Tag Archives: fall chinook

Columbia Salmon Reforms Subpanel Recommends 2016 Allocations To OR, WA Fish Commissions

Supporters of Columbia River salmon reforms are urging anglers to get in touch with fishery overseers and one state’s lawmakers after a subpanel of the Oregon and Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissions this week voted to revert to 2016 benchmarks.

ANGLERS RUN UPSTREAM DURING THE 2017 SPRING CHINOOK SEASON ON THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“.. Stop bowing to small special interest groups and start leading in managing our fisheries for abundance,” reads a Coastal Conservation Association of Oregon letter posted on Facebook after Tuesday’s recommendation on an amended “Option 1.”

That came out of a six-hour meeting of three members from both states and now goes to the full commissions for consideration and final approval, with Washington possibly deciding as early as tomorrow whether to go along with the pause or not.

Essentially, sport and commercial allocations for spring and summer Chinook would fall back from 2018’s 80-20 to 70-30, the level that fall kings are being fished at, and the transition from gillnet to alternative gear only in the mainstem would be postponed, with both allowable.

Thrown into the bargain is a relaxing of the mandatory barbless hook requirement for anglers “effective as soon as practical but by June 1, 2019 at the latest,” according to a WDFW staff summary.


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Members voting against the proposal were Washington’s Dave Graybill of Leavenworth and Oregon’s Bob Webber of Port Orford.

Voting to recommend it were Bob Kehoe of Seattle, Bruce Buckmaster of Astoria and Holly Akenson of Enterprise.

Hockinson, Washington’s Don McIsaac, who chaired the subpanel, “announced the motion would pass without the Chair voting and did not vote,” according to WDFW documents.

Option 2 would have stuck to Washington’s 2018 policy — 80-20, 80-20, ~75-~25 for spring, summer and fall Chinook with no mainstem gillnets — while Option 3, the “no loss of economic benefit alternative,” had two choices with ~65-~35 splits on fall Chinook with one banning gillnets and the other allowing it.

Under Option 1, 2019 spring Chinook shares would remain at 80-20 unless an inseason update suggests we’ll see more than 128,000 upriver-bound kings, and then 70-30 would come into play.

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.

ACCORDING TO WDFW DOCUMENTS, ALL THE POTENTIAL OPTION 1 ALLOCATIONS ARE ABOVE WHERE THEY WERE FOR SPORTFISHERMEN IN THE SO-CALLED 2010-2012 BASE PERIOD, 60-40 ON SPRING CHINOOK, 50-50 SUMMER CHINOOK AND 59-41 ON FALL CHINOOK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

A WDFW STAFF SUMMARY OF THE SUBPANEL’S “RATIONALE” for recommending Option 1 states:

* Comprehensive Evaluation of Washington Policy showed Policy did not work as expected.
* Goal to have concurrent policies for 2019 (and beyond).
* Current WA Policy includes an adaptive management provision –make changes when the assumptions are not met.
* There is no substantial difference between the options regarding conservation benefits.
* No significant change in angler trips between options, and remains above pre-policy baseline.
* Option 1 goes the furthest towards increasing commercial ex-vessel values.
* Original policy goals were good but did not sufficiently employ the adaptive management provisions that were included in the policies.

Subpanel members who opposed it believed it:

* Should not increase allocation for commercial fishery in 2019 due to forecasts.
* Maintain escapement to upriver areas by not increasing commercial allocation

This year’s Columbia Chinook expectations are on the low side, with 99,300 upriver springers and 157,500 overall, 35,900 summer kings and 340,400 fall brights and tules.

EVEN AS ODFW AND WDFW’S FULL COMMISSIONS PONDER this week’s recommendation, a bill active in Washington’s legislature seeks to remove nontribal gillnets from that state’s side of the Columbia.

While three cosponsors — Sens. Mona Das, Joe Nguyen and Emily Randall, all Democrats — appear to have since abandoned it, SB 5617 cleared one committee ahead of last week’s initial bill deadline and has been referred to Senate Ways and Means.

That committee is chaired by Sen. Christine Rolfes (D), who earlier this session spoke in favor of the bill as codifying WDFW policy.

And CCA Oregon has drummed up a letter for fishermen to send to both states’ managers and overseers.

“Over a hundred thousand sport fishers in each state are funding both DFWs while a few dozen are driving reversals to allow antiquated, non selective commercial fishing gear, that was outdated and outlawed in the rest of the state (of Oregon) since the last century,” the letter reads in part.

“I respectfully ask you to please not endorse the proposed changes to allow more commercial gillnet seasons on the river. I also urge you to stop bowing to small special interest groups and start leading in managing our fisheries for abundance.”

And they’ve also come up with information to send to Oregon lawmakers.

AS FOR NEXT STEPS, ON SATURDAY MORNING IN SPOKANE, Washington’s full Fish and Wildlife Commission will take up the subject — here are links to documents WDFW staff has prepared — with Oregon’s expected to on March 15.

The overarching goal is to set concurrent seasons ahead of the bulk of 2019’s fisheries, which are being discussed and set this month and next through the annual North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process.

How it all shakes out will be very interesting. Hold on to your hats, kids.

‘Slight Improvement’ Expected For 2019 Columbia Fall Chinook Runs

THE FOLLOWING IS FROM WDFW’S U.S. VS. OREGON TECHNICAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE SUBGROUP

COLUMBIA RIVER FALL CHINOOK

2018 Forecast/Actual Returns and 2019 Preseason Forecasts The forecasts shown here are estimates made in February in preparation for the North of Falcon season-setting process. Once the North of Falcon process is complete, these February forecasts will change slightly. Final forecasts will be available in mid-April.

1Subset of URB

2First year for predicting LRB which was formerly a component of BUB stock.

