Tag Archives: fish and wildlife commission

WA Fish Commission Tightens Mining Rules On Stream Stretch Now Hosting Coho, Steelhead

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

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has changed the work times for mineral prospecting in and around the Sultan and Similkameen rivers to avoid periods when incubating eggs and young fish are present.

WITH THE 2016 REMOVAL OF A SLUICEWAY 9.7 MILES UP THE SULTAN RIVER, COHO AND WINTER STEELHEAD WERE ABLE TO ACCESS THE SULTAN RIVER IN THE GORGE BELOW SPADA LAKE (RIGHT CENTER), LEADING TO TIGHTER CONTROL OF MINERAL PROSPECTING RULES IN THE STREAM. (USGS NATIONAL MAP AERIAL IMAGERY)

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), approved the changes on Friday, April 20. The commission also authorized the department to remove 1 to 1.5 million board feet of timber from the 4-0 Wildlife Area in the Blue Mountains of Asotin County to improve wildlife habitat, restore forest health, and reduce the risk of severe wildfires.

Until recently, a section of the Sultan River in Snohomish County was open to mineral prospecting using a variety of equipment, including suction dredges, sluices, and high bankers, for more than seven months each year.

That changed in 2016, when a fish-passage project at the City of Everett diversion dam opened an additional 6.3 miles of the river to spawning salmon and steelhead, said Randi Thurston, WDFW habitat protection manager.

“Last year, the department adopted an emergency rule that prohibited the use of certain types of prospecting equipment in that area, except during August,” Thurston said. “This year, the commission adopted that new work window as a permanent rule.”

The new rule applies to the use of mineral prospecting equipment in the water, Thurston said.

In a separate action, the commission agreed to expand the work window for mineral prospecting on the Similkameen River to include the month of June from Enloe Dam to Palmer Creek in Okanogan County. That decision was based on a new study by WDFW that found no evidence of incubating trout or whitefish eggs there in June, Thurston said.

“Prospectors urged us to conduct the study, and they were right about the results,” she said.

Under the new rule, the work window for prospecting on the Similkameen River from Enloe Dam to Palmer Creek will extend from June 1 through Oct. 31.

For more information about mineral prospecting in Washington, see https://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/mining/.

State wildlife managers plan to conduct the 4-0 forest restoration project this summer, but work may not be completed until the summer of 2019. Logging operations will be limited by fire restrictions and during periods of high recreational use, including deer and elk hunting seasons, said WDFW forest manager Richard Tveten.

STATE WILDLIFE MANAGERS PLAN TO THIN PORTIONS OF THE 4-O WILDLIFE AREA IN SOUTHWEST ASOTIN COUNTY TO RESTORE IT TO A MORE NATURAL OPEN PONDEROSA FOREST. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

In addition to the commercial logging operation, WDFW will also thin small trees from approximately 250 acres on the 4-0 property, he said. Project managers plan to burn logging debris in slash piles and will notify the public if they decide plan to conduct prescribed burns.

6 Years In, Commissioners Want To Know If Washington Wolf Plan Can Be Tweaked

Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioners want to take a look at whether WDFW’s 2011 wolf management plan is actually working in a key area and if it could be tweaked.

Two somewhat unlikely commissioners — at least judging by conventional wisdom standards — led the charge too.

They’re Jay Kehne, the Conservation Northwest staffer based in Omak, and Kim Thorburn, the Spokane birder.

WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSIONERS JAY KEHNE AND KIM THORBURN. (WDFW)

They made their thoughts known last Saturday morning during the commission’s annual briefing on the state of the state’s wolves, which showed that at the very least we had 122 in 22 packs, including 14 successful breeding pairs at the end of 2017, all increases over 2016 but which also did diddly squat for reaching state delisting goals.

Kehne then Thorburn spoke up right after WDFW staffers displayed a map showing the 2017 dispersal paths of seven telemetry-collared Evergreen State wolves — animals that went every which way but in the one direction that’s actually needed to help meet current recovery benchmarks.

“They’re not dispersing south,” lamented Thorburn.

One wolf, a Smackout female, took a 1,700-mile trek the wrong direction entirely.

