Tag Archives: hatcheries

WDFW Shortfall Grows; Leaders Take Questions During Livestream

Washington fish and wildlife managers are now projecting they will have a $20 million budget shortfall over the coming two years — and it could more than double in the following two.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind broke the news earlier this week during a 2.5-hour-long livestreamed virtual open house.

WDFW HONCHOS LINE A TABLE DURING MONDAY NIGHT’S LIVE-STREAMED DIGITAL OPEN HOUSE. (WDFW)

“We ended up with less than we needed to get through the biennium, which means we’re not going to be able to provide the services we had hoped to,” he said about the recently concluded legislative session.

Lawmakers did give WDFW a one-time $24 million General Fund bump to fill a preexisting $31 million hole instead of raising fishing and hunting license fees and extending the Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement.

But Susewind said that the shortfall also grew from that new initial $7 million difference to $20 million after legislators also “passed a lot of provisions that further increased our costs. Those increased costs came without additional revenue.”

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

This afternoon his budget and policy director Nate Pamplin said the $13 million ballooning was due to increased salaries for staffers and “other central service costs” that weren’t matched with new revenues; lower than expected disbursements from both the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts; and one-time hits from things like the Skagit catch-and-release wild steelhead fishery and Fish Washington app that would have been funded through the fee bill but now must be another way or get cut.

“We’re still reviewing what has been identified as at risk and trying to balance the budget,” Pamplin said.

Back on Monday’s live stream, Susewind acknowledged that legislators had “front loaded” the agency’s General Fund contribution towards the first year of the two-year budget “to come as close as we can to staying whole” in anticipation of working on it again when state senators and representatives return to Olympia next January .

But he also projected that the shortfall could grow to $46 million during the 2021-23 biennium if nothing’s done.

SUSEWIND HAS BEEN MAKING MORE USE of new ways to talk to WDFW’s constituents than past directors, and in this latest virtual town meeting he brought in a bevy of department heads and managers to talk about their programs and expertises.

But it also included about an hour’s worth of questions sent in by the public as they watched, and as you can imagine many inquiries dealt with the hot-button topics of the day — wolves, North of Falcon, Columbia fisheries.

One of the first questions was from a gentleman by the name of Bill who felt that over the past three years there’s been a lot of lost fishing opportunity and he wanted to know how WDFW was supporting sport anglers.

“We’re trying to maximize the opportunities within the constraints we have,” Susewind stated.

Those restrictions include all the Endangered Species Act listings on fish stocks that often swim alongside healthier ones, fisheries that require extensive and not-cheap monitoring for the state to receive federal permits to hold them.

DRIFT BOAT ANGLERS MAKE THEIR WAY DOWN THE SAUK RIVER DURING APRIL 2018’S 12-DAY FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Susewind said the agency was looking at ways to increase hatchery production, and he pointed to spill down the Columbia system to aid outmigrating smolts as well as habitat work to increase wild returns which would mean higher allowable impact rates on listed stocks

“This is an area I want to be direct with folks,” Susewind said. “I know there’s a ton of frustration around lack of opportunity at the same time we asked for an increase. I’d just ask folks to think through the situation. In these times of incredible constraints, declining runs, it costs more to actually provide the opportunity. The declining opportunity, the effort it takes to provide what opportunity is available is more.

“You all can make your own choice whether it’s a good investment if fees are worth it or not, but those fees are what are going to allow us to continue to manage, to allow us to hopefully turn around this run return and allow us to provide more opportunities,” he said, adding, “That’s what we’re trying to do. Time will tell if we’re successful.”

Asked whether WDFW was considering any early retirements to reduce the budget hole, Susewind said he couldn’t do that without a change in state law, but that staff cuts and not filling vacancies were being looked at.

A woman named Carol asked about a “conservation license,” and Susewind expressed some interest in it as a funding source though also for more durable, across the board funding. Pamplin added that the Reclaiming America’s Wildlife Act now in Congress was a “potential game changer … for us to invest in areas that need support.”

WDFW’s twin mandate tears it between providing harvest opportunities which raise money to pour back into providing more while also having to protect imperiled species that suck money the other way.

TWO WOLVES ROAM ACROSS A SNOWY EASTERN WASHINGTON LANDSCAPE. (UW)

THIS AND RECENT YEARS HAVE SEEN A LOT OF ANGER about the results from North of Falcon salmon-season-setting negotiations and the pruning of opportunities in inland saltwaters, and during the livestream, a question from Chad asked why there couldn’t be open meetings between WDFW and all Western Washington tribes.