2019 Forecasts

? LRH – Similar to last year’s actual return, about 60% of the 10-year average.

? LRW – Improved over 2018 actual return, 85% of the 10-year average.

? LRB – Forecast is more than twice the 10-year average.

? BPH – Improved over 2018 actual return, about half of the 10-year average.

? URB – Similar to last year’s actual return.

? PUB – Improved over 2018 actual return, about two-thirds of the 10-year average.

? SAB – Forecast is 27% of the recent 10-year average.

? Total Return – Slight improvement over 2018 actual return. Several years of poor ocean conditions are likely contributing to the decreased returns.


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More Details On Minter Hatchery Chinook Loss Emerge At Senate Hearing

State senators learned new details about efforts to overcome the backup generator failure that led to the deaths of an estimated 6 million fall Chinook at a South Sound salmon hatchery during a December windstorm.

ACCORDING TO A WDFW PRESENTATION BEFORE THE STATE SENATE AGRICULTURE, WATER, NATURAL RESOURCES & PARKS COMMITTEE’S THIS IS THE GENERATOR THAT FAILED TO START AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY DURING A DECEMBER WINDSTORM POWER OUTAGE, LEADING TO THE DEATHS OF OVER 6 MILLION FALL CHINOOK. (WDFW)

During a work session this afternoon before members of Sen. Kevin Van De Wege’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, three high-ranking WDFW officials again called the incident at Minter Creek Hatchery unacceptable and said that two investigations were launched this week into what happened.

They also said that the comanagers had been “wonderful to work with” in trying to backfill the loss with 2.75 million kings from two tribal hatcheries, along with fish from state and a technical college facilities.

The WDFW staffers who went before senators were Director Kelly Susewind, Fish Program Deputy Assistant Director Kelly Cunningham and Hatchery Division Manager Eric Kinne.

THREE HIGH-RANKING WDFW OFFICIALS SPEAK BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE. (TVW)

They described the events and fallout of Friday, Dec. 14 when around 5:30 p.m. the power went out at Minter as high winds raked the area.

According to them, when the 350 kVA generator didn’t immediately fire up, staffers soon figured out that batteries on the large diesel-fired power source weren’t charging.

So they yanked batteries out of vehicles at the hatchery to use instead to try to get water flowing again into the dozens of incubation trays where the young Chinook were rearing.

While salmon eggs can get by for awhile without flowing water, not so for the inch-long fish.

But when that failed too, crews discovered a cable on the generator had burned up.

After alerting WDFW’s “phone tree” and even calling the local fire department for help, a hatchery employee drove to a nearby auto parts store to buy cables and batteries.

Crews ultimately were able to get a small pump running and water again flowing into the trays before the generator was finally started more than two and a half hours after the power went out.

But by then then bulk of the damage was one.

The fish in the trays were poured into ponds at the hatchery and there’s a chance that some actually survived, but WDFW won’t know until they reach the “swim up” stage.

They said that 1.75 million of the replacement fish would be released in the Deschutes River, the other 1 million at Minter Creek.

Meanwhile, contractors began two separate investigations this week, one from an engineering standpoint about why the generator failed, and the other whether adequate emergency procedures were in place and how hatchery workers responded.

The three WDFW officials said they plan to revise statewide protocols and use the results of the investigation “to hold ourselves accountable for the tragic loss of the fish.”

The details on Minter were part of their larger presentation on state hatchery salmon and steelhead production, including how output has decreased since the late 1980s due to reforms, ESA listings and budget cutbacks, and the 24 million-salmon increase for orcas that WDFW hopes lawmakers will fund during this year’s legislative session.

Built into this biennium’s budget proposal from Gov. Inslee is also $75.7 million to upgrade the state’s hatcheries.

After hearing about the disaster at Minter, Sen. Christine Rolfes asked if backup generators had been checked at WDFW’s other facilities.

Cunningham answered that they are all tested monthly, but said that by chance one did fail to start at one in the Columbia Basin during a test the day before Minter’s wouldn’t kick in.

And worryingly, “full load” tests — meaning all power is turned off and everything has to be run on the generator — aren’t done at some because the systems and equipment are so untrusted, senators were told.

‘Next Steps’ In Columbia Salmon Reforms Subject Of ODFW-WDFW Commissioners Meeting; Open To Public

THE FOLLOWING ARE PRESS RELEASES FROM THE WASHINGTON AND OREGON DEPARTMENTS OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

WDFW

The public is invited to attend a meeting scheduled this month by members of the Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commissions to discuss next steps in reforming salmon management on the Columbia River.

GUIDE BOB REES NETS A FALL CHINOOK AT THE MOUTH OF THE COLUMBIA. THE “NEXT STEPS” IN SALMON REFORMS ON THE BIG RIVER WILL BE DISCUSSED BY FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSIONERS FROM BOTH STATES IN SALEM. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The meeting is set for Jan. 17 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission Room, 4034 Fairview Industrial Dr. S.E. in Salem, Ore. The public is welcome to observe the discussion, but will not have an opportunity to comment during the meeting.

The Joint-State Columbia River Salmon Fishery Policy Review Committee, which includes three members of each state’s commission, was formed to renew efforts to achieve management goals for Columbia River fisheries endorsed by both states in 2013.

The three delegates to the workgroup from the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission are commissioners David Graybill from Chelan County, Bob Kehoe from King County, and Don McIsaac from Clark County. The commission is a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

WDFW recently finalized its five-year performance review of the 2013 fishery reform policy, which called for reforms ranging from requirements that anglers use barbless hooks to a phase-out of commercial gillnets in the main channel of the Columbia River. While the performance review noted progress on some issues, expectations have not been met in a variety of other key areas, said Ryan Lothrop, WDFW Columbia River policy coordinator.