It went from Stevens County southeast across North Idaho into Western Montana before cutting back southwest all the way to Riggins, Idaho, then south to Boise, east across the northern edge of the Snake River Plain, checked into West Yellowstone then literally walked off the map on a southeasterly bearing towards central Wyoming.

MAROON AND PURPLE DOTS TRACE THE 2017 DISPERSAL PATHS OF THE LOUP LOUP AND SMACKOUT WOLVES.(WDFW)

Same thing with a Loup Loup wolf.

It took a 540-mile hike through the Okanogan north into southern British Columbia, with a last ping recorded somewhere east of Kelowna.

True, 2017 did see the capture of the first Western Washington wolf in modern times, in eastern Skagit County, and three years before that the first roadkill west of the crest, recovered east of North Bend, so it’s highly likely that other wolves without GPS devices are lurking elsewhere in the Cascades, steadily moving from east to west, north to south, as WDFW often likes to say.

But modeling and assumptions made as far back as nearly a decade ago during development and passage of the wolf management plan — not to mention a March 2014 prediction by then Director Phil Anderson that we could see recovery goals met as soon as 2021 — are now under scrutiny.

A WDFW MAP RELEASED IN LATE 2017 SHOWS THE DISPERSAL PATHS OF 12 COLLARED WASHINGTON WOLVES SINCE 2012. (WDFW)

“The plan is excellent. It was well done. It was based on science, based on input from stakeholders. However, it was a plan,” Kehne said during a phone interview with Northwest Sportsman earlier today.

Pointing to the example of adaptive management of Columbia River salmon fisheries, what Kehne says he’s asking for is a check-up on whether the wolf plan is working the way commissioners and WDFW staffers thought it would when it was put together in 2008, ’09, ’10 and approved in early December 2011.

With very little information about where wolves would actually settle in in Washington, data from other sources was used to create maps of where colonization was most likely to occur and thus the three recovery zones.

One hundred years from now it might be a different story, but so far Canis lupus has done fantastically well in some of the toughest possible habitat to wear a wolf suit, and very poorly in some of the best.

The northern edge of the state’s biggest elk herd’s range is a valley away from the Teanaway wolves, and yet the pack doesn’t appear to give two howls about it. Meanwhile, their cousins are snuggling up with northeastern ranchers’ stock.

Kehne pointed to page 67 of the plan, which notes that “The expectation is that over time, as wolves recolonize Washington, WDFW will be able to collect data from within the state to determine whether the model assumptions are appropriate.”

The thought continues on page 68:

“If future data reveal that the population dynamics of wolves in Washington are significantly different from those used in the model, these conclusions will need to be reevaluated. Incorporating wolf demographic data specific to Washington will allow WDFW to update predictions of population persistence during wolf recovery phases and to revise the recovery objectives, if needed.”

I’m no mathematician, but I do pay attention to probabilities (which I use to collect more than my share of fivers from coworkers during the NFL season) and I now think the odds of having four successful breeding pairs in the South Cascades — where there currently are no known wolves (but likely are) — for three straight years (as required under the plan) by the end of 2021 are very long at best.

I wouldn’t put much more money on four there plus four in the North Cascades and 10 elsewhere in any single year — the recovery shortcut — by 2021 either.

But if I’m wrong, hell, feed me to ’em.

Meanwhile, wolf numbers in the state’s upper righthand corner — where no less than 75 percent of the population, 16 of the packs and 12 of the breeding pairs occur — continue to grow.

ANOTHER 2017 WDFW WOLF MAP SHOWS 72,000 COLLECTED OFF COLLARED WOLVES SINCE 2008.NOTE THAT THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE DATA FROM THE COLVILLE OR SPOKANE RESERVATIONS, WHERE SEVERAL PACKS ARE KNOWN TO OCCUR. (WDFW)

“We’ve been hearing from Northeast Washington for years now, ‘We’re overrun with wolves,'” said Kehne during the commission meeting. “At first we thought, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, they’re just new there and they’re not used to them.’ But they are overrun with wolves. Southeast Washington will be sooner or later full up on their quota of wolf packs.”

“We’re there,” Commissioner Jay Holzmiller of Anatone interrupted him briefly to say.

Earlier this week, Conservation Northwest described Jay Kehne’s role with the organization, telling this magazine that while Kehne is an employee, he has not been involved in its wolf work since late 2017 and instead is focusing his efforts on a Columbia Basin sagelands initiative.

