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DFWs To Talk Proposed Sturgeon Reg Changes For Gorge Pools, Reach, Snake

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

State fish managers are hosting a series of public meetings in May and June to discuss sturgeon fishing regulations in Washington.

DAVID KASPER BATTLES ONE OF A NUMBER OF STURGEON HE AND TWO FRIENDS HOOKED IN THE SWIRLING CURRENTS BELOW MCNARY DAM EARLIER THIS MONTH, WATERS THAT COULD SEE NEW RULES TO PROTECT SPAWNERS. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) have scheduled public meetings at the following locations:

* The Dalles, Oregon: 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, May 22, at the ODFW screen shop, 3561 Klindt Dr., The Dalles.

* Kennewick: 6 to 8 p.m, Tuesday, June 11, at the Benton PUD building, 2721 W. 10th Ave., Kennewick.

*Hermiston, Oregon: 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, June 12, at the Hermiston Community Center, 415 S. Hwy 395, Hermiston.

An additional meeting in Montesano will also be announced at a later date.

Among the topics of discussion are possible rule changes meant to improve conservation efforts and increase the abundance and survival of mature spawning-size sturgeon.

The proposed regulations are also part of WDFW’s ongoing efforts to simplify fishing rules.

“In the past several years, the agency has been moving toward rule simplification as one of the primary objectives of our regulations,” said Laura Heironimus, sturgeon unit lead with WDFW. “This effort, combined with recent biological information, offered an opportunity to take a fresh look at sturgeon regulations around the state.”

Discussion topics and management recommendations include:

* Extending the dates of all sturgeon spawning sanctuaries in the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam to Priest Rapids Dam, and in the Snake River below Ice Harbor Dam, through Aug. 31. Most of these spawning sanctuaries are currently in effect from May 1 through July 31.

* Extending the area of the spawning sanctuaries on the Columbia River below McNary and Priest Rapids dams.

* Closing sturgeon retention fishing within McNary Reservoir, inclusive of the lower Snake River below Ice Harbor Dam and the Hanford Reach below Priest Rapids Dam, due to a lack of population monitoring information.

In addition to input received at public meetings, WDFW will collect comments online and by mail. A webpage to collect public comments will be available soon. Following the public comment period, fish managers expect to brief the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in October on the resulting proposed regulations.

SW WA, Lower Columbia, Gorge Pools Fishing Report (4-3-19)

THE FOLLOWING REPORTS WERE TRANSMITTED BY BRYANT SPELLMAN AND PAUL HOFFARTH, WDFW

Preliminary Washington lower Columbia River mainstem sport sampling summary

March 25-31, 2019

Bonneville bank anglers: 146; kept adult Chinook: 7
I-5 area bank anglers: 1; kept adult Chinook: 0
Vancouver area bank anglers: 65; kept adult Chinook: 0

Bonneville boat anglers: 2; kept adult Chinook: 0
Camas area boat anglers: 9; kept adult Chinook: 0
I-5 area boat anglers: 8; kept adult Chinook: 2
Vancouver boat anglers: 375; kept adult Chinook: 55

SPRING CHINOOK CATCHES ARE PICKING UP IN THE INTERSTATE STRETCH OF THE LOWER COLUMBIA. LAST WEEK’S KEPT CATCH OF 55 WAS SIX TIMES LARGER THAN THE PREVIOUS MARCH WEEK’S NINE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Washington Columbia River and Tributary Fishing Report March 25-31, 2019

Lower Columbia mainstem from Warrior Rock line to Bonneville Dam– 434 salmonid boats and 70 Washington bank rods were tallied during last Saturdays flight count.

Sturgeon:

Bonneville Pool- 16 bank anglers kept 2 legal sturgeon and released 9 sublegal sturgeon.  10 boats/27 rods kept 7 legal sturgeon, released 86 sublegal and 1 oversize sturgeon.

The Dalles Pool- Closed for retention.  No report.

John Day Pool- 62 bank anglers kept 9 legal sturgeon, released 44 sublegal and 15 oversize sturgeon.  11 boats/23 rods kept 8 legal sturgeon, released 1 legal, 40 sublegal and 1 oversize sturgeon.

Walleye:

Bonneville Pool- 3 boats/8 rods released 12 walleye.

John Day Pool- 44 boats/111 rods kept 172 walleye and released 12 walleye.

