Tag Archives: fishing

Baker Sockeye Issues Back On WDFW Commission Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WDFW’s Susewind To Hold Monday Evening Webinar On Agency Policies, Budget Issues, Etc.

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

Kelly Susewind, director of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), will host an online, virtual open house on Monday, Dec. 16 to give the public a chance to ask questions and gain information about department policies and direction.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

“This is a chance to hear from those who aren’t always able to attend our in-person events and meetings,” said Susewind. “Getting this feedback is incredibly helpful. We learn about what’s on people’s minds and how we can enhance their lives through our work while participants get answers to the things that matter most to them.”

Director Susewind will be joined by wildlife, fish, law enforcement, and habitat leadership. He and his staff will kick off the online event with a brief update on the upcoming legislative season and department budget challenges, current conservation efforts, partner collaborations, efforts to enhance public service, and the department’s work to develop a strategic plan.

The online webinar starts at 6:30 p.m. The public can go to https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019121004 during the event to watch and submit questions. After the event, the digital open house video will remain available for viewing from the agency’s website, wdfw.wa.gov.

SW OR Wild Steelhead Retention Back In Front Of ODFW Commission; Decision In Jan.

THE FOLLOWING IS APRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Commission will consider a petition to prohibit the retention of wild winter steelhead on all rivers in the SW Zone next month at its Jan. 17 meeting in Salem.

WHETHER OR NOT TO CONTINUE THE LIMITED HARVEST OF WILD WINTER STEELHEAD ON EIGHT SOUTHERN OREGON RIVERS AND TWO CREEKS IS UP FOR A DECISION BY THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. CARSON AND MATT BREESE CAUGHT THIS HOOK-BENDING 39.5-INCHER EARLY IN THE 2016 SEASON. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Today during the open forum portion of their meeting, they heard from more than 30 members of the public testifying for and against a proposal to adopt a temporary rule to immediately prohibit the retention of wild winter steelhead for the 2020 season. The Commission expressed appreciation for information provided by those who testified, and re-affirmed that they will formally consider the petition as an agenda item next month.

The Commission adopted Oregon’s Conservation Plan for Lampreys today. Interest in lamprey conservation has increased dramatically over the last two decades as concern has grown over their status. The Plan covers four of the state’s native species of lampreys: Pacific Lamprey, Western River Lamprey, Western Brook Lamprey, and Pacific Brook Lamprey and identifies limiting factors, management strategies and research needed to conserve these species.

The Commission also adopted 2020 fishing regulations for groundfish (e.g. rockfish, lingcod, cabezon, greenling). State harvest guidelines are very similar to last year. There will be a 5-fish daily bag limit and a new sub-bag daily limit of 1 copper, quillback or China rockfish (in response to the harvest guideline for these species being met early in 2019 and ending retention in late August). Fishing will be limited to shoreward of the 40-fathom line from June through August, and allowed at all depths from September through May. Commercial nearshore fishery landing limits will also be similar to 2019. In the commercial Black Rockfish Management Areas, daily limits will increase from 300 to 500 pounds in January-February and November-December.

The Commission also:

  • Amended roadkill salvage rules to allow deer and elk dispatched by wildlife law enforcement personnel after being roadstruck to be salvaged by people besides just the driver.
  • Made corrections to minor errors in the big game controlled hunt tables and boundary descriptions from the October Commission meeting to accurately reflect the newly published 2020 Regulations.
  • Formally approved the amended trapping regulations to prohibit the use of snares suspended in trees in the Siskiyou and Siuslaw National Forests and prohibit trapping in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Areas, per previous Commission decision.
  • Approved funding for several Restoration and Enhancement projects to increase fishing opportunities or improve public access and approve some housekeeping updates for rules managing the program.

In response to a judgement related to the Commission’s June 2018 decision to not uplist the marbled murrelet from threatened to endangered, Commissioners voted (4 to 1) to direct ODFW staff to initiate rulemaking to reconsider the uplisting and the status of this seabird. More information about this rulemaking process, including meeting dates, will be announced next year.

The Commission’s next meeting is Jan. 17 in Salem.

NOAA Spotlight: How Puget Sound Anglers Helped Bios Delist Rockfish Species

THE FOLLOWING IS A NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION NEWS STORY

In 2010, three species of rockfish in Puget Sound, WA were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and received additional protections to aid in their recovery. The decision was based on the best available science at the time. There remained considerable uncertainty whether these populations were distinct from populations found on the outer coast—a defining criteria for ESA listings.

YELLOWEYES WERE ONE OF THREE SPECIES OF PUGET SOUND ROCKFISH THAT FORMER STATE BIOLOGIST SAM WRIGHT PETITIONED THE FEDS TO LIST UNDER E.S.A., WHICH THEY DID IN 2010. (NOAA)

NOAA Fisheries researchers set out to answer this question, using genetics to determine if these rockfish populations were distinct from outer coast populations. Population genetics is a powerful technique, but one that requires getting enough tissue samples to analyze. This is a challenge when the species are rare as was the case with these rockfish species. Overcoming this challenge led the researchers to a unique solution. The results were recently published in a special issue of the scientific journal Citizen Science: Theory and Practice.