“This new effort is designed to find common ground on strategies for improving fishery management in the Columbia River,” Lothrop said. “Having different policies in joint waters of the Columbia River makes it very difficult to manage and implement fisheries.”

Washington’s Comprehensive Evaluation of the Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy is available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/02029/.

Lothrop, who will staff Washington’s commissioners, said the workgroup’s first task will be to establish a schedule for future meetings. The panel will then discuss issues addressed in the policy review, focusing initially on strategies that could to be incorporated into fishing regulations for the 2019 season.

To take effect, any new proposals endorsed by the workgroup would require approval by the full fish and wildlife commissions in each state, Lothrop said.

“The group doesn’t have a lot of time to discuss changes for 2019,” Lothrop said. “The season-setting process for this year’s salmon fisheries gets underway in mid-March, so that’s the focus for the near term.”

………………………..

ODFW

A joint workgroup of commissioners from the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife commissions will meet to discuss policies affecting Columbia River salmon fisheries. The workgroup includes three members from each state’s commission.

The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 17 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Commission room at the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Headquarters, 4034 Fairview Industrial Dr. SE, Salem. The meeting is open to attendance by the public, but no public testimony will be taken.

The workgroup meeting follows a November 2018 joint meeting of the two full Commissions to discuss differences between the current policies of each state. The workgroup’s first task will be to establish a schedule and process for future meetings. The workgroup will then begin discussion of issues, initially focusing on finding common ground for 2019 fishing seasons.

The workgroup meetings are not decision-making meetings. The workgroups will report back to their full Commissions, who will ultimately consider any changes to their respective policies.

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part II

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and below are what we reported during the next four, June through September.

JUNE

One of the region’s biggest fish of the year was hooked in late spring in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, a 254- to 265-pound halibut. It was fought and caught by Tom Hellinger with help from son Caleb in late May, but word didn’t begin to hit the mainstream until early June. Though no official measurement was recorded, the 61/2-foot-long flattie was within 25 to 35 pounds of the Washington state record. “I was just really thankful and grateful,” Hellinger told us. “You don’t really realize how rare that is. Big fish are rare. To be an hour from my home and catch something like that is special.” His fish had a 42-pound head, and produced 140 pounds of filets and 1.5 pounds of coveted cheek meat.

ALEISHA, TOM AND CALEB HELLINGER AND LUKE REID POSE WITH TOM’S EASTERN STRAITS HALIBUT. (TOM HELLINGER)

Speaking of big fish, June 21 proved to be a very active day for state records in Washington, where not only was a new high mark set for redbanded rockfish — John Sly’s 7.54-pounder caught off Westport — but arrowtooth flounder — Richard Hale’s 5.93-pounder, landed out of Neah Bay. As 2018 came to a close, there were a total of eight new state record fish caught this year in the Northwest, twice as many as 2017, with seven coming from Washington and nearly all of those caught in the Pacific — three off Westport alone.

ISABELLA TOLEN AND HER 41-POUND TOPE SHARK, THE FIRST EVER SUBMITTED AS A WASHINGTON STATE RECORD. (VIA WDFW)

While mountain goats are meant to hang out in the mountains, federal wildlife managers issued a final record of decision that most of the progeny of those that were introduced by hunting groups in the Olympics in the late 1920s would be captured and taken to the North Cascades, while those that proved too hard to catch would be shot by, among others, “skilled public volunteers.” The two-week-long joint NPS-USFS-WDFW-tribal operation ultimately moved 68 nannies and 30 billies to the other side of Puget Sound, with six kids taken to Northwest Trek and 11 others either dying in the process or deemed “unfit for translocation.” Crews will return to the Olympics in 2019 for another round of removals.

THREE MOUNTAIN GOATS ARRIVE BY HELICOPTER AT A RENDEZVOUS POINT DURING SEPTEMBER’S TWO-WEEK-LONG CAPTURE AND TRANSLOCATION OPERATION. (NPS)

In an “anti-climactic” move, the Supreme Court left a lower court ruling stand that the state of Washington must continue to fix fish passage barriers. While the 4-4 decision was billed as a win for Western Washington treaty tribes, it also saw some sport angler interests side with native fishermen, a turnaround from the Boldt era. The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Association of Northwest Steelheaders, among others, filed a friends of the court brief that stated, “With salmon populations hovering at such precariously low levels, the significant increase of spawning and rearing habitat that will result from removal of the state’s barrier culverts would be a lifeline for salmon and fishing families alike.”

There’s a lot of grim news out there about Puget Sound these days — drugged-up mussels and Chinook, starving orcas, too much shoreline armoring, etc., etc. — but spring aerial photos from the state Department of Natural Resources revealed some good: the striking return of anchovy to the waters of the Whulge in recent years. WDFW biologist James Losee said it was part of some “exciting things” happening here from “a prey resource point of view.” In May, the Northwest Treaty Tribes blogged that an anchovy population boom in 2015 might have helped more Nisqually steelhead smolts sneak past all the harbor seals.

A SCREENSHOT FROM A DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY PDF SHOWS SCHOOLS OF BAITFISH OFF THE PURDY SPIT WEST OF TACOMA. (DOE)

Half a decade to the month after first proposing to declare gray wolves recovered across the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon as well as elsewhere outside the Northern Rockies in the Lower 48 — a process subsequently derailed through lawsuits — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly put out word it had begun “reviewing the status of the species” again. The initial hope was to get a delisting proposal onto the Federal Register by the end of the year, but that did not occur and so the long, slow process will continue into 2019.

After narrowing the director candidate field of 19 to seven and then three, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously chose the Department of Ecology’s Kelly Susewind as the new WDFW chief head honcho. A lifelong hunter and lapsed fisherman, Susewind was hailed as a good choice by members of the sporting world, with Rep. Brian Blake of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and fellow Grays Harbor resident calling him “a force for positive change at DFW.” Susewind took the reins Aug. 1 and had to immediately deal with multiple wolf depredations in the state’s northeast corner.