Bass:

Bonneville Pool- 5 boat/7 rods released 16 bass.

John Day Pool- 4 boats/7 rods kept 13 bass and released 12 bass.

Salmon/Steelhead:

Columbia River Tributaries

Cowlitz River – I-5 Br downstream: 21 bank rods kept 5 steelhead and released 5 Chinook jacks.

Above the I-5 Br:  8 bank rods kept 9 steelhead.  24 boats/81 rods kept 44 steelhead and released 3 steelhead.

Last week, Tacoma Power employees recovered 196 winter-run steelhead adults and three spring Chinook adults during five days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.

During the past week, Tacoma Power employees released 36 winter-run steelhead adults into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton and they released 23 winter-run steelhead adults and one spring Chinook adult into Lake Scanewa located in Randle.

The remainder of the fish are being held at the hatchery for broodstock needs.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 5,080 cubic feet per second on Monday, April 1. Water visibility is 10 feet and the water temperature is 45.7 F.

Kalama River – 19 bank anglers released 1 steelhead.  7 boats/16 rods kept 1 steelhead and released 4 steelhead.

Lewis River – 8 bank anglers had no catch.

 

  • Tributaries not listed: Creel checks not conducted.

 

Catchable Trout Plants:

Lake/Pond                           Date Species Number    Fish/lb Hatchery

Battle Ground (CLARK)          April 1, 2019 Rainbow 2,000            2.5 GOLDENDALE HATCHERY

Lacamas (CLARK)                    April 1, 2019 Rainbow 4,300            1.8 VANCOUVER HATCHERY

Hanford Reach Steelhead Sport Fishery

In March, an estimated 337 angler trips harvested 148 hatchery steelhead and released 3 wild (unclipped) steelhead. Anglers averaged 6.2 hours per steelhead. The fishery will remain open to “bank angling only” at the Ringold Springs Access area through April 15. Daily limit is two steelhead and only Ringold Springs steelhead can be harvested. Steelhead released from Ringold Springs Hatchery are adipose and right ventral fin clipped.

McNary Reservoir Steelhead Sport Fishery Summary

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part II

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

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

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

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

JUNE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JULY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

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

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

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

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

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

SEPTEMBER

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

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

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

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

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

(BOGGAN’S OASIS)

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

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

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

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

WDFW Announces Steelhead Changes On Straits Rivers, Reach, Columbia

Editor’s note: Updated at 5:30 p.m. November 8th 2019 with smolt release stats for the Hoko and Sekiu Rivers.

Heads up for Olympic Peninsula, Tri-Cities and Columbia Gorge steelheaders on several recent rule changes as one run begins and another never really got started.

We’ll take them one at a time, starting on the Eastside.

The Hanford Reach will close to steelheading as of Nov. 10 due to a very low return of summer-runs.

WITH A VERY POOR RETURN OF STEELHEAD TO THE RINGOLD SPRINGS HATCHERY, WDFW IS CLOSING THE HANFORD REACH EFFECTIVE THIS SATURDAY, NOV. 10. THE REYES BROTHERS — ISSAC, LEVI AND IVAN — SHOW OFF A SUMMER-RUN CAUGHT THERE IN MARCH 2015. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

According to state managers, only 96 have entered the Ringold Springs Hatchery so far, “the lowest return on record in the past 18 years,” putting the goal of collecting 300,000 eggs to produce 180,000 smolts in 2020 in peril.

By this time in 2017, 254 fish had checked in at the facility. In 2016, 224 had.

This year has seen an overall poor return of steelhead to the Inland Northwest, and earlier in the season retention was closed on the Columbia downstream of Highway 395 in Tri-Cities, and limits were dropped in the Snake system.

By 2016-17 catch stats, the latest available, the best fishing in the Reach was in October, with 108 retained, but the waters between Highway 295 and the old powerlines at the Hanford town site did put out dozens of fish each month through March.

Two mountain ranges away to the northwest, along with your floats and jigs you’ll want to bring a tape measure if you fish two Clallam County streams this winter.

When hatchery steelhead were released into the Hoko and Sekiu Rivers in spring 2016 and 2017, they weren’t fin clipped as usual “because of warm river temperatures and consequent fish health concerns,” according to a WDFW emergency rule-change notice

So then how do you know if you’ve caught a keeper or a wild steelhead that must be released?

