fish from the 2018 forecast. About 147,000 coho actually returned to the Columbia River last year.

Salmon fisheries in the Columbia River will likely be designed to harvest abundant coho stocks while protecting depleted chinook and “B-run” steelhead, which return to the Columbia and Snake river basins.

Washington’s ocean waters: Anglers should have more coho fishing opportunities in Washington’s ocean waters this summer compared to 2018, given higher numbers of coho projected to return to the Columbia River and to Washington’s coastal streams.

This year’s forecast of about 100,500 hatchery chinook to the lower Columbia River is down 12,000 fish from last year’s projected return. Those hatchery chinook – known as “tules” – are the backbone of the recreational ocean fishery.

Puget Sound: Increased returns of coho salmon should provide anglers with some good fishing opportunities including in areas in mid and south Sound, said Kyle Adicks, salmon fisheries policy lead for WDFW.

Roughly 670,200 wild and hatchery coho are expected to return to Puget Sound this year, up 15 percent of the 10-year average. However, the total forecast for wild and hatchery chinook is down slightly from 2018.

“We’re again expecting extremely low returns in key stocks such as Stillaguamish and mid-Hood Canal chinook, which will again limit salmon fishing opportunities,” Adicks said.

Meanwhile, this year’s run of pink salmon, which mostly return to Washington’s waters only in odd-numbered years, is expected to be 608,400 fish. That’s roughly 10 percent of the 10-year average of 5.7 million fish.

Southern resident killer whales

While developing fishing proposals, the department will consider the dietary needs of southern resident killer whales as well as ways to protect orcas from disruptions from fishing vessel traffic, Adicks said.

The declining availability of salmon – southern resident orcas’ primary prey – and disruptions from boating traffic have been linked to a downturn in the region’s orca population over the past 30 years.

WDFW is working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for orcas.

Public meetings and comment opportunities

A meeting schedule, salmon forecasts, and information about the salmon season-setting process are available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.

WDFW intends to livestream several public meetings, including those scheduled on March 19 and April 3. The department will provide links to those upcoming livestreams, as well as to the archived video from Wednesday’s forecast meeting, on the website listed above.

Upcoming meetings include:

Ocean options: State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 7-12 in Vancouver, Wash., with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to develop options for this year’s commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries. The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

Regional discussions: Additional public meetings have been scheduled into April to discuss regional fishery issues. Input from these regional discussions will be considered as the season-setting process moves into the “North of Falcon” and PFMC meetings, which will determine the final 2019 salmon seasons.

Final PFMC: The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 11-15 meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif. The 2018 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters is scheduled to be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.

Beginning in mid-March, fishery proposals will be posted on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/, where the public can submit comments electronically.

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.