“His role on the commission is entirely independent of his work at CNW and he has every right to express opinions that are not reflective of his employer’s positions,” said spokesman Chase Gunnell.

A statement that Conservation Northwest also posted online after the meeting defended the existing wolf plan and said it “is better left as is until recovery goals are achieved.”

The statement also said that the Wolf Advisory Group, which it is heavily engaged in, will begin discussing what comes after delisting goals are met “and will be advising the Department on how to incorporate new science as well as how to design a fair and inclusive public process for future wolf conservation and management.”

Kehne, who is a hunter and retired from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, said that with state legislators just having granted WDFW $183,000 in the budget to look into the SEPA process for translocating wolves around the state, staffers should tack on also doing so for making a couple “simple changes” to recovery map boundaries.

“I guess what I feel now is, we’re at recovery, we just don’t meet it by  definition that we established seven years ago,” he said during the commission meeting. “And that bothers me because there’s people that come to these meetings, you know, and tell us their stories about losing livestock. And that’s all part of wolf recovery, but I’m really hearing that and it’s bothering me at this stage of the game that we can’t make, at least look into, could we make an adjustment, not be afraid of it, if it made sense?”

Thorburn thought so.

“Getting back to the initial modeling assumptions, everybody involved in the plan development says, ‘We didn’t expect this pileup in Northeast Washington. We expected the dispersal to be a little more spread out.’ And it really has created that social pressure, despite all of the outstanding work by (WDFW) staff,” she said.

Commission Vice Chair Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon said he was also on board with having a report prepared for the citizen oversight panel, though Commissioner Barbara Baker of Olympia cautioned that opening the wolf plan was a “can of worms.”

So as Saturday’s meeting came to a close, a “blue sheet” request from Kehne was put to a vote.

It asks WDFW to prepare a briefing on “administrative options for conserving wolves including (not limited to): updating the 2011 wolf conservation and management plan; targeted narrow change to wolf conservation and management plan recovery boundaries and names to better reflect current recolonization in our state; translocation and postdelisting management plan.”

It passed 8-1, with Baker voting against it, and is expected to be ready by the commission’s August meeting.

Editor’s note, March 23, 2018, 9:40 p.m.: An earlier version of this said that the blue sheet request had passed unanimously, per the commission office, but according to a spokesman the vote was 8-1.

2018-20 Hunting Regs, Columbia River Policy, Wolves On WA FWC Agenda

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

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will invite public comments on 2018-2020 hunting season proposals, Columbia River fisheries policy, and other issues during a public meeting March 15-17 in Wenatchee.

WITH MOOSE IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON HAVING EITHER PEAKED AND STABILIZED OR BEGINNING TO DECLINE SOMEWHAT, WDFW IS RECALIBRATING HARVEST LEVELS FOR THE UPCOMING SEASONS. (HOWARD FERGUSON, WDFW)

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), will convene in the Wenatchee and Chelan rooms of the Red Lion Hotel, 1225 N. Wenatchee Ave., in Wenatchee.

The meeting begins at 1 p.m. Thursday, March 15, with Commission workshops that include no public input but are open to the public. Meetings scheduled Friday, March 16, and Saturday, March 16, begin at 8 a.m., with a review of hunting season proposals on Friday and Columbia River fisheries policy review on Saturday.

An agenda for the meeting is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/.

The hunting season setting public process began last summer with surveys and meetings to develop proposals. They include:

  • Changes to Yakima and Colockum elk hunting permit allocations.
  • Adding unmanned aircraft (drones) to the list of prohibited hunting equipment.
  • Requiring black bear hunters to complete a bear-species identification test in areas with threatened grizzly bears.
  • Prohibiting night hunting of bobcats in areas with endangered lynx.

The commission will hear final public input at the March meeting, with decisions scheduled for the April meeting.

Last month the commission directed WDFW staff to review the Columbia River policy, adopted in 2013 in collaboration with Oregon to guide management of commercial and recreational salmon fisheries in the lower Columbia River. The policy is designed to promote conservation of salmon and steelhead, prioritize recreational salmon fishing, and shift gillnet fisheries away from the river’s main channel.