Take that big fin on its back and put your measuring device against it.

“Dorsal fin heights of hatchery steelhead are shorter than comparably sized wild steelhead. The standard of 2 1/8 inches has been used elsewhere to identify unclipped hatchery steelhead,” WDFW states.

The same rule tweak was in effect last winter on the Hoko and previously on a river further south on the Olympic Peninsula.

The Hoko produced 129 hatchery steelhead during the 2016-17 season, mostly in December.

According to state fisheries biologist Mike Gross, just under 24,000 smolts were released into the Hoko for return this year, 10700 in the Sekiu.

In another e-reg, WDFW announced that the night fishing and retention closures on the lower Wind and White Salmon Rivers were being lifted effective immediately.

Those and other restrictions in the Columbia and its Gorge were put in place due to a weak return of A-run summer steelhead that pull into these thermal refuges. Their passage through the area is typically done by this time of year.

And finally, salmon and steelhead fishing will reopen on the mainstem Columbia up to Highway 395 starting Jan. 1, 2019, WDFW announced.

The big river was closed in late summer when the run of fall Chinook did not materialize in the expected numbers and catches exceeded impacts on Snake River wilds.

As kings made their way further upstream, Washington fishery managers looked for ways to reopen the waters for coho angling.

Nothing ever came to pass, but an explanation appeared in the e-reg resetting the Columbia’s regs to permanent rules:

“… (T)hese fisheries would continue to accrue fall chinook ESA impacts at a time when the non-treaty fisheries do not have additional fall chinook ESA impacts remaining.”

Big Catch, Turnout At 6th King Of The Reach Derby

It took five years for King of the Reach live-capture derby anglers to tally 10 million fertilized salmon eggs collected for a fall Chinook broodstock hatchery program on the mid-Columbia.

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

The sixth edition could yield that many and change alone, thanks to the “biggest turnout ever for volunteers and fish.”

WDFW fisheries biologist Paul Hoffarth says the 648 bucks and 562 hens caught on the Hanford Reach by 277 fishermen in 77 boats and delivered to Grant County’s Priest Rapids Hatchery have the potential to produce 12,616,000 fertilized eggs, if all the male and female fish mixing is done just right.

AN ANGLER HANDS OFF A CHINOOK TO A SHORE ATTENDANT. MORE THAN 1,200 FALL SALMON WERE COLLECTED THIS YEAR, THE MOST EVER. (VIA PAUL HOFFARTH, WDFW)

“Basically 100 percent of the Priest Rapids and Ringold Springs Hatchery production for next year’s release would have a wild parent,” Hoffarth says. “Real life, with holding mortality and other factors WDFW might be able to reach 70 percent of production, which is huge.”

He says that not too long ago, just 10 percent of the hatchery kings had at least one wild parent.

THE DERBY SAW GREAT FISHING THE FIRST DAY, WITH SLOWER ACTION THE FOLLOWING TWO DAYS. (VIA PAUL HOFFARTH, WDFW)

The derby is a joint state-utility-Coastal Conservation Association of Washington project that uses anglers and guides to collect wild upriver brights in the Reach to improve the stock’s fitness and ensure that hatchery fish remain genetically similar to the natives in the free-flowing stretch of the Columbia.

It occurs after the fall fishing season is closed. Participants are required to register as volunteers, and boat captains need fish transporting permits and a way to haul the salmon to collection points, either in a livewell or a big cooler with a pump.

The previous five derbies saw a total of 2,111 fall kings brought in. Before this year, the most brought in was in 2015 when 510 were taken to the hatchery, according to Hoffarth.

As for the King of the Reach, that’s guide Tyler Stahl who brought in 76 kings.

Fellow guides TJ Hester and John Plugoff turned over 66 and 59, respectively.

On Facebook, CCA-Washington called the derby “nothing short of extraordinary. Loads of fish, tons of people, and fun all around.”

Rob Phillips, a columnist for the Yakima Herald, participated and shared his thoughts.

Hanford Reach Angler Pines For Past Years’ Larger Returns Of 5-year-old URBs

By Rick Itami

Back in the early 1990s when I first tried my luck at catching the famous upriver bright fall Chinook salmon in the Hanford Reach of the mighty Columbia River, I was amazed to see huge fish rolling all over the river.