WITH HELP WHERE TO LOCATE CANARY ROCKFISH IN PUGET SOUND FROM ANGLERS, FEDERAL BIOLOGISTS WERE ABLE TO FIGURE OUT THAT COASTAL AND INLAND SEA STOCKS WERE ONE AND THE SAME, ALLOWING FOR THE REVERSAL OF THE SPECIES’ 2010 ESA LISTING . (ODFW)

Recreational fishermen know where to find fish. The researchers asked recreational fishermen for help identifying places where they used to fish for these threatened species of yelloweye and canary rockfish. The recreational fishermen jumped at the chance to share their knowledge and become citizen scientists. They supplemented information provided by the scientific research community and volunteered their expertise fishing in complex rocky habitats.

“Fishermen have the knowledge and expertise that allowed us to answer some really basic questions about these threatened rockfish species,” said Kelly Andrews, lead author of a new scientific paper and research fisheries biologist at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

“The recreational fishing community and charter boat captains have been out on the water daily, sometimes for decades. They have a lot of built-up information about how fish populations are doing and where those species, especially rare species, are most likely to be found and captured,” said Andrews.

(NOAA)

The results of the collaboration were impressive. When the researchers tapped into the fishing community’s knowledge, they tripled the number of sampling sites and doubled the number of ESA-listed rockfish tissue samples collected.

When researchers analyzed the genetic make-up of the collected samples, they found two significant results. Yelloweye rockfish found within Puget Sound and the inside waters of British Columbia, Canada were genetically different from those found along the outer coast. That is, there are distinct population groups inside and outside the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin region. In contrast, canary rockfish were genetically similar across the regions; the populations were more connected than originally thought.

With this new information in hand, federal fishery managers expanded the ESA protections for yelloweye rockfish by modifying the Puget Sound population’s  boundaries. In addition, ESA protections were removed for canary rockfish; the first time that’s ever happened for a marine fish species.

By working with the recreational fishing community, the researchers found a cost-efficient way to collect the necessary samples for genetic analyses that led to improved management of endangered rockfish.

Editor’s note: Other authors of the paper “All Hands on Deck: Local Ecological Knowledge and Expert Volunteers Contribute to the First Delisting of a Marine Fish Species Under the Endangered Species Act,” which appears in the journal Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, include Puget Sound Anglers president Ron Garner.

6 Options For Liberalizing Washington Bass, Spinyray Limits Identified

Will it be the bag limit behind Door No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6?

WDFW staffers will present the Fish and Wildlife Commission a half dozen options for liberalizing bass, walleye and channel catfish retention in select waters across Washington later this month.

A STRINGER OF SMALLMOUTH DRAPE THE PROW OF A DRIFT BOAT ON OREGON’S UMPQUA RIVER. (VIA TROY RODAKOWSKI)

They range from the complete elimination of size and daily limits on 146 lakes to expanded bags but with standard slot size protections for spawners on a set of just 14 lakes which have Chinook runs in their headwaters.

The citizen panel is scheduled to make a final call the morning of Saturday, Dec. 14, at its meeting in Bellingham. Public comment will be taken.

They’re acting on a bill passed by the state legislature earlier this year.

While primarily strengthening habitat protections for Chinook, Substitute House Bill 1579 also requires the commission to liberalize limits on the three nonnative but popular warmwater species “in all anadromous waters of the state in order to reduce the predation risk to salmon smolts.”

It was among a set of measures aimed at helping out endangered southern resident killer whales, which mostly feed on Chinook though also coho, chums and steelhead at select times of the year.

But bass anglers rebelled against WDFW’s initial proposal that would have eliminated rather than liberalized limits on 106 waters in Puget Sound, 18 in coastal watersheds, 12 in Southwest Washington and another dozen on the Eastside.

“We’re hoping today we can kinda come to some kind of consensus, maybe not to just destroy but can we surgically do something?” Phil Martin, president of the Mt. St. Helens Bassmasters, asked the commission in mid-October. “We’re conservative fishermen, we don’t want to destroy the fishery for anything, whether it be salmon, carp, bass, panfish. That’s what we do, but there’s got to be a better alternative than just genocide on the bass, walleye and catfish populations.”

And with commissioners pushing back as well, state fishery managers developed a matrix of six options, which differ based on how many waters they would affect and the extent of the liberalization.

Option A1 would be the full elimination of limits on all 146 lakes, while A2 would expand the daily bag on them for largemouth from five to 10 (none between 12 and 17 inches and only one over 17 inches); on smallmouth from 10 to 15 (only one over 14 inches); on channel catfish from five to 10; and on walleye from eight to 16 (only one over 22 inches).

A WDFW MAP SHOWS 146 LAKES THAT WOULD BE AFFECTED UNDER OPTION A. (WDFW)

For Option B, the list of lakes was whittled to 77 after subtracting out those that didn’t have bass, walleye and/or channel catfish, or public access, but still said to have salmon spawning in their headwaters.

Option B1 would eliminate limits on all 77, while B2 would expand the limits as described in A2.