Susewind, who just emerged from his first iteration of the annual set-to, called the idea unwieldy and said that the agency had a responsibility to represent its stakeholders during the talks but that that didn’t allow for them to behind those closed doors.

Salmon policy lead Kyle Adicks was more blunt.

“The tribes are sovereign governments. They don’t have to meet with us if they don’t want to. They don’t have to meet with members of our public if they don’t want to,” he said. “Ultimately it’s the tribes’ decision: If they want to have a government-to-government meeting, then that’s what we have.”

RON GARNER, PUGET SOUND ANGLERS PRESIDENT, SPEAKS AT AN ANGLERS RALLY IN LACEY, WASH., IN MAY 2016 AS STATE-TRIBAL NORTH OF FALCON NEGOTIATIONS WERE AT AN IMPASSE AFFECTING THE STATE OF THAT YEAR’S SEASONS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

WDFW piggybacks on the tribes’ federal nexus to get sport salmon seasons approved faster than they otherwise might be.

While Adicks also pointed back to a January 2017 Fish and Wildlife Commission briefing on the Open Public Meetings and Administrative Procedures Acts, in recent days a long-threatened legal challenge has been filed that contends that how WDFW sets salmon seasons with the tribes violates those two state laws.

Filed by Twin Harbors Fish and Wildlife Advocacy of McCleary, the petition asks a Thurston County Superior Court judge to throw out the state’s adopted 2019-20 salmon seasons.

WDFW had no comment when I asked about the matter earlier this week — “As you probably know, we don’t comment on ongoing litigation” — but did pass along their efforts to increase transparency:

WDFW values and works hard to provide transparency in the development of fishing seasons. The development of fishing seasons also includes work with tribal co-managers, and those meetings involve highly sensitive government-to-government negotiations with 20 individual treaty tribes during the North of Falcon process.

In 2019, the department held more than a dozen public meetings to discuss potential salmon seasons in various locations around the state. Three of the meetings were live-streamed on WDFW’s website and made available for the public to watch later. WDFW also provided the public with the option to submit comments electronically through the department’s website. During the closing portion of North of Falcon negotiations, which took place during the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in California, the department had daily conference calls with advisors and constituents to discuss the latest developments.

ANOTHER QUESTION FOCUSED ON WHY the Fish and Wildlife Commission had allowed gillnets back into the Columbia this year, gear that had been schedule to be phased out by 2017 under fishery reforms.

Susewind called that policy an adaptive one that aimed to keep commercial fisheries viable on the big river too but that replacement gear hasn’t been figured out, so the citizen panel decided to extend gillnetting “while we figure out how to implement the rest of the policy.”

With spring Chinook now coming in far below forecast and summer Chinook not even opening, gillnetting this year will be limited to a handful of days targeting fall Chinook near Vancouver at the end of summer.

A GUIDE BOAT RUNS UP THE LOWER COLUMBIA DURING 2014’S BUOY 10 FALL SALMON FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Dozens more questions were asked and they covered the gamut:

* What WDFW was doing to increase branch-antler bull elk opportunities;

* How much  it costs to investigate wolf depredations;

* Whether WDFW plans to dispute the status of perennially fishery constraining mid-Hood Canal Chinook as a distinct stock (they’re essentially locally adapted Green/Duwamish strays released into the Skokomish);

* Reducing commercial bycatch;

* If WDFW was considering opening a spring bear general season;

  • What the agency was doing to increase access to salmon and steelhead, boosting mule deer and elk populations, and upping steelhead production;

* If WDFW can fine people who create repeat predator issues;

  • If Westside- and Eastside-only deer tags were possible;

* Instead of bag limits, if tags for salmon were possible;

* The latest on Southwest Washington hoof rot.

* And why weren’t WDFW staffers required to be hunters and anglers.

To see WDFW’s responses, skip to about the 1:23:00-mark of the digital open house.

A SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON MULE DEER BUCK PUTS DISTANCE BETWEEN ITSELF AND PHOTOGRAPHER-HUNTER CHAD ZOLLER. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

“I hope we have your continued support as we try to turn this around and provide more opportunity in this state for hunting and fishing,” Susewind said in wrapping it up.

As he stated earlier, time will tell if WDFW is successful.

WDFW Fee Hike Fails, Columbia Endorsement Expires As Lawmakers Pass Budget

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s proposed fee hike failed in the state legislature and the Columbia salmon and steelhead endorsement will expire as lawmakers passed a two-year budget over the weekend.

A high-ranking WDFW official says that $24 million in General Fund revenues have been allocated to the agency for a one-time patch to address in part a $31 million shortfall, which the fishing and hunting license increase would have half filled, but it will take as much as a week to parse through budget documents to figure out all the impacts and ramifications.