THE NUMBER OF 5-YEAR-OLD FALL CHINOOK RETURNING TO THE COLUMBIA RIVER’S HANFORD REACH HAS DROPPED IN RECENT YEARS. PRIOR TO 2006, ONE-THIRD OF THE RUN CAME IN AS 5’S, ON AVERAGE, BUT SINCE THEN THE PERCENTAGE HAS DROPPED TO 18. DAVE SITTON CAUGHT THIS BEAST IN 2012. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

And when I say huge, I mean salmon running in the 30- to 40-pound range. The first time I hooked one of these giants, I fought it for 20 minutes before my 30-pound-test monofilament finally snapped when I tried to horse the fish into the net.

In those days, outdoor sections of newspapers often contained photos of smiling fishermen displaying monster fall Chinook caught with regularity.

Fast forward to the present and you have a totally different scenario. You simply do not see anglers landing many really large fish as before.

Toby Wyatt, owner/operator of Reel Time Fishing (208-790-2128) and who is one of the most successful guides on the Hanford Reach, says his clients land just a few fish in the 30-plus-pound range. Most of his catch ranges in the 10- to 20-pound range. He misses getting his clients into the monsters.

So what happened to the giants of the Hanford Reach?

AUTHOR RICK ITAMI HOLDS AN UPRIVER BRIGHT FROM THIS PAST SEASON, A 12-POUND HEN. A FISH’S AGE, THE LENGTH OF TIME IT SPENDS IN THE PACIFIC AND OCEAN PRODUCTIVITY DETERMINE HOW BIG A SALMON GROWS. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Paul Hoffarth, Region III fisheries biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, confirms the drop in size of fish. Surprisingly and for unknown reasons, Hoffarth says that a significant shift in the age structure of fish happened all in one year — 2006.

Prior to 2006, roughly one-third (34 percent) of the upriver brights were the big 5-year-old fish and 37 percent were 4-year-olds.

Beginning in 2006, the percentage of 5-year-olds has averaged 18 percent (with a range of 10 to 28 percent) and has never recovered.

Hoffarth does not know why the decline happened so suddenly and no studies have been done to determine a cause or causes. Therefore, no one knows if the age structure will return to pre-2006 levels.

So we anglers are left in the dark as to what the future of the upriver bright population has in store in terms of the size of fish caught. Let’s hope whatever caused the flip in the age structure of these magnificent fish will just as suddenly flip the other way.

I would love to see a river full of rolling giants again.

Hanford Reach Fall King Fishery Closing Early Next Week

Fall Chinook fishing on the Hanford Reach will stay open through Monday, giving anglers one last weekend to catch upriver brights on the free-flowing Columbia.

SPOKANE’S RICK ITAMI WAS A BIT PESSIMISTIC ABOUT FISHING FOR HANFORD REACH FALL CHINOOK, GIVEN THE LOWER RUN, BUT ONCE THERE HE FOUND WILLING BITERS, INCLUDING A 12-POUND HEN THAT WILL PROVIDE EGGS FOR HIS STEELHEADING ADVENTURES THIS WINTER AND A 10-POUND BUCK. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

While this year’s run is down and the limit has been dropped to one a day, fishermen have still been finding biting salmon.

Some have been reporting success running tuna-stuffed Brad’s Super Baits behind Pro-Trolls. They’ll probably have less competition this weekend, which is also the deer and duck opener across the state.

The Reach above the wooden powerlines at the old Hanford townsite to Priest Rapids Dam was set to close after Oct. 15, but it wasn’t clear when the waters from there down to Tri-Cities would shut down as the run continued to trickle past downstream dams.

An early October update from state fisheries biologist Paul Hoffarth warned the quota might be met by Oct. 7, then another earlier this week said fishing would stay open through this Friday, Oct. 12.

“Based on the updated return estimate for natural-origin Hanford Reach fall Chinook, all adult Chinook in excess of escapement will be harvested by Oct. 15,” WDFW said in an emergency rule-change notice sent out this afternoon.

If you still want to fish the free-flowing Columbia for upriver brights — and for a good cause — sign up for late October’s 6th Annual King of the Reach derby, a three-day event that collects wild fall Chinook for the Grant County Public Utility District’s Priest Rapids Hatchery, improving the stock’s fitness and ensuring that hatchery fish remain genetically similar to the natives here.