WDFW’S DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND AT HIS NEW DESK. (WDFW)

For years I’ve reported on the weird wanderings of Northwest wildlife, and June provided two more bizarre examples — a wolverine that visited a very, very non-wolverinelike part of King County in late spring, the woods just outside the lowlands town of Snoqualmie before being found dead along I-90 20 road miles away; and a pair of bull elk that swam over to Orcas Island and gave Uncle John Willis quite a start — “Well, this morning I planned on going to town, but chose not to do that. I looked out my window at my sister’s house and here are two bull elk eating leaves off of a filbert tree in front of her house,” he told us. “I was not quite ready to see two elk this morning.”

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATIONS OF WHERE THE WOLVERINE TURNED UP ON A TRAIL CAM AND WHERE THE SAME ONE IS BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN STRUCK ON I-90. (WDFW)

Under pressure from federal overseers who want the state to end production of Skamania steelhead in Puget Sound streams, WDFW and the Tulalip Tribes came up with a plan to replace the strain in the Skykomish River with Tolt summers instead. The whole thing could take years to get approved let alone implement, but it’s also a testament to the lengths officials are willing to go these days for Puget Sound’s last consumptive steelhead opportunity and appears to be progressing. Later in the year and in Oregon, a study found “little evidence to suggest a negative effect of hatchery [Skamania] summer steelhead abundance on [wild] winter steelhead productivity.”

THE SKYKOMISH RIVER’S SKAMANIA-STRAIN SUMMER-RUN STEELHEAD LIKE THIS ONE CAUGHT ON A RAINY DAY BY WINSTON McCLANAHAN WOULD BE REPLACED WITH TOLT RIVER SUMMERS UNDER AN AMBITIOUS PLAN WDFW AND THE TULALIP TRIBES HATCHED TO SAVE THE POPULAR FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

JULY

In a year of generally poor salmon returns to the Columbia, sockeye came back stronger than expected and that allowed for an unexpected opener on the upper river. And the shad run topped more than 6 million, thoroughly stomping the old high mark of 5.35 million.

SHAD SWIM THROUGH THE FISH LADDER AT BONNEVILLE DAM IN 2017. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

Washington steelheaders again have access to a coveted section of the middle Wynoochee with the opening of a new put-in just below the 7400 Line bridge, thanks to a five-year agreement between WDFW and Green Diamond Resource Company, which owns the land. The river is one of the most productive on the Westside, with over 1,200 winters and nearly 2,100 summers kept during the 2016-17 season, and it’s known for good fishing for wild fish too. But the agreement does come with a caveat, that “access is contingent on good citizenship of those who visit,” according to WDFW.

A MAP PUT TOGETHER BY WDFW SHOWS THE 7400 LINE ACCESS IN THE WYNOOCHEE VALLEY. (WDFW)

July marked the 10-year anniversary of when it became abundantly clear that wolves weren’t just moving through Oregon and Washington anymore, they were settling down and having families. In the subsequent years and along with all the accompanying angst, livestock depredations and poachings, this month also saw an unusual incident in North-central Washington, where a Forest Service stream surveyor was forced to twice climb a tree when she came across the rendezvous site of the very protective Loup Loup Pack. After initial WDFW hesitation about sending in a state helicopter, a DNR bird was dispatched to extract the woman. She was debriefed by a game warden whose after-action report procured through a public records request stated that “(The woman) at no time stated that she feared for her life, but did state that she was afraid.”

DNR CREW MEMBERS ON THE RESCUE MISSION INCLUDED DARYL SCHIE (HELICOPTER MANAGER), MATTHEW HARRIS (CREW), JARED HESS (CREW) AND DEVIN GOOCH (PILOT). PHOTO/DNR

WDFW began unveiling a new $67 million proposal to fill a large budget gap and enhance fishing and hunting opportunities. It would raise license fees but also puts the onus on the General Fund for three-quarters of the money. The latter is a fundamental shift from the agency’s previous increase pitch that leaned entirely on sportsmen and failed in the state legislature, but also reflects the feeling that the public at large has a larger role to play in helping pay the bills for WDFW’s myriad missions, especially following cuts due to the Great Recession that have not been restored. The Fish and Wildlife Commission initially balked at a 12 to 15 percent fee hike and wanted 5 percent instead, but at the urging of numerous sporting members of the agency’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group and others, went with 15. It’s now up to state lawmakers to approve.

A WDFW GRAPHIC SHOWS WHERE ITS BUDGET GOES, WITH FISH PRODUCTION AND MANAGING ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES ACCOUNTING FOR LARGE CHUNKS. (WDFW)

A new analysis by federal and state biologists showed the importance of Puget Sound Chinook for the inland sea’s orcas. Fall kings from the Nooksack to the Deschutes to the Elwha Rivers were ranked as the most important current feedstocks for the starving southern residents, followed by Lower Columbia and Strait of Georgia tribs. It led to more calls to increase hatchery production.

The summer of 2018 will long be remembered for what felt like months and months of choking smoke that settled in the Northwest, but the heat was notable too, with Maui-warm waters forming a thermal block at the mouth of the Yakima that forced WDFW to close the Columbia there to prevent overharvest of Cle Elum-bound sockeye, and low, 79-degree flows that led ODFW to reinstate 2015’s trib-mouth fishing closures on the lower Umpqua to protect returning steelhead and Chinook. A couple weeks later Oregon added hoot owl closures on the North Umpqua to protect wild summers that came in well below average.