And for Option C, the list was narrowed down to 14 lakes which adult Chinook and their fry swim through, have bass, walleye and/or channel catfish, and have public access.

Those waters include popular bass lakes such as Washington, Union, Sammamish, Osoyoos, Vancouver, Ohop and Kapowsin, smaller ones such as Cottage, and overlooked lakes such as Scanewa, Cushman, Mayfield and Wynoochee.

Under C1, they would see limits eliminated, while C2 would follow A2 and B2.

In their briefing packets, WDFW staffers only recommend Option B, leaving it up to commissioners whether to choose the wholesale elimination of all limits on the 77 lakes or expanded bags instead.

That alternative would mesh with the legislature’s intent to protect “salmon smolts.” The lakes and their feeder streams largely represent habitat for coho, which are important to orca diets in the inland sea in late summer.

But it’s also questionable how productive some of those waters are compared to larger river systems and hatcheries, as well as how recently salmon have actually used them.

Some like Lakes Sammamish, Union and Washington are a critical conduit between the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, which annually raises millions of Chinook and coho fry, and the saltwater.

While that King County watershed’s Chinook were not federally identified as important for southern residents, Scanewa and the Cowlitz River, where springers are being reintroduced in the upper end, has been.

At any rate, the rule change would primarily affect bass, as channel cats are limited to few lakes and on the Westside they are typically too cold for reproduction, and fortunately few walleye have been illegally brought over the Cascade crest.

Even as largemouth and smallmouth aren’t as coveted on the table in Northwest and also have consumption advisories out for women and children due to mercury, the episode has served as a warning for bass anglers that they “need to have a voice in Olympia,” in the words of Joel Nania of the Inland Northwest Bass Club.

He joined Martin and several others at the state capital in mid-October to talk to the commission about limits.

BASS CLUB PRESIDENT PHIL MARTIN SPEAKS TO THE WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION IN OCTOBER. (TVW)

During written public comment, there were 500 comments in favor of liberalized limits, 190 against.

SHB 1579 follows on previous prodding by federal fishery overseers to do more in the Columbia system to protect outmigrating smolts preyed on by the three spinyrayed species. WDFW several years ago waived daily and size limits on the big river and its tribs.

The primary factors impacting reduced Chinook and salmon abundance are massive, long-term, all-encompassing habitat destruction from the tops of our mountains to the depths of Puget Sound, and declining ocean productivity.

Whether the commission chooses to liberalize limits on 14, 77 or 146 lakes, it has a tough needle to thread between lawmakers, pro-orca public sentiment and a portion of its constituents.

Southern Oregon Rains Prompt Reopening Of Chetco, 3 Other Rivers

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

Beginning December 7, low flow angling closures are lifted on the Sixes, Elk, Chetco, and Winchuck rivers.

JEFF HUTTON OF COSTA RICA HOLDS A CHETCO RIVER CHINOOK CAUGHT WITH GUIDE ANDY MARTIN OF WILD RIVERS FISHING. THE FISH HIT A T50 FLATFISH WITH A SARDINE WRAP FISHED WITH A WRIGHT & MCGILL STORMY SKIES SALMON ROD. (WILD RIVERS FISHING)

River conditions improved after recent storms, allowing fall chinook to migrate throughout the mainstems of these rivers after one of the driest Novembers on record in the South Coast.

Closure boundaries were suggested by anglers who attended public meetings this past spring and who overwhelmingly supported low flow closures in October and November knowing those would be lifted once water levels rose.

A USGS MAP SHOWS RIVER FLOWS ACROSS OREGON MUCH LOWER THAN USUAL, THOUGH STORMS IMPROVED CONDITIONS ON THE SOUTH COAST, ALLOWING FOR THE CANCELLATION OF LOW-FLOW CLOSURES. (USGS)

Gold Beach District Fish Biologist Steve Mazur said current temporary zone harvest limit reductions for wild chinook have not been removed. The Pistol River and Hunter and Floras creeks remain closed.

“Even though we are lifting these low water closures, current zone regulations, some adopted through the Rogue Fall Chinook Conservation planning process, are in place to protect fall chinook spawning areas,” Mazur said.

The temporary fall chinook bag limit reductions remain in effect through December 31, 2019.  Anglers should carefully check the SW Zone regulations: https://myodfw.com/recreation-report/fishing-report/southwest-zone

Yuasa Looks Back At 2019 Salmon Seasons, Towards 2020’s

Editor’s note: The following is Mark Yuasa’s monthly fishing newsletter, Get Hooked on Reel Times With Mark, and is run with permission.

By Mark Yuasa, Director of Grow Boating Programs, Northwest Marine Trade Association

The holiday “to do” list has pretty much taken priority over getting out on the water, but if you’re like me that also means it’s time to reassess salmon fisheries in 2019 and start thinking about what lies ahead in 2020.

I had a chance to chat with Mark Baltzell, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Puget Sound salmon manager, and Wendy Beeghly, the head WDFW coastal salmon manager, who provided insight about the future and a somewhat forgetful past.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

“I believe the best way to describe Puget Sound salmon fisheries overall in 2019 is a mixed bag,” said Baltzell. “We had some unexpected good salmon fishing and returns while others were as poor as the preseason forecasts had predicted.”