6th Annual King Of The Reach Derby Coming Up Oct. 26-28

With 10 million-plus fertilized fall Chinook eggs to their credit so far, salmon anglers, state fishery managers and a public utility district will build on their success later this month when the 6th Annual King of the Reach kicks off.

THE OSTROMS — THOR, KARL AND JACOB — WON THE SECOND ANNUAL KINGS OF THE REACH DERBY IN 2013 WITH THIS AND 51 OTHER FALL CHINOOK CAUGHT IN THE HANFORD REACH. (THOR OSTROM)

The Oct. 26-28 live-capture fishing derby collects wild upriver brights for the Grant County Public Utility District’s Priest Rapids Hatchery, improving the stock’s fitness and ensuring that hatchery fish remain genetically similar to the natives in the Hanford Reach.

Coastal Conservation Association Washington’s Tri-Cities Chapter coordinates participation, and compared to regular fishing opportunities, the event has some interesting regulations to be aware of.

It’s held after the Hanford Reach closes for the season — likely to occur sometime next week — no fishing license is required and two-poling’s OK without the endorsement. Barbless hooks must be used, though.

Participants are encouraged to preregister with CCA or on-site, and all anglers are required to register with WDFW as volunteers each day before they fish.

Boat captains need fish transporting permits plus a way to haul the salmon to the Vernita Bridge or White Bluffs launches, either in a livewell or a big cooler with a pump. After all, the goal is to get them to the hatchery alive. According to CCA, there was less than 2 percent mortality among the 511 kings brought in in 2017.

WDFW’s Paul Hoffarth, who is the brains behind the event, says that anglers have brought in a total of 2,111 fall kings, including 1,034 bucks and 1,077 hens, since the first King of the Reach was held in 2012.

Fishing effort has increased annually, from 598 angler hours that first year to 2,722 in 2017, his data shows.

While some numbers from last year have yet to be crunched, derby fish have resulted in 25 percent of the hatchery’s production having at least one natural-origin parent.

Hoffarth says that even with this year’s lower return — 38,357 based on a Sept. 30 estimate — escapement (the number of spawners) should exceeded the goal of 31,100 natural-origin adult kings.

Entry in the derby is $25 for the day or the weekend (youths age 17 or under are $15). Refreshments will be provided and prizes will be awarded to participants for the most live salmon turned in per boat per day, and for the entire event.

Last year Justin Sprengel turned in the most kings, 37.

Random prizes will be awarded as well.

Derby entries are available online at ccawashington.org/KingoftheReach and Grigg’s in Pasco, and Ranch and Home and Sportsman’s Warehouse in Kennewick.

SW WA, Hanford Reach Fishing Report (10-1-18)

THE FOLLOWING ARE WDFW FISHING REPORTS FROM BRYANT SPELLMAN AND PAUL HOFFARTH

Salmon/Steelhead:

Columbia River Mainstem from the mouth upstream to McNary Dam

  • From the Buoy 10 line upstream to the Highway 395 Bridge at Pasco:
    • Closed to angling for and retention of salmon and steelhead.

AUSTIN, LEXI, BRITT AND CORBIN HAN POSE WITH A FALL CHINOOK RECENTLY CAUGHT NEAR TRI-CITIES. IT BIT A SUPERBAIT WITH TUNA BEHIND A PRO TROLL FLASHER TROLLED DOWNSTREAM. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Salmon/Steelhead:

Columbia River Tributaries

Elochoman River – No anglers sampled.

Cowlitz River – I-5 Br downstream: 25 bank rods kept 9 coho jacks and released 1 coho jack.  14 boats/33 rods kept 8 coho, 25 coho jacks, 1 steelhead and released 15 chinook, 1 chinook jack, 3 coho, 6 coho jacks and 1 steelhead.

Above the I-5 Br:  41 bank rods released 12 chinook and 1 steelhead. 5 boats/13 rods kept 1 steelhead and released 3 chinook.

Last week, Tacoma Power employees recovered 986 coho adults, 2,251 coho jacks, 375 fall Chinook adults, 89 fall Chinook jacks, 86 cutthroat trout, 42 summer-run steelhead adults and seven spring Chinook adults during five days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.

During the past week, Tacoma Power released 107 coho adults, 174 coho jacks and two spring Chinook adults into the Cispus River near Randle, and they released 120 coho adults, 68 coho jacks, and two spring Chinook adults at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood.