A FLY ANGLER WORKS THE NORTH UMPQUA (BLM, FLICKR, CC 2.0)

Speaking of well below average and too-warm water, the Ballard Locks count for Lake Washington sockeye came in as the second lowest since 1972, but the grim news only got worse between there and the spawning grounds and hatchery on the Cedar. An “all-time low” entered the river, just 23 percent of how many went through the locks, likely victims of prespawn mortality caused by fish diseases that are “becoming more prevalent/effective with the higher water temperatures” the salmon experience as they swim the relatively shallow Ship Canal to the lake. “Now just about everything that can go wrong is going wrong,” lamented longtime metro lake angler and sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck, who earlier in the year had helped organize a meeting on how to save the fish and fishery.

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)

The Center for Biological Diversity got a Thurston County Superior Court to temporarily block WDFW from taking out one member of the Togo Pack for a string of cattle depredations, earning the out-of-state organization a strong rebuke from in-state wolf advocates as well as representatives of the hunting community on the Wolf Advisory Group, which helped craft the lethal removal protocols that CBD wants to derail. “Sadly it is all about cash flow,” said WAG member Dave Duncan. A judge ultimately denied CBD’s bid, sending relief — good for some, bitter for others — through Washington’s wolf world and greenlighting WDFW to kill the breeding male, though the group’s underlying beef will still have its day in court.

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

Unlike the other end of the wildlife spectrum, sportsmen conservationists don’t often go to court, but hunters heralded a federal judge’s preliminary decision against a plan to build 137 miles of new offroad trails in a Central Oregon national forest. “We fought for elk, and won,” said Jim Akenson, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, among several parties that filed a lawsuit to halt a U.S. Forest Service bid to put in the off-highway vehicle trails through critical habitat in the Ochoco National Forest east of Prineville. They argued that the forest plan violated road density standards and didn’t adequately consider how it would affect calving and rutting elk.

With one of the worst returns of steelhead in dam counting history underway, state managers closed the Deschutes River coolwater plume to all fishing — even fall Chinook — then shut down steelhead retention on 300-plus miles of the Columbia and portions of the lower John Day, closed Drano Lake and Wind River at night, and dropped limits from three to one a day in the Snake watershed. It’s the second season in a row of such strong measures to ensure enough return for spawning needs.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH SHOWS THIS YEAR’S STEELHEAD RUN (RED LINE) AT BONNEVILLE DAM AS IT COMPARES TO LAST YEAR’S LOW RETURN (BLUE LINE) AND THE TEN-YEAR AVERAGE (BLACK LINE), A DECADE THAT SAW A RECORD 604,000 IN 2009. (FPC)

There were a number of large-scale poachings in 2018 — the three people who’d dug 37 times their daily limit of clams, for instance — but one of the most jaw dropping was the de facto commercial fishing operation a 74-year-old Kitsap County resident was running in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Sekiu. When his 23-foot Maxxum was boarded, a state game warden and sheriff’s deputies found he had five more lines out than allowed, six barbed hooks and was in possession of eight more fish than permitted — including five off-limits wild kings and wild coho. The consensus was that this was not the guy’s first rodeo, given the complexity of fishing five commercial flasher-lure combos off bungees behind two downriggers. The boat, which was seized, is now the property of the state of Washington as its forfeiture was not contested, along with the gear, and the man has been charged by county prosecutors with 10 criminal violations.

WDFW OFFICER BRYAN DAVIDSON POSES WITH THE 23-FOOT MAXUM CABIN CRUISER, TRAILER, DOWNRIGGERS, FISHING ROD AND COMMERCIAL FLASHER-LURE COMBOS SEIZED FOLLOWING AN AT-SEA INSPECTION THAT TURNED UP EGREGIOUS FISHING RULES VIOLATIONS. (WDFW)

SEPTEMBER

Just a week after ODFW lifted the Deschutes plume fishing closure, allowing anglers to target fall Chinook there as the Columbia’s upriver bright run got going, Oregon and Washington salmon managers shut it and the rest of the big river from Buoy 10 to Pasco due to lower than expected returns and catches of Snake River wild kings that were subsequently in excess of ESA mortality allowances. Not long afterwards, the limit in the free-flowing stretch of the Columbia above Tri-Cities was also reduced to one. It all felt like a stunning U-turn from just three Septembers before, when managers had adjusted their fall Chinook forecast upwards to a staggering 1,095,900 — ultimately 1.3 million entered the river — to cap off three successive gargantuan runs. But on the bright side, late October’s King of the Reach live-capture derby brought in a record number of fish — over 1,200 — to fuel a hatchery broodstock program.

A HELPER AT KING OF THE REACH HOLDS A NICE WILD FALL CHINOOK BUCK BROUGHT IN BY ANGLERS DURING THE LIVE-CAPTURE DERBY. (VIA PAUL HOFFARTH, WDFW)

As if wolf issues weren’t hot enough in August, things really heated up in September when what was eventually named the Old Profanity Territory Pack killed one calf and injured three others. While WDFW built its case, key groups balked at going lethal though the protocol had been met because of the fast, repeated nature of depredations there. As more occurred, Director Susewind ultimately gave the go-ahead to kill a wolf or two to head off more livestock attacks, and after histrionics on Twitter, in superior court and at the steps of the state capital, the next week WDFW took out a juvenile.

US and Canadian salmon managers reached a new 10-year West Coast Salmon Treaty on Chinook harvest and conservation, one that must still be approved in the countries’ capitals but calls for reduced northern interceptions when runs are poor. Fisheries off Southeast Alaska would be cut as much as 7.5 percent from 2009-15 levels in those years, those off the west coast of Vancouver Island up to 12.5 percent, while Alaska salmon managers report that Washington and Oregon fisheries could see reductions from 5 to 15 percent.