“Summer chinook fisheries were for the most part better than we expected despite the reduced seasons,” Baltzell said. “Early on we saw some really good chinook fishing in May and June in southern Puget Sound (Marine Catch Area 13 south of the Narrows Bridge).”

It wasn’t uncommon for Area 13 anglers during those months to hook into a limit of early summer hatchery kings, 10 to 18 pounds with a few larger, off Point Fosdick and Fox Island’s east side at Gibson Point, Fox Point in Hale Passage, northwest corner at the Sand Spit, Toy Point and Concrete Dock “Fox Island Fishing Pier.”
In the past few years, central Puget Sound (Area 10) starting in June has become a hot bed for resident coho – 2- to 4-pounds – and this past summer was no exception to the norm. On certain days you’d find hundreds of boats from Jefferson Head to Kingston and in the shipping lane.

“We had a coho fishery in Area 10 from June through August that was really good and has turned into a successful early summer salmon fishery,” Baltzell said.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

The Tulalip Bubble Terminal Fishery within Area 8-2 opened in June and was another location that proved to be fairly decent for early summer kings in the 10- to 15-pound range.

When July rolled around the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Areas 5 and 6) opened for hatchery kings and was off and on for much of the summer.

The San Juan Islands (Area 7) had a brief hatchery king fishery from July 1-31, which saw plenty of fishing pressure and a much higher than expected success rate.

Preliminary WDFW data during the July Area 7 fishery showed 5,310 boats with 11,739 anglers kept 3,019 hatchery kings (10 wild fish were illegally retained) along with 451 hatchery and 982 wild chinook released. The best fishing period occurred from July 1-14. WDFW test fishing showed the Area 7 legal-size chinook mark rate was 84.6 percent and overall mark rate was 78.6.

The summer hatchery king fishery in northern and central Puget Sound (Areas 9 and 10), started off poorly from July 25-28 due to extreme low tides. Once the tidal fluctuation improved as more dates were tacked onto the fishery catch rates picked up rapidly.
During an 11-day fishing period from July 25 to Aug. 4, the success rate in Area 9 was a 0.23 fish per rod average with a total of 7,779 boats with 17,147 anglers keeping 3,446 hatchery chinook (six unmarked were illegally retained) and released 1,124 hatchery and 756 wild chinook plus 697 coho kept and 747 released. WDFW test fishing showed the legal-size chinook mark rate was around 88.0 percent.

The Area 10 hatchery chinook fishery was open daily July 25 through Aug. 16 and a total of 7,606 boats with 15,900 anglers kept 3,200 hatchery chinook (17 wild were illegally retained) and released 994 hatchery and 1,579 wild chinook plus 2,013 coho kept and 463 released. WDFW test fishing showed the legal-size chinook mark rate was around 50.0 percent.

Summer hatchery chinook action in south-central Puget Sound (Area 11) stumbled out of the gates when it opened July 1 and was peppered with a few glory moments until it closed Aug. 25 for chinook retention. In Area 11, an estimated 12,264 boats with 22,818 anglers from July 1-Aug. 25 retained 212 chinook and released 164 hatchery and 465 wild chinook.

“We saw a lot more legal-size chinook in Puget Sound than the FRAM (Fishery Regulation Assessment Model) had predicted and more legal hatchery fish around than we had seen in past years,” Baltzell said.

In general, the wild chinook stock assessment seemed to be somewhat better in some parts of Puget Sound. Places like the Tumwater Falls Hatchery in deep South Sound even had a few nice 20-pound females return.

Heading into late summer, the Puget Sound pink returns were off the charts good here and there while other pink runs were downright dismal. Salmon anglers chasing pinks managed to find some excellent fishing from mid-August through September.

“In some places it seemed like we had twice the abundance of pinks and others didn’t get as many as we had thought,” Baltzell said. “The Puyallup did really good and a decent number of pinks pass(ed) over the Buckley fish trap and was up into the historical day numbers. But, the Skagit and Stillaguamish weren’t so good for pinks and it was the same for coho too.”

“At this point were going to be OK in places like the Snohomish for coho,” Baltzell said. “Both the tribes and state did all the things necessary to help ensure we’d exceed our hatchery coho broodstock (goals), and that did eventually happen.”

Other locations like the Green River met coho broodstock goals although that didn’t occur until late last month. In Hood Canal, the Quilcene early coho return came back less than half the preseason expectation and the size of jack coho was much smaller.”

“There was a size issue throughout the Puget Sound area and the lower returns had us taking a precautionary move to a one coho daily limit,” Baltzell said. “It was the right move in retrospect and helped us move more coho into the rivers.”

The mid- and southern-Puget Sound and Hood Canal chum forecast of 642,740 doesn’t appear to be materializing and at this point WDFW downgraded the run to almost half the preseason expectation.

“It is really hard for us as fishery managers to pinpoint the cause for all of it,” Baltzell said. “We can point the finger to marine survival and conditions in the ocean like the warm blob that sat off the coast up to Alaska for a while. We also know the Canadian sockeye runs tanked this year and saw it in our own like Lake Washington that virtually got nothing back.”