Tacoma Power released 389 coho adults, 1,251 coho jacks, 86 fall Chinook adults, 34 fall Chinook jacks, and six cutthroat trout into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton, and they released 210 coho adults, 640 coho jacks, five cutthroat trout and three spring Chinook adults into Lake Scanewa in Randle.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 3,540 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Monday, Oct. 1. Water visibility is 14 feet and the water temperature is 54.8 degrees F. River flows could change at any time so boaters and anglers should remain alert for this possibility.

Kalama River – 10 bank anglers had no catch.  2 boats/5 rods kept 4 steelhead and released 1 steelhead.

Lewis River – 69 bank anglers kept 1 chinook jack, 2 coho, 1 coho jack and released 5 chinook, 3 coho and 1 coho jack.  15 boats/39 rods kept 4 chinook and released 19 chinook, 9 chinook jacks, 1 coho and 1 coho jack.

Wind River – No anglers sampled.

Drano Lake – 15 bank anglers released 1 steelhead.   91 boats/231 rods kept 78 chinook, 33 chinook jacks, 10 coho, 2 coho jacks and released 3 chinook, 3 coho and 5 steelhead.

Klickitat River – 97 bank anglers kept 51 chinook and 16 chinook jacks.

  • Deep River:  Effective September 24, 2018 Deep River reopens to salmon and steelhead angling under permanent rules.
  • Youngs Bay, Blind Slough and Knappa Slough: Effective September 24, 2018 Youngs Bay, Blind Slough and Knappa Slough reopens to salmon and steelhead angling under permanent Oregon regulations.
  • Cowlitz River:  Effective September 22, 2018 closed for Chinook retention from the mouth to the Barrier Dam including all lower Cowlitz tributaries, except the Toutle River.  Until further notice, the closed waters section below the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery Barrier Dam is 400’, at the posted markers.
  • Washougal River, including Camas Slough:  Effective September 22, 2018 closed for Chinook retention from the mouth to the bridge at Salmon Falls.
  • Wind River:  from the mouth to 400’ below Shepherd Falls, closed for steelhead retention and closed to night fishing for salmon and steelhead.
  • Drano Lake: Effective Sept. 29, 2018 until further notice.  The daily salmon limit remains 6 fish total, of which only one may be an adult.  Drano Lake remains closed to night fishing for salmon and steelhead and closed to retention of steelhead.
  • White Salmon River:  from the mouth to the county road bridge below the former location of the powerhouse, closed for steelhead retention and closed to night fishing for salmon and steelhead

STURGEON

From the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to McNary Dam including adjacent tributaries – Until further notice, white sturgeon open for catch and release fishing only. Fishing for sturgeon at night is closed.

……………………………

The Hanford Reach fall salmon fishery opened August 16. Angler effort continues to increase as well as harvest. There were 5,046 angler trips taken for salmon in the Hanford Reach this past week. WDFW staff interviewed 2,087 anglers this week. Based on the data collected, 2,043 adult chinook and 208 jacks were harvested bringing the season total to 4,411 adult chinook, 398 jacks, and 10 coho. Anglers averaged 13 hours per per fish (1.2 fish per boat), 50% increase compared to the week prior.

An in-season estimate was generated for the Hanford Reach wild return based on fish counts through September 30. An estimated 38,357 wild (natural) origin fall chinook are expected to return to the Hanford Reach. Base on this estimate harvest would be limited to ~6,500 adult chinook, leaving roughly 2,000 adult chinook remaining in the quota. Sunday, October 7 will likely be the final day of the fishery between the Hwy 395 bridge and Priest Rapids Dam.

From Highway 395 to Priest Rapids Dam the daily limit is 6 fall chinook, no more than 1 adult fall chinook. Anglers must stop fishing when the adult limit is retained. Anglers can use two poles if they have the two-pole license endorsement.

The Columbia River from Highway 395 to the old Hanford town site wooden powerline towers opened October 1 to the harvest of Ringold Springs origin hatchery steelhead. Steelhead released from Ringold Springs Hatchery are adipose fin clipped and right ventral fin clipped. The daily limit is one adipose + right ventral fin clipped steelhead. This unique mark (clips) allows these steelhead to be differentiated from upper Columbia River and Snake River steelhead and allows these steelhead to be selectively harvested.

It Wasn’t That Long Ago …

Man, what a difference three years makes.