SPORTFISHING BOATS TROLL FOR FALL CHINOOK ON THE WASHINGTON SIDE OF THE COLUMBIA ABOVE THE ASTORIA-MEGLER BRIDGE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The current Washington policy also calls for increasing hatchery releases in the lower Columbia, expanding the use of alternative fishing gear by commercial fishers, and implementing strategies to reduce the number of gillnet permits. The commission will be briefed, take public comment, and possibly make decisions at the March meeting.

The Commission will also hear public comment on proposed amendments to hydraulic project approval (HPA) rules on Saturday.

The Commission is set to make decisions on a proposal to require use of LED fishing lights in the coastal commercial ocean pink shrimp trawl fishery and a permanent rule to clarify the limits of keeping salmon for personal use during and open commercial fishery.

The commission will also be briefed by WDFW staff on forest management in wildlife areas, 2018 federal Farm Bill reauthorization, and the department’s annual wolf report.

WDFW WILL UPDATE ITS 2016 YEAR-END WOLF PACK MAP THIS MONTH WITH 2017’S KNOWN PACKS. (WDFW)

WDFW Reviewing Lower Columbia Rec-Comm Salmon Management Policy, Briefing Advisory Panels

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will provide an initial briefing to two advisory committees as it begins a review of the 5-year-old policy that guides the management of commercial and recreational salmon fisheries in the lower Columbia River.

COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON ANGLERS FISH AT BUOY 10 DURING THE 2015 SEASON. (NWFISHINGGUIDES.NET)

Members of Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission last week directed the WDFW staff to conduct a thorough and transparent review of the policy, which was originally adopted in 2013 in collaboration with the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Bill Tweit, a WDFW special assistant, said the Washington commission members want to ensure the policy review includes multiple opportunities for the public to participate.

The policy, adjusted by both states in 2017, is designed to promote conservation of salmon and steelhead, prioritize recreational salmon fishing in the lower Columbia River, and shift gillnet fisheries away from the river’s main channel. The current Washington policy also calls for increasing hatchery releases in the lower Columbia, expanding the use of alternative fishing gear by commercial fishers, and implementing strategies to reduce the number of Columbia River gillnet permits.

The first opportunities for public engagement will take place March 14 at the WDFW southwest Washington regional office, 5525 South 11th St., Ridgefield. The department’s Columbia River Commercial Fishing Advisory Group will meet from 1 p.m. -3 p.m., and the Columbia River Recreational Fishing Advisory Group will meet from 3 p.m.-5 p.m.

The advisory committee meetings will take place one day before the Washington commission’s March 15-17 meeting in Wenatchee. All three meetings will be open to the public and will provide information on the results of Columbia River fisheries since 2013.

The commission plans to consider the policy at two other meetings later this year. Members tentatively plan to have a joint meeting with the Oregon commission in September, with the goal of concluding the review and possibly revising the policy in November. Again, these meetings will be open to the public.

“Columbia River salmon fisheries are part of Washington’s economic, cultural, and recreational lifeblood, so we want to keep the public informed and involved as we review and revise this important policy,” said Commission Chairman Brad Smith.

The policy, as revised by the Washington commission in January 2017, is available at https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/policies/c3620.pdf.

Stohr Named WDFW Interim Director; Unsworth ‘Exit Interview’ Out Today

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously named Joe Stohr as the acting director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife this morning.

Stohr, who has been deputy director at the state agency since 2007, takes over on Thursday, February 8, the day after current director Jim Unsworth leaves the position.

JOE STOHR WAS NAMED WDFW INTERIM DIRECTOR TODAY BY THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (WDFW)

Over the years Stohr has fielded policy, legislative and budgetary questions from this magazine, and he’s also overseen risk management, capital projects and human resources.

“We know we are leaving the agency in very capable hands by placing Joe in charge,” Commission Chair Brad Smith said in a press release out in the afternoon. “His leadership and extensive experience will be very helpful as we begin the search for a new director.”

Prior to WDFW, Stohr worked for over 20 years with the Department of Ecology. Amy Windrope, the agency’s Region 4 Director, will step temporarily into his position.

A nationwide search is also being launched to find a permanent WDFW director.