In a great-news story, Boggan’s Oasis, the famed waystation on the Grande Ronde River that burned down in November 2017, reopened and was again serving up its famous milkshakes and more to hungry and thirsty steelheaders, travelers and others along lonely Highway 129 in extreme Southeast Washington. “The layout’s about the same, but it’s a bigger building,” said coproprietor Bill Vail, who added that he and wife Farrel were “happy to start the next chapter in our lives.”

(BOGGAN’S OASIS)

With a win-win habitat project mostly wrapped up, Oregon’s Coquille Wildlife Area reopened in time for the start of fall waterfowl seasons. Restoration of the Winter Lake Tract will provide young Endangered Species Act-listed coho salmon with 8 miles of winding tidal channels and will also help local cattle ranchers stay in business. “The tide gates, working with reconnected channels and new habitat will provide the best of both worlds,” said the National Marine Fisheries Service, which stated that 95 percent of the Coquille’s best salmon habitat has been lost since settlement.

AN AERIAL IMAGE SHOWS NEW CHANNELS FOR FISH HABITAT CREATED AT WINTER LAKE, PART OF THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE’S COQUILLE VALLEY WILDLIFE AREA. (CBI CONTRACTING VIA NMFS)

And in what certainly was the Northwest poaching case with the highest fine, Hoon Namkoong of Orient Seafood Production of Fife was sentenced to pay Washington and Westside tribes $1.5 million in restitution for buying and selling 250,000 pounds of sea cucumbers illegally harvested by tribal and nontribal divers in Puget Sound in recent years. The activities came at a time that concerned fishery managers were lowering quotas for legal harvesters due to declining numbers of the echinoderm, but the illegal picking was actually increasing. “It is no wonder, then, that we have failed to see signs of recovery as a result of the work of sea cucumber managers and the sacrifices of the lawfully compliant harvesters,” said a WDFW manager in presentencing documents. Namkoong was also sentenced to two years in prison.

Editor’s note: OK, this was supposed to be just a two-part YIR, but I gotta catch my breath now so I can try to put together the events of October, November and December in a couple days.

Anglers Unhappy With Another Salmon Hatchery Disaster

Washington salmon fishermen and others were furious to learn that as many as 6.2 million Chinook fry died last Friday when a state hatchery lost power during a windstorm and a backup generator failed to start up.

CHINOOK FRY. (C. ANDERSON, USFWS)

Wow. So stupid Doesn’t anyone test their generators?” posted guide Brian Oldfield in the comments below a link to our website and a WDFW news release that came out very late yesterday afternoon.

The words that are coming out of my mouth right now …,” fellow guide Mark Ervig posted.

There goes Area 13 again. Sounds like some hatchery management adjustments are in order. This is unacceptable, Director Susewind,” wrote Dave Wright.

Will there be consequences for not being prepared? Nah. Just to the salmon,” posited Michael Rodriguez.

Seems these things happen quite often. I’d like to see a total number of lost fish such instances over the last five years for each West Coast state. I’d read that story,” added Chad Price.

OK,” posted longtime Washington hook-and-bullet-world observer Dave Workman. “The department has 24 hours to replace the fish. How’s that for a solution?”

REACTION TO NEWS THAT MILLIONS OF CHINOOK HAD BEEN LOST DUE TO A POWER OUTAGE AND GENERATOR FAILURE AT A WDFW HATCHERY WAS NEGATIVE.

WDFW is in fact searching for replacement salmon for those that were being reared at Minter Creek Hatchery, at the north end of Carr Inlet near Purdy, according to agency hatchery manager Eric Kinne.

“Right now we’re looking at other facilities, even tribal facilities, for excess capacity,” he said this afternoon.

Kinne says that come next May and June, some level of release will occur, possibly with Chinook from as far away as the state’s Samish Hatchery, where a million-plus extra eggs were collected this fall primarily to help feed southern resident killer whales.

That could help backfill the “dent” Deep South Sound might otherwise see during 2022’s, 2023’s and 2024’s fisheries, not to mention the availability of the salmon for orcas.

But in the meanwhile, Kinne wasn’t ducking questions about what he termed a “devastating loss” in Monday’s press release, the latest in a recent series of disasters and mishaps that have struck WDFW hatcheries, which provide most of the fuel for state salmon and steelhead fisheries.

“It’s tough to explain this one,” he acknowledges. “I understand it for sure. We’re not happy either.”

Kinne says he spent part of today writing up a contract for a “root cause analysis” to get to the bottom of the failure.

He says that the hatchery’s backup 350 kVA diesel generator is tested monthly and its last annual service was 10 months ago.

When Friday’s high winds cut the power to the facility around 5:30 last Friday evening, the generator should have automatically turned on, keeping cool water flowing into 900 trays with 6,800 tiny Chinook each.

But it didn’t.

SALMON INCUBATION TRAYS IN ONE OF EIGHT IDENTICAL ROOMS AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY WHERE CHINOOK, COHO AND CHUM EGGS HATCH. ADULT CHINOOK RETURN EARLIER IN THE YEAR AND THEIR EGGS HAD BECOME FRY, MAKING THEM MORE VULNERABLE TO A LOSS OF CIRCULATING WATER THAN THE EGGS OF LATER RETURNING COHO AND CHUMS. (WDFW)

A WDFW staffer is at Minter around the clock and so when the motor didn’t start, they began working on it as well as calling nearby workers back in for help.

Kinne, who lives an hour and a half away in Rochester and actually worked at the facility for several years two decades ago, received a call and made his way north through the storm to help deal with the situation.

“There were branches all over the roads,” he says.

While some worked on the generator, others checked rearing ponds, which are fed by gravity.

That’s not the case for the water pouring through the Chinook trays, however. Spawned in late August and September, the fish are now about an inch long and while they still have their egg sacs, they need running water to bring oxygen to their gills.