On this day in 2015 I posted* that Columbia River salmon managers had upped their fall Chinook forecast to a staggering 1,095,900.

ANGLERS ENJOYED SUPERB FALL CHINOOK FISHING ON THE COLUMBIA SYSTEM IN 2015 AS A RECORD 1.3 MILLION RETURNED, BUT THIS YEAR WE ARE SEEING THE OPPOSITE END OF THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THE SALMON CYCLE SWING. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

They were off by a mile — 210,000 miles.

The final estimate is that 1,305,600 upriver brights and tules made it to Buoy 10 that year.

Of those, 954,140 were counted at Bonneville, the most on record.

And more than all but two other entire annual returns of Chinook — i.e., springers, summers and fall fish — at the dam since counts began in 1938.

The fishing was preposterous — 36,535 kings kept at Buoy 10, 41,525 on the Lower Columbia, 13,260 from Bonneville to Highway 395. Treaty and NT comms got their shares.

We were all smiles — our smiles couldn’t have been any wider or we would have broken our faces.

“These are the good ol’ days for Chinook, ladies and gentlemen,” I wrote later that month.

CRITFC FISHERIES TECHNICIAN AGNES STRONG HOLDS A COLUMBIA RIVER FALL CHINOOK TRAPPED PRIEST RAPIDS HATCHERY DURING THE 2015 RUN. (PHOTO COURTESY OF AGNES STRONG)

Looking back, it was the culmination of three outstanding years of salmon fishing, but there were troubling signs, other blogs I wrote that month show.

Sept. 23: Columbia Early Coho Forecast Reduced Sharply; Snake King Return On Record Pace: “Even as what could be a record return of Snake River fall Chinook heads for Idaho, Columbia salmon managers took the fishbonker to this year’s prediction for early-run coho, smacking it hard from an expected 140,000 to just 27,000 past Bonneville.”

Sept. 15: Clearwater Coho A No-go, IDFG Announces: This year’s run of coho up the Columbia is not living up to expectations, at least not yet.”

Sept. 11: No Plans To Halt State Humpy Fishery On Skagit: “Initial netting by the Upper Skagits turned up just 10 percent of the expected catch during what is typically the peak of the run of the odd-year fish.”

Earlier that summer hundreds of thousands of sockeye died as they migrated up the too-warm Columbia, as did dozens of oversize sturgeon.

Summer streams were bone dry due to the previous winter’s snowpack failure. Many waters were closed or under restricted fishing hours. Forest fires roared in the mountains and hills.

The Blob was hungry in 2015, though the high numbers of Columbia kings and relative snappiness of starving coho and pinks initially hid it from us, and we foolishly didn’t consider how long the North Pacific’s hangover would last.

Now in 2018 we’re at the other end of the salmon cycle.

ODFW’s Tucker Jones said that if the fall king run continues tracking as it has, it will be the lowest return since 2007, when 220,200 limped into the mouth of the Columbia.

I wonder if it won’t ultimately come in at lows not seen for two and a half decades — the 214,900 in ’93.

Funny how that number and the offage between the mid-September 2015 runsize update and what it ultimately came in at are so close.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER SHOWS THE 2018 FALL CHINOOK RUN AT BONNEVILLE (RED LINE) VERSUS LAST YEAR AND THE 10-YEAR AVERAGE. (FPC)

There is some hope, though. Last year’s run spiked unexpectedly after the usual high-count days, so we’ll see.

But in the meanwhile Chinook as well as coho and steelhead fishing have been closed from Buoy 10 all the way to Tri-Cities, and the steelie bag reduced to one hatchery a day in the Snake River basin.

CRITFC postponed a gillnet opener decision, though platform fisheries remain open, and nontreaty commercial fishing in the SAFE zones were shut down.

In the usually productive free-flowing Hanford Reach, the adult URB limit has been cut to one a day.

Just three falls ago, we harvested a record 33,885 in the Reach, and that November I wrote, “What a year!!!!!!!! Remember this one — it truly is The Good Ol’ Days.”

There were warning signs, but to hit the bad old days after such highs so fast is a reminder that the runs do ebb and flow.

Hopefully the closures and restrictions WDFW and ODFW have announced help rebuild the stocks and get us out of this hole and back on the water sooner.

*Editor’s note: Hat tip to Mike Fisenko who brought back this memory on Facebook.