While it’s likely that that person won’t be seated during this year’s North of Falcon salmon-season-setting negotiations with the tribes (which actually could be a good thing, says one source), whomever is chosen will be faced with the same highly complex and contentious Puget Sound fishery management issues that led to Unsworth’s resignation announcement in late January.

Essentially, the proposed and very unpopular with sport fishermen 10-year Chinook harvest management plan that came out in early December was the nail in the coffin for him.

Referencing a KING 5 interview, Puget Sound Anglers President Ron Garner said, “I’m getting a lot of praise and thanks, but we really got to praise the commission,” on 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line last Saturday. “They’re the ones that understood what happened and they got called on this to step up and do the right thing and they put a lot of pressure on the director. They’re the ones to thank; we just gave them a nudge.”

As Unsworth makes his way out the door, he gave an exit interview to outdoor writer Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune and which is out this morning.

He said he’d “enjoyed” his three years at WDFW’s helm, calling it “challenging,” especially on the fisheries front.

“We have some real difficult situations with anadromous fish and (Endangered Species Act) listings and conflicts with hatchery production and harvest allocations,” Unsworth told Barker. “Those are all big challenges, and certainly any time you do this kind of job you aren’t pleasing everyone and you are disappointing some people, and at some point it’s time to move on and give someone else a shot.”

Unsworth, who came from Idaho with a very deep background in wildlife management, urged people “to pay particular attention to (salmon) habitat issues and do what we can. That is the long-term fix.”

“We need to explore opportunities for hatcheries,” he also told Barker, “and produce as many fish as we can in some of these systems that are heavily impacted (by development) and do what we can for native fish.”

In the grand scheme, Washington’s wolf issues may be tame in comparison to Westside salmon problems — work with me here, 509ers, we’re talking like from the 100,000-foot-level — but Unsworth offered some guidance for when the state’s population of the furry fangers reach population benchmarks.

“I think you need to acknowledge the success states like Idaho and Montana have had with harvest management,” he told Barker. “Both of those states are excellent examples that you can reduce your livestock conflicts and other predation conflicts with hunting and still have abundant and widely distributed wolf populations. I think there are some great lessons to learn.”

In his Jan. 24 resignation letter to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, Unsworth had recommended Stohr as interim director.

The last time a WDFW director exited in a similar manner, Dr. Jeff Koenings’ December 2009 resignation, it took nine and a half months before the commission chose a new permanent director, Phil Anderson. When Anderson announced in August 2014 that he’d be leaving at the end of the year, it took the citizen panel five months before choosing Unsworth.

Unsworth’s immediate plans are to take a breather, according to Barker, then continue with his passions, managing and conserving critters.

WDFW Fish Reg Simplification Proposals Head To Commission For Final Vote

Due to strong angler pushback, Washington fishing managers will recommend against allowing chumming statewide and eliminating special panfish rules, but say other simplifications they’re supporting will help shrink the gamefish section of the regulations pamphlet by between a quarter and a third.

They’ll take the complete package to the Fish and Wildlife Commission next Friday for a final vote, then begin work on the next project: streamlining the saltwater and salmon fishing rules.

Among the freshwater proposals that WDFW managers Steve Thiesfeld, Chad Jackson and Chris Donley will ask the citizen panel to accept as is:

  • Eliminating minimum length and daily limit on eastern brook trout;
  • Eliminate mandatory steelhead retention
  • Consistent language for game fish possession limit
  • Removing duplicative landowner rules
  • Separate trout and steelhead rules
  • Standardize juvenile only waters
  • Steelhead incidental retention
  • Stream season for game fish (Saturday before Memorial Day through October 31)
  • Whitefish only season standardization

They’ll ask the commission to modify eight proposals having to do with applying standard statewide rules on still and moving waters.

For instance, requiring wild rainbows and cutthroat to be released in native steelhead gene banks such as the Nisqually, East Fork Lewis and other rivers.

But they’re scrapping statewide chumming, special panfish regs and a trout bait-fishing rule in favor of retaining the status quo.

“We didn’t recommend adoption because online public comment and public testimony at last month’s Commission meeting were overwhelmingly opposed to adoption of these rules,” says Donley, who is the far Eastern Washington fishing manager. “In a nutshell, we actually do listen to the public.”