Crews attempted to use gas-powered pumps to get creek water into the building and the trays but were largely unsuccessful, though they had better luck with later-arriving salmon stocks.

“We saved all of the coho that were in incubators, the chums that were in the incubators,” Kinne says.

The eggs of both species can survive for several hours if the water is drained away but the eggs are still kept moist, he says.

“Some the coho were outside in the rearing ponds and were not affected,” he adds.

Crews were ultimately able to start the generator after nearly three hours — right before the local public utility district finally got the power back on.

Kinne says the outage occurred at the “most inopportune time” because it came with the “highest number” of young salmon in incubation.

The majority of trays that held the Chinook are being poured into a holding pond and the true magnitude of the loss will become clearer when any survivors reach the “swim up” stage between now and May and June, when they were otherwise scheduled for release.

Kinne said the 5.7 million falls believed lost represents the “majority” of production for release into the lower Deschutes River and from Minter Creek for sport fisheries.

When you include the half million White River spring kings fry that also died and were being reared for orcas, the 6.2 million lost Chinook is roughly 9 percent of WDFW’s overall statewide production, and certainly a higher percentage of Puget Sound’s.

It wasn’t immediately clear what sort of dollar loss it all represented.

“Not a lot spent to date because they were still in incubation,” Kinne says. “The majority of the cost comes for feeding and marking and tagging.”

The bigger loss could be down the road when the returning adults would have attracted angler effort.

Deep South Sound, or Marine Area 13 as it is also known, has become a good spot to target Chinook, especially in Budd Inlet’s Big and Little Fish Traps for Deschutes-bound kings.

Even as the cost of redundancy for backups to backup systems would be high considering the 80-odd hatcheries WDFW operates across the state, the predictable nature of fall, winter and early spring windstorms, and the increasing importance of salmon to fisheries and orcas makes testing generators at the facilities much more often a good idea.

Plan To Boost Duwamish Fall Chinook Production By 2 Million Going Out For Comment

Federal fishery overseers are laying out how much orcas and fishermen would benefit under a proposal to boost hatchery Chinook production in the Green-Duwamish River by 2 million smolts.

FEDERAL OVERSEERS WILL CONSIDER A PLAN TO BOOST PRODUCTION OF DUWAMISH-GREEN FALL CHINOOK BY 2 MILLION. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

According to a NOAA draft supplemental environmental statement that will soon go out for public comment, the increase would provide an additional 8,750 adult salmon for the starving Washington whales to snack on, recreational and tribal fishermen to catch, and for broodstock purposes.

That and other hatchery salmon and steelhead programs already approved for the King County river system “would have a moderate positive effect on the diet, survival, distribution, and listing status of Southern Resident killer whales,” the DEIS states.

It’s the second time this particular set of Chinook, coho, chum and winter- and summer-run steelhead programs is being scrutinized in recent years.

Earlier, four alternatives proposed by WDFW and two local tribes were analyzed, but with this year’s major focus on ailing orcas, it was resubmitted with an “Alternative 5.”

Green-Duwamish Chinook were identified as among the most important current feedstocks for orcas.

NOAA’s new DEIS says the additional smolts would yield nearly 3,300 more sport fishing trips and around $580,000 in expenditures, mostly in the region the agency is calling the South Puget Sound subregion, but also in the North Sound and Straits.

And it would yield around 2,300 more Chinook for mostly local tribal fishermen.

The extra salmon would be reared at WDFW’s Soos Creek Hatchery and released upstream at Palmer Ponds.

“Alternative 5 would not affect the overall trend in cumulative effects on salmon and steelhead, although it may increase the adverse cumulative effect on the genetics of natural-origin fall-run Chinook salmon. However, this cumulative impact would not substantially add to the cumulative impacts compared to the other alternatives because the increase in production would represent a small component of the total abundance of fall-run Chinook salmon in the cumulative effects analysis area,” the DEIS states.

Overall hatchery Chinook production  in the watershed would be 6.2 million smolts.

The comment period begins Dec. 7 and runs for 45 days through Jan. 22. You can send your thoughts three ways:

Email:
GreenHatcheriesEIS.wcr@noaa.gov

Mail:
Allyson Purcell, Comment Coordinator
NMFS, West Coast Region
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1201 Northeast Lloyd Boulevard, Suite 1100
Portland, OR 97232

Fax:
(503) 231-6893

As South Coast Rivers Rise, ODFW Lifts Chinook Gear Restrictions On Chetco, Winchuck

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

Angling gear restrictions are now lifted for the Chetco and Winchuck rivers due to significant rainfall eliminating snagging risk to fall chinook. ODFW had extended the restrictions to December 31 or until rainfall raised water levels.

A U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY GAUGE SHOWS RISING LEVELS ON THE CHETCO RIVER, WHICH THIS MORNING WAS FLOWING AT 2,580 CUBIC FEET PER SECOND, THE MEDIAN FLOW FOR THIS TIME OF YEAR. (USGS)

“We are back on track with water flows in the Chetco and Winchuck and fall chinook are now moving upriver,” said Steve Mazur, district fish biologist.

Effective immediately, the restriction to fly fishing or bobber fishing in both rivers is lifted. The rivers are open for winter steelhead and fall chinook for the remainder of the year according to general, statewide and southwest zone regulations. Bag limit is one per day, five per year as part of the daily or annual salmon/steelhead bag limit.

Elk R. Anglers Reminded To Release Chinook That Have Antennas Sticking Out Mouth

THE FOLLOWING IS AN OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE

Elk River anglers are reminded to release unharmed any radio-tagged fall chinook salmon caught. ODFW is conducting a research project tagging up to 100 hatchery and wild fall chinook below Elk River Hatchery.