“It’s going to take some time to review and discuss with executive management on how best to balance the budget and make decisions on which services will be reduced or eliminated from the areas identified in the zero-based budget analysis,” Nate Pamplin, WDFW’s policy director, said this morning.

Programs that exercise identified as at risk included hatchery operations, hunting and lands management, shellfish enforcement, and wildlife conflict prevention, among others.

Earlier this month WDFW warned that Westside pheasant hunting and Reiter, Whitehorse, Naches, Chelan and Meseberg hatcheries, which together produce 2.6 million steelhead, salmon and trout, were at risk without a fee bill.

The Columbia endorsement, itself a shortfall-filling measure from 2010, brought in $3.3 million every two years and was used to hold and monitor fisheries over Endangered Species Act-listed Chinook, coho, steelhead and other stocks in the big river.

This is the second long session in a row that a WDFW-requested fee bill to plug holes and increase opportunity has failed to be passed.

When 2017’s went down, lawmakers provided a $10 million one-time General Fund hit and required the agency to review its operations for efficiencies and perform that zero-based budgeting exercise.

WDFW also formed a Budget and Policy Group which found broad support for full funding, and last summer the Fish and Wildlife Commission signed off on asking lawmakers for what would have been if passed the first fee hike since 2011 as part of a $60 million package to deal with the shortfall and enhance fishing and hunting, funded with 75 percent General Fund money and 25 percent licenses.

In January, state representatives and senators introduced bills that would have raised fees by 15 percent, with a $7 cap on bundled packages, and extended the Columbia endorsement.

Public hearings were held in February, and while support and concerns were raised, the lower chamber’s bill was given a do-pass recommendation out of the natural resources committee.

But as the Fish and Wildlife Commission moved towards allowing gillnetting in the Columbia again for fall Chinook this year, the bills stalled as members of the fishing community raged over the citizen panel’s early March vote, essentially entangling the measure in the upper chamber like a fall bright in 9-inch mesh.

Earlier this month, lawmakers came out with their operating budget proposals and the fee increase and endorsement were not in the Senate version, though they remained in the House’s.

As the session drew to the April 28 close, last week the original fee bills were revived in committees, but with the Senate’s amended to sunset the fishing increase after six years and given strong policy statements about Columbia fisheries management.

In anticipation of the House bill getting out of the chamber late last week, the Senate Ways and Means Committee listed it on its Saturday morning public hearings docket, but that didn’t happen and signaled time had run on the fee hike.

“I am disappointed that we could not get the General Fund money to be ongoing funding and hope that next session that we can get the agency fully funded,” said Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen), who was the prime sponsor on the House fee bill.

The agency’s overall $508 million passed operating budget does appear to include a $15 million line item for WDFW, utilities and numerous tribes to increase hatchery salmon releases to benefit orcas and upgrade production facilities.

Pamplin said staffers are now going through the 809-page budget, “trying to sort out which fiscal year the various appropriations are placed and understand other aspects and details from the budget.  We’ll also want to discuss with affected staff.”

Part of that was an afternoon all-staff webinar where issues were laid out.

“I’d say it’s going to take at least a week to sort through some of these details,” Pamplin said.

The passed capital budget appears to include $58 million for WDFW for hatchery and other construction projects, as well as several million for improved access, habitat restoration and other lands projects.

We’ll have future blogs on this as more details become available.

Stopping Salmon Fishing Won’t Save Puget Sound’s Orcas

The idea that we can save Puget Sound’s starving orcas by just stopping salmon fishing for a few years once again reared its misinformed head, this time in a big-city newspaper piece.

In a black-or-white summary of a very complex problem, the nut was that we humans were shamefully avoiding looking at our own consumption of the iconic marine mammal’s primary feedstock.

SALMON ANGLERS WORK POSSESSION BAR ON THE OPENING DAY OF THE CENTRAL PUGET SOUND HATCHERY CHINOOK FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Leaving that aspect out of the state of Washington’s recovery plan meant that, “We have decided, collectively though passively, to let the Puget Sound orcas go extinct,” it lamented.

We haven’t really, but nonetheless the prominence of the piece left leaders of the region’s angling community disappointed, as well as worried that it could lead to “knee-jerk” responses as Washington responds to the crisis.

And one has also asked the author to take another look at the issue with more informed sources to balance out the very biased one it primarily quoted.

THE ARTICLE IN QUESTION WAS a column by Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times last weekend in which he quoted Kurt Beardslee at the Wild Fish Conservancy.