The ocean salmon fisheries from Neah Bay south to Ilwaco between June 22 through Sept. 30 encountered a mixed bag of success.

“Fishing was pretty much what I expected it to be,” Beeghly said. “The chinook fishery was slow except up north off Neah Bay where it was pretty good this past summer. The majority of chinook we see in ocean fisheries are headed for the Columbia River and their forecasts were down so the poor fishing came as no surprise.”
Close to a million coho were forecasted to flood the Columbia River this past summer and that too was a downer.

“The coho fishing wasn’t quite as good as I had expected, but we saw some decent fishing at Ilwaco and Westport,” Beeghly said. “The Columbia coho forecast didn’t come back like we originally thought but better than the past three or so years. The hatchery coho mark rate was lower than anticipated.”

Coast wide only 51.1 percent of the hatchery coho quota of 159,600 was achieved, and 41.4 percent of the chinook quota of 26,250 was caught.

Areas north of Leadbetter Point saw a coho mark rate of somewhere under 50 percent and Ilwaco where data was still being crunched might come out to be a little higher than that.

Once the fish arrived in the Lower Columbia at Buoy 10 it appeared the catch of hatchery coho fell well short of expectations with a lot of wild fish released although some glory moments occurred early on.

Coastal and Columbia River chinook forecasts should come to light around the Christmas holidays. The Pacific Fishery Management Council preseason meeting will occur in mid-February. That is just ahead of when Oregon Production Index coho forecasts will be released.

As Baltzell rubbed the crystal ball looking into 2020 it still remains pretty foggy at this point but general expectations aren’t rosy.

“It would be fair for me to say that I wouldn’t expect anything much better in 2020 than what we saw in 2019,” Baltzell said. “We have no forecast information at this point but I wouldn’t expect a rosier outlook as far as chinook goes for next year.”

State, federal and tribal fishery managers in 2020 will be faced with a lot of same wild chinook stock issues as in recent past years like mid-Hood Canal and Stillaguamish. Add on top of that killer whale orca issues as well as the pending Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan that has been looming a dark cloud for the past three years with no end in sight just yet.

“If I had to gauge things out my gut reaction is we’ll likely have to take a more cautionary approach again next year,” Baltzell said.

The WDFW general salmon forecast public meeting will occur Feb. 28 at the DSHS Office Building 2 Auditorium, 1115 Washington Street S.E. in Olympia. The first North of Falcon meeting is March 16 at the Lacey Community Center and the second meeting is March 30 at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites. Final seasons will determined April 5-11 at the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, WA.

Final summer ocean salmon sport fishing catch data

Ilwaco (including Oregon) – 44,297 anglers from June 22 to September 30 caught 4,018 chinook (56% of the area guideline of 7,150) and 53,377 coho (67% of the area sub-quota of 79,800).

Westport – 23,465 anglers from June 22 to September 30 caught 2,336 chinook (18% of the area guideline of 12,700) and 20,221 coho (34% of the area sub-quota of 59,050), plus 700 pinks.

La Push – 2,076 from June 22 to September 30 caught 449 chinook (41% of the area guideline of 1,100) and 1,752 coho (43% of the area sub-quota of 4,050), plus 206 pinks. Late-season fishery October 1-13 saw 240 anglers with 164 chinook (64% over the fishery guideline) and 16 coho (16% of the fishery quota).

Neah Bay – 10,116 anglers from June 22 to September 30 caught 3,895 chinook (75% of the area guideline of 5,200) and 6,223 coho (37% of the area sub-quota of 16,600), plus 869 pinks. Chinook retention closed July 14.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Dungeness crab fishery reopens in Areas 8-2 and 8-1

The east side of Whidbey Island (Marine Catch Areas 8-1 and 8-2) has reopened daily for Dungeness crab fishing through Dec. 31. WDFW says crab abundance remains good indicating that the quota could be increased in-season. Crab pots must be set or pulled from a vessel and is only allowed from one hour before official sunrise through one hour after official sunset.

Dungeness crab fishing is also open daily through Dec. 31 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Areas 4B, 5 and 6); San Juan Islands (Area 7); and northern Puget Sound (Area 9 except waters north of the Hood Canal bridge to a line connecting Olele Point and Foulweather Bluff).

NW Fishing Derby Series hits refresh button in 2020

After 17 wonderful years since the derby series began in 2004, we’ve decided it’s time for a change and rebranded it to the “Northwest Fishing Derby Series.”

Our hope is that anglers will like the direction as we diversify the fish species our events target while boosting the number of derbies to 20 in 2020 up from 14 events in 2019.

New events are the Lake Stevens Kokanee Derby on May 23; For the Love of Cod Derbies in Coos Bay/Charleston areas and Brookings, Oregon March 21-22 and March 28-29 respectively; Father’s Day Big Bass Classic on Tenmile Lake at Lakeside, Oregon on June 21-22; and the Something Catchy Kokanee Derby at Lake Chelan on April 18-19.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

The highlight is a chance to enter and win a $75,000 fully loaded, grand-prize all-white KingFisher 2025 Escape HT boat powered with Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ Loader Trailer. One of our newest sponsors of the derby – Shoxs Seats (www.shoxs.com) – has provided a pair of top-of-the-line seats that are engineered for maximum comfort in the roughest of seas.