THE RADIO-TAGGED CHINOOK IN THE ELK RIVER STUDY WILL HAVE ANTENNAS STICKING OUT OF THEIR MOUTH LIKE THIS ONE. (AUSTIN HUFF VIA ODFW)

Radio tags can often be mistaken for leaders as only the antenna is visible protruding from the fish’s mouth. ODFW encourages anglers to check carefully as it is illegal to harvest these fish.

This telemetry study will help determine the spawning migration pattern of returning Elk River fall chinook. Researchers want to establish whether hatchery origin fish return to the hatchery and fall back before spawning or spawn selectively below the hatchery.

Research leader Shannon Richardson says this is important to better understand potential interactions on spawning grounds between hatchery origin and wild fish.

“The wild Elk River fall chinook were identified in our Coastal Multispecies Management Plan as a population of concern,” Richardson said. “We need to attract hatchery fish that escape the fishery back to the hatchery to reduce the amount of interaction they may have with wild chinook.

Anglers may encounter radio-tagged fall chinook into February. Staff installed fixed-station receivers to track the fish weekly and will conduct spawning ground surveys to recover tags.

This study is part of a larger effort ODFW is engaged in with partners including the Oregon Hatchery Research Center, Oregon State University, University of Washington, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Study Finds Side Channel Restoration One Key For Puget Sound Chinook Recovery

THE FOLLOWING IS A NEWS STORY FROM THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

Teasing apart the elements of Puget Sound rivers that matter most to fish, researchers have found that one of the best ways to recover threatened Chinook salmon may be to restore the winding side channels that once gave young fish essential rearing habitat and refuge from high winter flows.

Models were based on fine-scale river mapping and tracking salmon populations across Puget Sound. They showed that habitat restoration projects in the Cedar River southeast of Seattle could boost the number of young Chinook salmon produced by each spawning adult by adding side channel habitat.

BRAIDS OF THE SAUK RIVER BETWEEN DARRINGTON AND ROCKPORT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Additional side channels and other habitat improvements also appear to help stabilize salmon numbers, making them less vulnerable to flooding or other extreme conditions that may come more often with climate change.

“The risk of those extreme catastrophes is lessened because the water can spread out and slow down, with less impact to the fish,” said Correigh Greene, a research biologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and coauthor of the The next link/button will exit from NWFSC web site new research published last week in PLOS ONE. The team of scientists from NOAA Fisheries, Cramer Fish Sciences, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife used aerial photographs to chart and measure each twist and turn of 10 of Puget Sound’s largest rivers, from the Skagit to the Dungeness, and relate them to Chinook salmon populations.

Restoring Habitat Key To Salmon Recovery

The findings also provide important confirmation that restoring Chinook salmon habitat, a key recovery strategy for Puget Sound populations, can deliver real improvements in their survival and productivity.

“We now know that there is a detectable response to habitat restoration that can inform our decisions about how to pursue recovery and dedicate funding where it will do the most good for fish,” said Elizabeth Babcock, Northern Puget Sound Branch Chief in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region, who helps carry out recovery plans for threatened Puget Sound Chinook salmon.

River Complexity Leads to Better Salmon Habitat

Biologists view the braided networks of side channels that are common in natural rivers in the Northwest as evidence of a river’s “complexity,” which also includes deep pools, outcrops, and log jams, all of which provide important habitat for juvenile and adult fish. Generally, the more complexity a river displays, the better habitat it will provide for fish, because they can more easily find refuge and rearing habitat when they need it.

Many Puget Sound rivers have suffered reduced complexity through years of development as dikes, roads, and riprap have hemmed them into straight, narrow channels with far less room. That leaves less refuge for juvenile fish to grow before migrating into the Salish Sea.

A SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE MAPS SHOWS A STRAIGHT, DREDGED STRETCH OF THE SAMMAMISH RIVER BETWEEN WOODINVILLE AND REDMOND. (GOOGLE MAPS)

Of all the factors that contribute to a river’s complexity, the researchers found that side channels and the number of junctions among them, and to a lesser extent woody material such as log jams, are most important to Chinook salmon. More complex rivers are generally slower than narrow rivers with impervious banks, so the juvenile salmon aren’t swept downstream faster than they’re ready to go. The more habitat complexity, the researchers found, the higher the productivity of Chinook salmon populations.

Models Can Help Plan and Track Habitat Restoration

“Once we link habitat metrics to meaningful productivity metrics, we can start to answer some of the big questions, such as, “How much restoration achieves recovery, and what qualities do you most want to focus on,” said Jason Hall, a senior scientist at Cramer Fish Sciences and lead author of the new study. He noted that the answers may differ from species to species and river to river. Habitat complexity also appeared to reduce fluctuations in salmon numbers from year to year, “supporting the idea that habitat complexity buffers populations from annual variation in environmental conditions,” the scientists wrote.

Habitat protection and restoration along the Cedar River, which provides much of Seattle’s municipal water, is an example of the kind of restoration that can help recover Puget Sound Chinook salmon in the long run, Greene said. Understanding the habitat qualities most important to fish helps estimate “how much we have to do to move the needle over the whole life cycle.” The same mapping and modeling approach that was demonstrated by the research can help plan and track the benefits of other restoration occurring in estuaries and along Puget Sound’s shorelines, the authors said.

IN A RELATED STORY OUT TODAY, SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITIES SAYS THAT A  PAIR OF CHINOOK WERE SPOTTED IN A SECTION OF THORNTON CREEK THAT WAS RESTORED IN 2014 TO BE BETTER SPAWNING HABITAT AND THAT THE TWO WERE THE FIRST OF THEIR SPECIES SEEN IN THE URBAN STREAM IN EIGHT YEARS. (SPU)

“If you have funding for restoration, where can you spend it to deliver the best benefit for fish?” Babcock asked. “We’re finally starting to have better answers to that question.”