“To cut back on fishing is an absolute no brainer, as a way to immediately boost food available for killer whale,” Beardslee told Westneat. “But harvest reductions are essentially not in the governor’s task force recommendations. We have a patient that is starving to death, and we’re ignoring the one thing that could help feed the patient right now. We’re flat out choosing not to do it.”

Columns are columns, meaning they’re not necessarily like a he said-she said straight news story, but what wasn’t mentioned at all was Beardslee’s complicity in the orca crisis.

So I’m going to try to shed a little more light on that and other things here.

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS LAST SUMMER. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

AS IT TURNS OUT, WE HAVE BEEN cutting back on Chinook fishing.

Have been for years.

Ninety percent — 9-0 — alone in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, key foraging areas for the southern residents, over the past 25 years.

And yet so far J, K and L Pods appear to have shown no response.

In fact, they have unfortunately declined from nearly 100 members in the mid-1990s to 74 as of late 2018.

All while West Coast and Salish Chinook available to them actually saw nominal increases as a whole, according to state and federal estimates.

So I’m not sure what Beardlee expects to magically happen when he tells Westneat, “It’s easy to see how cutting the fisheries’ take in half, or eliminating it entirely on a short-term emergency basis, could provide a big boost.”

I mean, how is the 10 percent sliver that’s left going to help if the closure of the other 90 percent coincided with the cumulative loss of 25 percent of the orca population over the same period?

Don’t get me wrong, fishermen want to help too. Some of the most poignant stories I’ve heard in all this are angler-orca interactions.

But it’s not as cut-and-dried as not harvesting the salmon translating into us effectively putting some giant protein shake out in the saltchuck for SRKWs to snarf down.

“Each year the sport, commercial and tribal fishing industries catch about 1.5 million to 2 million chinook in U.S. and Canadian waters, most of which swim through the home waters of the southern resident orcas,” Westneat writes. “The three pods in question … are estimated to need collectively on the order of 350,000 chinook per year.”

Fair enough that 350,000 represents their collective dietary needs.

But not only do the SRKWs already have access to those 1.5 million to 2 million Chinook, the waters where they’re primarily harvested as adults by the bulk of fishermen are essentially beyond the whales’ normal range.

For instance, the Columbia River up to and beyond the Hanford Reach, and in terminal zones of Puget Sound and up in Southeast Alaska.

Pat Patillo is a retired longtime state fisheries manager who is now a sportfishing advocate, and he tells me, “If not caught, those fish would not serve as food for SRKWs — they wouldn’t turn around from the Columbia River, for example, and return to the ocean for SRKW consumption!”

“They already swam through the orcas’ home waters and they didn’t eat them,” he said.

WHILE BEARDSLEE IS TRYING TO COME OFF as some sort of orca angel  — “It’s like if you’re having a heart attack, your doctor doesn’t say: ‘You need to go running to get your heart in better shape.’ Your doctor gives you emergency aid right away,” he tells Westneat — he’s more like an angel of death trying to use SRKWs as  latest avenue to kill fishing.

Type the words “Wild Fish Conservancy” into a Google search and the second result in the dropdown will be “Wild Fish Conservancy lawsuit.”

WFC is threatening yet another, this one over National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oversight of West Coast salmon fisheries through the lens of the plight of orcas.

It’s not their usual target, which is hatchery production.

Hatchery production, which is the whales’ best short- and medium-term hope.

After WFC sued WDFW over steelhead, a state senator hauled them before his committee in 2015 and pointedly asked their representative at the hearing, “Are there any hatcheries you do support in the state?”

“There are several that have closed over time,” replied WFC’s science advisor Jamie Glasgow. “Those would be ones that we support.”

That sort of thinking is not going to work out for hungry orcas, given one estimate that it will take 90 years for Chinook recovery goals to be met at the current pace of restoration work in estuaries.

And it leaves no place for efforts like those by the Nisqually Tribe to increase the size of those produced by their hatchery to provide fatter fare for SKRWs.

I’m going to offer a few stark figures here.

The first is 275 million. That’s how many salmon of all stocks that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife produced at its hatcheries in 1989, according to The Lens.

The second is 137 million. That’s how many WDFW put out in 2017, the “lowest production year ever,” per the pro-biz online news source.

The third is 56 million. That’s how many Chinook smolts the agency released in 1989, according to figures from the state legislature.

And the fourth is 28 million. That’s how many were in 2016.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that 50 percent decreases in releases are due entirely to Beardslee et al — hatchery salmon reforms and state budget crunches play the strongest roles.

Nor am I going to suggest that they’re the sole reason that our orcas are struggling — pollutants and vessel disturbance have been also identified as affecting their health and ability to forage.