The good news is anglers who enter any of the 20 derbies don’t need to catch a fish to win this beautiful boat and motor package!

A huge “thank you” to our other 2020 sponsors who make this series such a success are Silver Horde and Gold Star Lures; Scotty Downriggers; Burnewiin Accessories; Raymarine Electronics; WhoDat Tower; Dual Electronics; Tom-n-Jerry’s Marine; Master Marine; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Harbor Marine; Prism Graphics; Lamiglas Rods; 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; and Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine.

First up are the Resurrection Salmon Derby on Feb. 1-2 (already 50 percent of tickets have been sold as of Nov. 13); Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15. A new website is currently being designed and will be launched sometime in mid-December but for now, go to http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

In the meantime, take a break from holiday shopping and hit up a lake or open saltwater areas for a feisty fish tugging on the end of your line.

I’ll see you on the water!

Coded Wire Tagged Steelhead Caught In Umpqua Basin Could Be Worth $50

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

Anglers who catch a hatchery steelhead and return the snout to an ODFW collection barrel have a chance to win a $50 gift card if their fish is coded wire tagged. Monthly prize drawings run December through April 2020.

ODFW IS ASKING UMPQUA RIVER STEELHEADERS TO DROP OFF THE SNOUTS OF ANY HATCHERY WINTER-RUNS IN BARRELS AT BOAT LAUNCHES OR THE ROSEBURG OFFICE TO SCAN AS PART OF A STUDY. SCOTT HAUGEN CAUGHT THIS ONE ON THE MAINSTEM A COUPLE YEARS AGO WHILE RUNNING A MAG LIP. (SCOTT HAUGEN VIA BUZZ RAMSEY)

The contest is meant to encourage anglers to leave the snouts of harvested Umpqua Basin hatchery winter steelhead in collection barrels at popular boat ramps. Barrels are also in Roseburg at Sportsman’s Warehouse and the ODFW office on North Umpqua Highway. Bags and tags with date and location of harvest are in the barrels.

ODFW scans the snouts for coded wire tags in the second of a multi-year research project to improve winter steelhead fishing in the South Umpqua River. Fish were tagged earlier this year and released in four groups at acclimation sites in Canyonville.

STEP biologist Evan Leonetti wants to know which release timing is the most beneficial to anglers, particularly those fishing the South Umpqua River.

“Those tags tell us which release date and group gives a better return for anglers which is why it’s important to return snouts of harvested hatchery steelhead,” Leonetti said. “The potential to win a gift card is a bonus, and we hope to collect more snouts this year.”

Volunteers with a flexible schedule are needed to collect harvest information from winter steelhead anglers on the North and South Umpqua rivers. That information is used in conjunction with the coded wire tag data to better manage the hatchery fishery. Volunteers are also needed to check the collection barrels.

Volunteers must provide their own transportation and may be working alone or with a partner at boat ramps. The project runs the length of the winter steelhead season, ending about mid-April.

Anyone over the age of 18 who is interested in volunteering should call Leonetti at 541-464-2175 or email evan.leonetti@state.or.us

WDFW Commission Denies Petition To Restrict Popular Skykomish Fisheries

A utility district’s petition to restrict bait fishing for half the year and delay the opening of the summer Chinook and steelhead season on Washington’s Skykomish was rebuffed by the Fish and Wildlife Commission late last week.

That left local anglers like Mark Spada breathing a sigh of relief for the moment.

“The sportfishing community worked very hard to educate the commission to the importance of this last-of-its-kind fishing opportunity for the North Sound,” said the president of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club. “Thankfully they listened, and voted to deny this uninformed petition by the PUD.”

KRISTIN BISHOP SHOWS OFF A NICE SKYKOMISH SUMMER CHINOOK CAUGHT IN JUNE 2017. A UTILITY DISTRICT’S REQUEST TO RESTRICT GEAR AND SEASON TIMING ON THE RIVER WOULD “SIGNIFICANTLY AFFECT” ITS FISHERIES FOR HATCHERY KINGS AND STEELHEAD. (THEFISHERE.COM)

But the citizen panel did ask WDFW to consider the request during the upcoming North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process, where fishing rules for 2020-21 will be determined through preseason forecasting and consultations with tribal comanagers before approval by federal overseers.

The petition came from the Snohomish County Public Utility District, which is concerned about wild steelhead recovery in the watershed, where it operates a dam it has to mitigate for.

Speaking for the utility, fisheries biologist Larry Lowe asked the state agency to enact selective gear regulations from July 15 through January 31 and push the summer opener back two to three weeks to June 15.

Lowe said that despite enhancement projects on the Skykomish and its tributary the Sultan, where PUD’s dam, hydropower facilities and reservoir are, native winter-run returns have declined to “an alarmingly low level,” with just 178 and 55 back to the mainstems of both rivers, respectively, this year.