As the agency gathered online comment on proposals, an overwhelming 247 out of 272 people were opposed to the panfish rule, with many saying that reservoirs such as Banks, Potholes and Moses should be excluded because species like crappie and bluegill would be wiped out and other fish species would also lose out on dinner.

At least 59 people were against allowing statewide chumming, while only 31 were for. “This is a bad idea and will lead to unnecessary overfishing and collateral damage to other species,” one cogent argument went, according to WDFW.

And 46 out of 69 were against doing away with the requirement that trout caught with bait but released be counted towards the daily limit of five.

But there was stronger, though not unanimous, support for other simplifications, and those will mostly move forward or be slightly tweaked.

“Adopting the proposed changes would reduce overall gamefish rules by approximately 30 percent,” says Donley. “This is a substantial reduction in the number of special rules that are required to be listed in the pamphlet but it is important  to keep in mind that marine and salmon rules haven’t been simplified yet,  but we are working on it.”

Commission To Hear More On Puget Sound Chinook Plan Friday

Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioners will hold a teleconference later this week to hear more about the proposed 10-year Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan.

WDFW staffers will provide details about the controversial 338-page document they and the basin’s tribes submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service early last month to protect the ESA-listed salmon stock.

Members of the nine-member citizen panel have been hearing from anglers concerned about its potential reduced salmon seasons in the North Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca due to tightened fishery impact rates on Stillaguamish River fall kings.

And in a conference call earlier this month, Commission Vice Chair Larry Carpenter pointed out that the region’s bustling marine trade industry is fretting about the plan too.

“There’s a lot of fear out there,” he said.

Carpenter, a former owner of Master Marine in Mount Vernon, a Northwest Sportsman advertiser, called last week for the teleconference in hopes of being able to share “perhaps something positive” with stakeholders before late January’s big Seattle Boat Show “so it’s not a total disaster.”

With a booming stock market, steadily increasing home values and low interest rates, the boat market is otherwise primed for Puget Sound anglers with money to spend, but for many there needs to be a reasonable assurance there will be salmon to catch before they buy.

The plan was first posted in early December, and the commission — and public — were given some details about its development by WDFW brass and a state assistant attorney general at a Dec. 8 meeting.

Since then and even before, it’s been the subject of at least two negative analyses by former agency staffers, outrage from a local radio show host, as well as rumors.

Now, ahead of Friday’s call, WDFW has updated its webpage dedicated to the Chinook plan with more information about the plan.

It includes a note that “NOAA Fisheries has already informed the state and treaty tribes that the plan is insufficient, noting that several key salmon stocks would not meet new — more restrictive — federal conservation objectives. For that reason, NOAA is asking the co-managers to provide more information and analysis on the conservation objectives within the proposed plan.”

The public can listen in on the 2 p.m., Friday, Jan. 12, commission teleconference, though will not be able to comment — that can be done at the commission’s Jan. 18-20 meetings in Ridgefield.

To do so, contact the Fish and Wildlife Commission (360) 902-2267 or commission@dfw.wa.gov by 4 p.m. Jan. 11.

Editor’s note: An earlier version misstated the location of the Jan. 18-20 meetings. They will be held at WDFW’s Region 5 headquarters in Ridgefield, not in Olympia.

WDFW Gets 933 Comments On Freshwater Reg Simplification Ideas

Simplifying Washington’s fishing pamphlet might not be so simple.

When state fishery managers asked for feedback on their first round of proposals — making lake and river regulations more uniform and easier to understand — they snagged a ton of comments, 933 to be exact.

Everybody had an opinion. Many were for the tweaks, many others were against them.

(Who knows how many comments the agency will get when they tackle salmon and saltwater rules in the coming years.)

It’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t deal.

With fishery managers acknowledging that their regs “are complex and can be difficult to follow” — it’s been stated by more than one angler they need an attorney by their side to interpret things — the review represents an effort to make them more user-friendly, which I think we can all appreciate, even if it also flies in the face of what anglers also want: rules tailored to their specific fishery or style of fishing.

With this go-around, just four subjects accounted for more than half of all the comments, with eliminating special limits on panfish at select lakes receiving a griddle-sized 29.1 percent, mostly against.

According to a presentation prepared for a public hearing before the Fish and Wildlife Commission at its meeting next week, 247 of 272 who expressed opinions on the idea were opposed.