But with SRKWs dying from lack of Chinook to eat and Puget Sound’s wild kings — which are largely required to be released by anglers — comprising just a sixth to a twelfth of the Whulge’s run in recent years, surely the man must now have some qualms about his and similar groups’ anti-hatchery jihad, including against key facilities for SRKWs on the Columbia?

A FAR BIGGER PROBLEM THAN FISHERMEN for SRKWs is pinnipeds eating their breakfast, lunch and dinner.

HUGH ALLEN SNAPPED THIS HARBOR SEAL STEALING A SAN JUANS SALMON LITERALLY OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

Bloated numbers of harbor seals were recently estimated to annually eat an estimated 12.2 million Chinook smolts migrating out of Puget Sound, roughly 25 percent of the basin’s hatchery and wild output, which in the world of fisheries-meets-math science, translates to 100,000 adult kings that aren’t otherwise available to the orcas.

Unfortunately, managing those cute little “water puppies” is realistically way down the pipeline, at least compared to recent lightning-fast moves (relatively speaking) in Washington, DC, that finally gave state and tribal managers the authority to annually remove for five years as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia and its salmon-bearing tributaries.

By the way, guess who fought against lethally removing sea lions gathered to feast on salmon at Bonneville?

Beardslee and Wild Fish Conservancy.

“Given the clamor surrounding sea lions,”they argued in defense of a 2011 federal lawsuit to halt lethal removals at the dam, “you might guess that sea lions are the most significant source of returning salmon mortality that managers can address. Guess again. The percentage of returning upper Columbia River spring Chinook salmon consumed by California sea lions since 2002, when CSL were first documented at Bonneville Dam, averages only 2.1% each year.”

Three years later, sea lions ate 43 percent of the entire ESA-listed run — 104,333 returning springers.

Whoops.

Those fish were recently identified as among the top 15 most important king stocks for SRKWs.

Double whoops.

WHILE LARGE NUMBERS OF SEA LION PUPS ARE STARVING ELSEWHERE ON THE WEST COAST, MANY ADULTS PACKED INTO THE MOUTH OF THE COLUMBIA FOR THE ARRIVAL OF THE SMELT RUN LAST MONTH. (STEVE JEFFRIES, WDFW)

So to bring some of the above sections together, as CSL, Steller sea lion, harbor seal and even northern resident killer whale consumption of Chinook in the northeast Pacific has risen from 5 million to 31.5 million fish since 1970 and hatchery production has halved, the all-fleet king catch has decreased from 3.6 million to 2.1 million.

We aren’t the problem.

No wonder that sportfishing rep told me, “We were successful in getting the target off of our backs blaming fishing” for this blog and which Westneat included in his column (I do appreciate the link).

SO INSTEAD OF SHUTTING DOWN FISHING, what could and should we do to help orcas out in the near-term?

I think the governor’s task force came up with a good idea on the no-go/go-slow boating bubble around the pods. That protects them where they’re eating, and it doesn’t needlessly close areas where they’re not foraging for fish that won’t be there when they do eventually show up.

(GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

While I’ll be following the advice Lorraine Loomis at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission gave after similar sentiments came up last fall — “If you love salmon, eat it” — anglers can take voluntary measures themselves. Even if it’s probably already past the gauntlet of orca jaws, if it makes you feel better to do so, go ahead and release that saltwater king you catch this summer, like Seattle angler Web Hutchins emailed me to say he’s vowing to do.

Switch your fishfinder frequency from 50 kHz to the less acoustically disturbing 200 kHz for killer whales if they happen to show up in your trolling lane.

Pay attention to fish counts and if a hatchery is having trouble meeting broodstock goals, maybe fish another river or terminal zone, or species.

Follow Orca Network on Facebook for where the pods are so you can avoid them.

I also think Beardslee and WFC could, say, lay off their low-hanging-fruit lawsuit schtick (lol, fat chance of that) to give (furloughed) federal overseers time to process permits that ensure hatcheries and fisheries are run properly, instead of having to drop their work and put out the latest brushfire they’ve lit.

And I think boosting hatchery Chinook production is huge, and all the more important because of the excruciatingly slow pace that habitat restoration (which I’m always in favor of) produces results.

Yes, it will take a couple years for increased releases to take effect.

But the ugly truth we’re learning here is, we cannot utterly alter and degrade salmon habitat like we have with our megalopolis/industrial farmscape/power generation complex that stretches everywhere from here to Banff to the Snake River Plain to the Willamette Valley and back again and realistically expect to turn this ship by just pressing the Stop Fishing button and have orcas magically respond.

That’s not the answer.

In this great effort to save orcas, we the apex predator have in fact been forced to look at ourselves in the mirror, at what we’ve wrought, and it is ugly.