And he said that the fishery for hatchery kings and summer-runs is impacting pre- and postspawn wild winters, as well as outmigrating smolts.

“Wild salmon and steelhead face many complex and costly challenges on the road to recovery. The requested rule changes are neither complex nor costly and will continue to provide ample fishing opportunity for recreational anglers as well as provide the resource protections needed for species recovery,” Lowe wrote.

But WDFW’s regional fisheries manager Edward Eleazer says the fishery comes in well below allowable impacts, and he points to greater threats to the steelhead stock than angling.

“Major pressures for steelhead are harbor seals, habitat degradation and climate change,” he told the commission during its Nov. 15 conference call.

The pinnipeds have been identified as eating large numbers of outmigrating salmonids in Puget Sound.

PUD’s Diversion and Culmback Dams have blocked all fish passage to most of the Sultan for decades, and much of the Sultan and Skykomish watersheds outside of three wilderness areas have been heavily logged, dumping sediment into the rivers. In the valley, dikes armor banks to protect the BNSF rail line, farms and towns.

Eleazer pointed out to commissioners that the Skykomish fishery is operated under a comanager agreement, and is authorized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to have a maximum impact of 4.2 percent on wild winter steelhead.

“Recent estimates by NOAA say we’re more like 1.6 percent, so the impacts on steelhead are negligible and not severe like the petitioner is claiming,” Eleazer said.

He said the proposed rule changes would “significantly affect hatchery Chinook and hatchery steelhead fishing.”

It’s fair to say that the Skykomish is where anglers are digging in their heels.

“The fact that the smolt mortality and wild fish encounters were below the allowable minimums as outlined by the NOAA permit for this fishery gave PUD no legitimate case for the rule change they were petitioning for,” argues Spada.

In this era of decreased hatchery releases and salmon and steelhead fishing opportunities, the Sky is the last bastion of consumptive angling in Puget Sound. It’s the only river north of the Cowlitz where Chinook and steelhead can be kept in June and July.

It’s the river that WDFW prioritized in the Chambers Creek early winter steelhead settlement with the Wild Fish Conservancy, and it’s the one they’ve come up with a plan for saving the summer steelhead fishery out of another WFC lawsuit.

Just under 500 Chinook and 1,573 steelhead were caught on the Sky during 2017’s summer fishery, according to WDFW’s 2017 sport catch report, the most recent available, along with 1,863 winter steelhead during the fall-winter season.

While eggs and sand shrimp are popular and productive offerings for summer kings, coho, chums and both summer and winter steelhead, under selective gear rules bait and scents are prohibited. Anglers are also limited to lures with single barbless hooks (except plugs), and required to use knotless nets.

Eleazer acknowledged that PUD is an important stakeholder in fishery issues in the Skykomish watershed, and the county agency does a lot of steelhead and salmon habitat and recovery work.

“One of the reasons why they’re so alarmed, and our staff is alarmed as well, is because of the extreme drought and climate conditions that we saw in 2015,” he said. “And so the salmon and steelhead returning this year, their parents came into the system during 2015 and it wasn’t very hospitable for them to survive. Very low numbers are coming back this year because of the climate change environmental situation, so they’re kind of waving the red flag.”

That year was when the effects of The Blob — the giant pool of overly warm water in the North Pacific — really hit Northwest rivers hard, with little winter snowpack and hot air temperatures leading to an early meltout and record low flows through summer.

I chronicled those impacts in a photographic survey of the Skykomish that summer, when on July 18 the river was flowing at a mere 425 cubic feet per second, 2,700 cfs below average and twice as low as the old record minimum for the date, set back in 1940 — extraordinary numbers.

PANORAMA MODE CAPTURES THE SKYKOMISH RIVER AT PROCTOR CREEK DURING JULY 2015’S RECORD LOW FLOWS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Over on dewatered Olympic Peninsula streams, WDFW biologists observed where wild winter steelhead redds had been dug up by raccoons to get at the eggs.

Unfortunately the snow drought was followed by major fall floods. The Skykomish saw crests of 70,000, 60,000, 95,000 and 80,000 cfs at Gold Bar in a six-week period, which didn’t do salmonids any favors either.

Eleazer said that it appears PUD is more focused on recent abundance trends, and it’s true, those don’t look good.

Where once there were enough winter steelhead to hold a coveted March-April catch-and-release season on the Sky, overall Snohomish-Skykomish Basin returns have dropped from 4,132 as recently as 1998 to 1,188 in 2014 to 372 in 2018.

He said that PUD was also “very upset” about this year’s May 25 start of the Skykomish fishery, seven days earlier in the past, a change that came about through WDFW’s rule simplification efforts which affected hundreds of flowing waters statewide and moved the traditional Sky opener from June 1 to the Saturday before Memorial Day.

In 2020, the Saturday before the holiday falls on May 23; in 2021, the 29th; in 2022, the 28th, etc.

According to Eleazer PUD didn’t submit comments on the late May opener, but Lowe’s petition states that as much as 43 percent of the Sultan’s wild winter redds are dug after the 25th of the month.