Many said that reservoirs such as Banks, Potholes and Moses should be excluded and that species like crappie and bluegill would be wiped out and other fish species would also lose out on dinner, according to the WDFW summary.

“Numerous eastern Washington resorts, sport fishing clubs, local guides, and warmwater anglers have expressed concerns over eliminating bag limits on major waters,” the agency stated.

A proposal to allow chumming on all waters also saw strong opposition, with 59 shooting holes in the chum bucket while 31 filled it up.

“This is a bad idea and will lead to unnecessary overfishing and collateral damage to other species,” one cogent argument went, according to the agency.

On the flip side, others said, “I am in favor of being able to chum, and don’t think it has any negative impact on the water quality,” and “I believe it increases opportunity for anglers, especially when pursuing stocked trout.”

Another proposal that saw strong negative response was scrapping the requirement that trout caught with bait but released be counted towards the daily limit of five.

Forty-six bonked the idea, arguing, “Bait should not be considered acceptable for catch-and-release situations,” while 23 want it added to their stringer, saying it “Would allow more flexibility and opportunity for anglers” and “This rule was always unenforceable anyway.”

But the tape measure had to come out for several subjects with much closer splits among commenters:

Removing duplicate landowner rules had nine comments for (“If these restrictions are not set by the department then they should not be listed in the pamphlet”) and nine comments against (“The rules set by the landowners or managing authorities may not be readily available or easily known”).

Different daily and size limits for steelhead and trout had 21 comments for (“Separating steelhead from trout should make reading and understanding the fishing regulations much easier” and 19 comments against (“Allowing retention of ‘trout’ in waters containing steelhead would pose another unnecessary risk to steelhead populations).

Standardized seasons and regs for stillwaters had 30 comments for (“Fewer rules, and the fewer exceptions, avoids confusing anglers”) and 26 comments against (“Why not simply reduce to a year-round season in some fisheries and a March 1st (or last Saturday in April) through November 30th season?”).

As for standardized regs for rivers and creeks, it had support from 27 (“Simple is better, when exploring a new water having to remember a whole new set of rules is a burden”) but opposition from 35 (“The current approach of having waters closed unless listed as open is the best approach. Puts a number of species of conservation concern at risk”), especially bass and walleye clubs worried about dropping daily and size limits.

However, there were some proposals nearly everybody could admire, such as:

Standardizing whitefish season to Dec. 1-last day in Feb. (18-1);
Standardizing language for juvenile waters to allow seniors and disabled anglers (15-1);
Consistent terminology for possession limits (26-5);
Eliminating daily and size limits on brook trout (30-6);
Retention of incidentally caught hatchery steelhead (23-5);
Ending mandatory hatchery steelhead retention (34-10);
And opening game fish season in rivers, streams and beaver ponds from the start of Memorial Day Weekend through Halloween (25-9).

After the Dec. 9 public hearing in Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building on the grounds of the state capital complex, the Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to make final decisions at its Jan. 18-20 meetings in Vancouver, with any changes they make coming out in the new pamphlet that goes into effect July 1, 2018.

Next up in WDFW’s rule simplification drive will be salmon, followed by shellfish and saltwater species in 2019.

Baker, Skokomish Sockeye Issues Raised With Washington Fish Commission

Sockeye issues are boiling to a head in Western Washington.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(For the state’s position, go here.)

It has angler advocates looking around for options.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Urabeck wanted the commission to get involved.

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

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

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

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

Columbia Concurrency Still In Question After Oregon Vote

UPDATED WITH QUOTES FROM THE ASSOCIATION OF NORTHWEST STEELHEADERS AND THE NORTHWEST SPORTFISHING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION

Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commissioners voted to adjust their Columbia salmon allocation reforms closer to Washington’s position but not all the way there, leaving sportfishing interests angered and concurrency of regulations on the big river in question.

The unanimous move came after four hours of public input and about an hour of deliberations by the citizen panel that oversees the state’s fish and wildlife.

On the most contentious issue, Oregon moved to a 70-30 sport-commercial split on Snake River fall Chinook impacts, up from 66-34 but shy of the Washington commission’s 75-25 compromise.

A plan agreed to between the states in 2012-13 had slated those to be 80-20 beginning this season, as well as the full removal of gillnets from the mainstem Columbia.