We have made a monumental mess of this place and hurt a species we never meant to nor deserved to be.

So we’re setting this right.

It is going to take time. We are going to lose more SRKWs. But we will save them, and ourselves.

Governor’s Budget Proposal Includes ‘Unprecedented’ $1.1B For Orcas, Salmon

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is touting an “unprecedented investment” of $1.1 billion to recover orcas and their key feedstock — Chinook — in his just-released 2019-21 budget proposal.

A PUGET SOUND ADULT CHINOOK SALMON SWIMS THROUGH THE BALLARD LOCKS. (NMFS)

It includes $12 million for WDFW to maximize hatchery production to rear and release an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts to increase returns by 186,000 fish, potentially a key bridge for starving orcas — and fishermen — as habitat work comes on line in the coming years and decades.

“Salmon hatcheries can play an important role in increasing prey abundance for Southern Resident orcas in the near term,” the next three to 10 years, a statement from Inslee’s office on Medium states.

Besides increasing SRKWs’ prey base, the governor’s multipronged approach includes a whopping $205 million boost for DOT to improve fish passage beneath state roads, opening up more salmon habitat as well as to abide by this year’s Supreme Court decision to let a lower court’s ruling on fixing culverts to stand.

There’s a much-needed $75.7 million to improve the state’s hatcheries, $17.8 million to incentivize voluntary habitat work by landowners and $4.7 million to “collect additional population information and develop management options for pinnipeds in Puget Sound and to increase management actions in the Columbia River.”

This week, Congress sent President Trump a bill that helps on the latter waterway, giving states and tribes more leeway to remove sea lions in parts of the big river and its tribs.

Another line mentions reducing salmonid predation by nonnative fish.

The budget also calls on DOE to allow more spill at dams in the Columbia Basin to aid outmigrating Chinook and other smolts.

“Increased spill will speed travel of smolts out to the ocean and help cool the water,” the governor’s Medium page story states.

Inslee’s also calling for go-slow zones around J, K and L Pods and a three-year moratorium on watching those particular whales.

Those and many of the other proposals unveiled today came out of the SRKW Task Force that the governor formed last March in response to decreasing numbers of southern residents. Since 1996’s high point, their population has dropped 24 percent to 74 animals, with several recent high-profile deaths spurring things on.

Of course there’s far, far more to Inslee’s proposed budget, including proposed fishing and hunting license fee increases.

And it all must first be passed or modified by state lawmakers during next year’s session.

But today’s rollout was a start to a better focus on the health of salmon runs, orcas and our fisheries and waters.

Sport Fishing Reaction To Final Orca Recommendations Sent To Gov

Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force has transmitted its recommendations for how to help out the state’s struggling orcas to Governor Inslee, and members of the sportfishing community are reacting to the final package.

WASHINGTON GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE SPEAKS BEFORE SIGNING AN EXECUTIVE ORDER ON ORCAS AND CHINOOK EARLIER THIS YEAR. THE ORDER CREATED THE SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALE TASK FORCE THAT TODAY DELIVERED ITS FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS. (TVW)

An executive summary says the 148-page report provides an outline for meeting four key goals:

  • Increasing the abundance of Chinook, the key forage for the starving whales;
  • Decreasing disturbance from vessels with the affect of boosting their access to salmon;
  • Reducing contaminants in the environment;
  • And measures of accountability.

A PUGET SOUND ADULT CHINOOK SALMON SWIMS THROUGH THE BALLARD LOCKS. (NMFS)

It aims to increase the population of J, K and L Pods by 10 in 10 years, reversing the decrease seen since 1996. There are now only 74 orcas after this year saw the high-profile deaths of a just-born calf and a young animal as well as a third.

“I will review these recommendations over the coming weeks, and my staff and I will assess each one for the most impact in the short and long-term. I will roll out my budget and policy priorities in mid-December for consideration during the 2019 Legislative Session,” Gov. Inslee tweeted.

Ron Garner of Puget Sound Anglers, George Harris of the Northwest Marine Trade Association and Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charters were among the dozens of task force members who signed on as supporting the entire package, while a whale watching world representative was the only no vote. Six others abstained.

Front and center, Goal 1 is to boost the numbers of Chinook that orcas depend on most.

That would be done through a mix of habitat restoration and acquisition projects, enforcing current laws that protect fish habitat, incentivizing private work that benefits salmon, and “significantly” boosting hatchery production.

With Puget Sound kings listed under the Endangered Species Act, that will have to be done carefully, but already the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is talking about how and where it might be possible to ramp things up for SRKWs.