And Lowe says that outmigrating steelhead, coho and Chinook smolts “are vulnerable under a May 25 opener. This would not be the case with a mid-June opener.”

PUD’s crunching of 2011 WDFW creel data shows that king and steelhead catch rates spike from June 6 to 11, consistent with the early 2000s.

(PUD)

The mouth of the Sultan, where a popular put-in/take-out is located, also acts as a thermal refuge because the tributary dumps in water that’s cooler than the Sky, Lowe says.

Hatchery steelhead haven’t been released in the Sultan in more than a decade as WDFW moved away from off-station stocking, and the agency also scaled back the period that gold mining can occur between the site of the old Diversion Dam, at river mile 9.7 and which came down in 2017, and Culmback Dam to the month of August.

Before filing their petition, Lowe and utility managers took to print and the airwaves in early June rather than work with local anglers, and that didn’t sit well with Spada, and the whole thing still doesn’t.

“It continues to mystify me why the PUD thinks that they are in control of wild fish management on the Sky, and want to point fingers of blame at the recreational fisherman when they have made no attempt to be part of the solution, or work together with all interested parties for common sense management,” he says.

Eleazer told the commission that to his knowledge, PUD has not talked with the Tulalip Tribes, which comanage fisheries in the basin, and that conversations have been limited to the utility, his agency and the Wild Fish Conservancy.

Before voting to deny the petition, Fish and Wildlife Commission members debated whether to include specific direction to WDFW staff to consider the requests during North of Falcon.

Some, like Vice Chair Barbara Baker of Olympia and Kim Thorburn of Spokane wanted to, while others like angler advocate Dave Graybill of Leavenworth said it wasn’t necessary because it was already part of NOF.

Ultimately, an amendment to do so was included in the vote denying PUD’s petition.

NOF begins again in late winter, with multiple chances to comment on any proposals that come out of it.

2020 ODFW Fish, Hunt Reg Books Out; Changes Detailed

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

The 2020 Sport Fishing and Big Game Hunting Regulations are now available in stores and ODFW offices and online at http://www.eregulations.com/

Changes from 2019 are listed in the What’s New section under the table of contents and are identified by yellow highlighted text throughout the regulations.

There are few major changes to the sport fishing regulations, but one is that in 2020, recreational crabbers will be required to mark all floating surface buoys with the owner’s full name or business name and at least one of the following: phone number, permanent address, ODFW Angler ID number, or a boat identification number, such as Oregon boat registration number. Find more information here.

As part of efforts to improve protections for mature spawning-size sturgeon, seasonal Columbia River no-fishing sanctuaries for these fish have been expanded and closure time extended.

Finally, anglers who purchase a two-rod validation will be able to use two rods in the Sandy River and Snake River below Brownlee Dam.

OREGON CRABBERS WILL NOW HAVE TO MARK THEIR BUOYS WITH THEIR NAME AND ANOTHER PIECE OF IDENTIFICATION. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Big game hunters face more significant changes, as improvements to the regulations come into effect for 2020. A multi-year effort has been underway to improve and simplify big game regulations to make them more consistent, simpler where possible, and in tune with current populations and issues.

This year more than ever, hunters who apply for controlled hunts need to carefully check their hunt number. Many controlled hunts have been consolidated into larger areas and/or have longer seasons and boundaries of many controlled hunts were expanded or made simpler. Maps for these hunts will be available on MyODFW.com in 2020.

Hunters should note that hunts that were formally called “centerfire” seasons or commonly referred to as “rifle” seasons, are now “Any Legal Weapon Seasons.” This change was made to make it more clear to hunters that they are not limited to only using a rifle for these hunts; it is legal for hunters to use any legal shotgun, bow, muzzleloader, or handgun. For example, most hunters with a Western Oregon Deer tag typically hunt with a rifle, but if they prefer they can use this tag to hunt the season with a bow instead of hunting the regular archery season.

New for 2020, hunters with access to private land in areas of chronic elk damage can choose the new General Season Antlerless Elk Damage tag as their elk hunt. This new hunt is meant to address chronic elk damage and address increasing private land elk populations.

Several elk seasons east of the Cascades will shift from general season to controlled hunts in 2020 to improve bull ratios and hunt quality. This means hunters will need to apply to hunt Rocky Mtn elk season in the Hood-White River-Maupin-Biggs-Columbia Basin units and in units on the eastern flank of the Cascades (formerly in Cascade elk general season).

Western Oregon general season buck deer hunters will be able to take a spike in the 2020 season as the new bag limit is “any buck with visible antler.” There are sufficient bucks in the population to support increased harvest and the change may also help the buck deer population by allowing hunters to remove deer in poorer condition and the bucks genetically inclined to remain spikes.

Finally, due to a printing error, the Biggs Maupin unit is colored as black and appears to be closed to hunting during general archery season. The unit is not closed and the online version has been corrected.

For more information on the changes to 2020 big game hunting regulations, visit https://myodfw.com/articles/whats-new-2020-changes-big-game-regulations

Editor’s note: This press release has been updated in the second to last paragraph after ODFW subsequently provided the correct unit that was inadvertently colored black in the hunting regs.