But tonight’s vote would leave them in below Bonneville during fall without a timeline for ending the practice, though 2 percent of the commercial allocation was moved toward the use of alternative gear, as well as allow the use of tangle, or small-mesh, gillnets during certain fisheries.

Impacts are allowable mortalities on ESA-listed stocks to prosecute sport and commercial seasons and represent slivers of runs.

The vote angered anglers, who feel that a promise is not being fulfilled on the Oregon end.

“I’ve never seen a commission step out to deliberately harm the sportfishing community,” said Bob Rees of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, pointing to moves to make sure unutilized commercial spring and summer impacts would not get used by the sportfishing fleet.

Oregon anglers have been paying $10 to fish the Columbia system the past few years, with the funding supposed to go towards moving the commercial fleet out of the mainstem while hatchery production was also moved into off-channel bays and sloughs.

Washington and Oregon jointly manage shared non-tribal Columbia fisheries but disagreements over the reforms have the potential to throw 100 years of concurrent management into question in 2017 if an agreement isn’t reached.

“This Commission has decided to perpetuate the battles indefinitely, and our allies are disgusted,” Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association executive director Liz Hamilton said in the email late last night.

Friday night’s vote came about after a letter from Oregon Governor Kate Brown asked the commission to reconsider a January decision that backed away from the agreed-to reforms, and to do so by early April.

With the commission only fudging a bit towards meeting Washington, Rees vowed that other lawmakers in Salem will be hearing from he and his allies.

“We’re going to take care of this legislatively,” he said.

Sportfishing interests are also depending on Washington’s commission and Governor Inslee to hold firm and continue supporting the plan, which supports more selective styles of fishing in an era of numerous Endangered Species Act listings, as well as conservation and economic benefits.

The Evergreen State’s Fish and Wildlife Commission is also meeting this weekend, but there is no action item on the agenda concerning Columbia River reforms. Certainly, however, it will be a topic of discussion at Saturday’s meeting.

Meanwhile, Friday afternoon, dozens of anglers, guides, commercial fishermen and seafood processors provided testimony, some of whom were asked follow-up questions by commissioners, a few in an almost cross-examining style by Holly Akenson of Northeast Oregon and Bruce Buckmaster of Astoria that clearly bothered one speaker who spoke of the chilling effect the grilling of members of the general public might have.

“It broke my heart to see so much dysfunction in this process,” noted Hamilton. “Neither agency staff, nor the public deserve to be mistreated by our so-called leaders.”

Recreational anglers spoke to following the plan adopted by both states’ commissions, while gillnetters asked that Oregon hold to its Jan. 20 vote instead of concur with Washington’s position, which itself was an initial compromise. Netters talked of family heritages at risk, but one fishing guide felt disrespected, as if their efforts trying to make a living and bringing business to the Columbia wasn’t being recognized.

LIZ HAMILTON OF THE NORTHWEST SPORTFISHING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION PROVIDES COMMENT TO THE OREGON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION ON COLUMBIA RIVER REFORMS IN THIS SCREENGRAB OF TODAY’S PERISCOPE BROADCAST OF THE MEETING. (PERISCOPE)

What follows is the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife press release on today’s actions:

The Commission voted unanimously to further adjust Columbia River salmon fisheries rules today along the following lines:

  • Spring Chinook 80/20 sport/commercial allocation of allowable ESA impacts. Commercial priority to off-channel large-mesh gillnet fisheries not constrained by run-size buffer. Mainstem commercial fisheries only occurring with tangle net gear after the run update if remaining impact balances allow.
  • Summer Chinook 80/20 sport/commercial allocation of harvestable surplus; large-mesh gillnets not allowed for mainstem commercial fisheries.
  • Fall Chinook 70/30 sport/commercial allocation of allowable ESA impacts of the limiting fall Chinook stock (tule or Snake River wild), and <70/>30 for the non-constraining stock. Large-mesh gillnets allowed in mainstem commercial Zones 4-5; assign up to 2 percent of the commercial fishery impacts for use with alternative gears in the lower river; commercial Coho fisheries restricted to tangle nets in Zones 1-3.
  • Youngs Bay sport closure remains in effect.

More details will be available next week, when the new rules are posted online.