“We did get the recommendation from the WDFW commission of 50 million Chinook into the recommendation to the Governor,” said PSA’s Garner.

It would take money and time were that to be implemented, but could potentially come online far faster than other parts of the goal.

A story out this week spotlighted the highly important but excruciatingly slow pace of salmon habitat work — 90 years to recover what plans call for for full estuary restoration.

“Production needs to be ramped up immediately, and follow the recovery/ESA sidebars in the recommendations,”
said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who is a member of the task force’s Prey Working Group.

However, she expressed concern about “organizations who will file lawsuits to fight increased production no matter how thoughtfully done and no matter how dire the need.”

Admittedly, anglers would also see “shirt tail” benefits of more Chinook, to hazard a guess primarily in South and Deep South Sound and terminal zones, which are well past whale feeding zones.

There had been calls to “completely stop salmon fishing” to make more prey available for orcas, but ultimately that wasn’t the direction of the task force.

“We were successful in getting the target off of our backs blaming fishing,” said Garner. “At one point we brought out the 87-page NOAA study that said if we stopped all fishing on the West Coast — California to Alaska — salmon would not recover.”

A GRAPH FROM THE TASK FORCE’S RECOMMENDATIONS SHOWS THE DECLINE IN CHINOOK AND COHO HARVEST IN WASHINGTON SALT- AND FRESHWATERS BY RECREATIONAL, TRIBAL AND COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN. (SRKWTF)

He said that he and others were able to convince the task force that reductions in salmon production due to ESA listings, Hatchery Scientific Review Group recommendations and the funding cuts that have particularly affected state facilities “put the entire system into shock.”

“The orcas, coastal communities, tribal communities, tackle retailers, fishing shops, boat shops, and everything that relies on salmon crashed. Our habitat is in terrible shape and we’re losing it faster than it’s being rebuilt,” he said.

Even if the larger target is off of the backs of fishermen as a whole, Hamilton remains vigilant about some possible closures she’s heard of that would only apply to sportfishing and wouldn’t help feed orcas.

As for those “cute little water puppies” stealing dinner from SRKWs, the plan includes a recommendation titled “Predation of Chinook: Decrease the number of adult and juvenile Chinook lost to predation by species other than Southern Residents.”

That begins with figuring out the impact of harbor seals and sea lions, which leaves a lot to be desired, but the task force does urge the legislature to fund that work by WDFW and the tribes.

It also requests that state fishery managers drop limits on popular walleye, bass, catfish and other nonnative species that are known to chow on Chinook smolts.

It doesn’t go as far as reader Larry Moller wants — herring hatcheries — but it does call for more work to be done to assess all the forage fish species so important to Chinook.

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS EARLIER THIS MONTH. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

As far as vessel disturbance, instead of no-go zones it calls for lawmakers to create go-slow bubbles around J, K and L Pods.

Garner termed warding off area closures a win, but also acknowledged that others in the boating world will be hurt by another recommendation:

An all-fleet, three- to five-year moratorium on watching the three groups of orcas.

“WDFW said they could have a boat around them to ward off everyone while they are in our waters,” said Garner. “I think this hurt the whale watchers. They said the locals SRKWs are only here 20 percent of the time. There was never any intent to do damage to the whale watching industry.”

It’s important to note that the moratorium would NOT affect watching transient orcas, grays or humpbacks.

The plan’s recommendations also call for creating a new $10 orca endorsement for boaters, but it takes more of a strong nudge approach in terms of asking anglers and others to turn off their fish- and depthfinders when orcas are within about a half-mile’s distance.

And as for one of the most controversial elements, Snake River dams, it recommends a stakeholder process to talk about their removal with help from a third-party neutral.

Speaking of dams, NSIA’s Hamilton continues to call for more spill down the mainstem Columbia, saying that upping it over current levels to help smolts downriver is modeled to yield real results in returning adult spring Chinook.

“Columbia River springers are a critical food source to orcas during winter when there is little else to nourish pregnant and migrating orcas. Tags show they do circles off the mouth of the Columbia River during March,” she says.

A N.M.F.S STORY MAP SHOWS AN ORCA KNOWN AS K25 ALL BUT SWIMMING LAPS AROUND THE C.R. BUOY AS THE 2013 RUN OF SPRING CHINOOK ENTERED THE COLUMBIA RIVER. PRIOR TO THE ARRIVAL OF THE SALMON THAT YEAR, THE WHALE PATROLLED UP AND DOWN THE WEST COAST. (NMFS)

But she worries that the state is moving “too slow” on that key action and might even go “backward” next year.

“The first items were of immediate actions. If we are to have salmon and orca in our future, the long-term actions are critical,” says Hamilton. “We must enforce existing laws, we must protect and restore salmon habitats, and the science also says we should look at the effects of dams, especially the four lower Snake River dams.”

Even as the task force handled that issue with kid gloves, it urged the legislature to fund the dismantling of two other dams, one on the Pilchuck that has been attracting a lot of coverage of late, and another in the Nooksack watershed.

Besides Garner, Harris and Smith, the list of other task force members in the fishing world who consented to the final package include:

Amy Windrope of WDFW; BJ Kiefer of the Spokane Tribe; Brad Smith of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission; commercial fisherman Brendan Flynn; Chad Bowechop of the Makah Tribe; Jacques White of Long Live the Kings; Lynne Barre of the National Marine Fisheries Service; Paul McCollum of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe; Rep. Brian Blake of the state House of Representatives; and Terry Williams of the Tulalip Tribes.

Those who abstained included representatives from the Washington Farm Bureau, Washington Forest Protection Association and Association of Washington Businesses, and the Lummi, Squaxin Island and Skokomish Tribes.

The report also includes next steps, identifies which agency is tasked with dealing with what recommendations, minority reports from task force members about ideas they don’t support, and a rundown on public comments.

Now it is up to the governor and the legislature to put some teeth in the recommendations.

Chance To Comment On Orca Recommendations

You have two weeks to submit comments on potential proposals that Washington’s southern resident killer whale task force‘s three working groups rolled out yesterday.

The task force as a whole will review the public’s submissions in mid-October and send a final report with its agreed-to recommendations to Governor Jay Inslee in mid-November.

AN ORCA BREACHES IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (BLM)

Some of the ideas that will catch the eyes of fishermen include:

  • Boost hatchery Chinook production: There are three proposals, with 1A calling for increased releases, 1B for pilot projects and 1C, a combination of both along with habitat improvements. Upping production would require funding for more infrastructure and to complete scientific reviews;
  • Fund habitat purchases and restoration projects benefiting key Chinook stocks;
  • Develop a system to be able to close sport and commercial fisheries when orcas are in key feeding zones. This could go into effect by next spring and would appear to be dependent on setting up more hydrophones to better track SRKW movements, which is another potential recommendation;
  • Ask fishermen and boaters to switch their fish- and depthfinders from 50 kHz to 200 kHz within half a mile of orcas;
  • Buyout nontreaty commercial licenses and work with the tribes to consider the feasibility of doing so with treaty fishermen or switching to gear with lower impacts on Chinook;
  • Establish a half-mile-wide, 7-knots-or-less go-slow zone around orcas;
  • Create new no-go zones on the west side of San Juan Island and elsewhere in the islands and Strait of Juan de Fuca;
  • Continue studying the problem of pinniped predation on Chinook or begin a pilot program to immediately start removing the haul-outs of salmon-eating harbor seals, or both, as well as continue pushing the federal government for more management options to deal with sea lions in the Columbia and its tribs;
  • Reclassify walleye and bass as invasive, which would remove the “game fish” designation and subsequent rules against wastage;
  • Study whether altering the McNary Pool’s elevation would reduce the numbers of salmonid smolt-eating fish in the reservoir;
  • Develop a better understanding of Puget Sound forage fish populations;
  • Support Chinook reintroduction into the Upper Columbia and prioritize removing fish passage barriers that would benefit stocks elsewhere;
  • And continue to be involved in the conversation surrounding what to do with the four dams on the lower Snake River to varying degrees.

A HARBOR SEAL STEALS A CHINOOK OFF THE END OF AN ANGLER’S LINE IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (HUGH ALLEN)

There are many more, including potential recommendations addressing habitat, hydropower operations, contaminants and marine vessels.

The task force was convened earlier this year when the governor signed an executive order directing state agencies to begin doing what they could to help out the orcas, which are struggling due to lack of Chinook and other factors.

WDFW STAFFER EDWARD ELEAZER PARTICIPATED IN A TRIAL TO SEE WHETHER IT WAS POSSIBLE TO FEED AILING ORCA J50, NOW PRESUMED DEAD. A LACK OF CHINOOK IS STARVING LOCAL PODS. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA/FLICKR)

Since members of the panel — which includes Puget Sound Anglers’ Ron Garner, the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s George Harris, Long Live the Kings’ Jacques White, WDFW’s Brad Smith and Amy Windrope, tribal members and legislators Rep. Brian Blake and Sen. Kevin Ranker — began meeting two whales have died, including a newborn and a three-year-old adding urgency to the mission.

Some ideas did not make the cut from the working groups, but near the end of the public survey a question asks if they would otherwise be part of your top five strategies.

Those include further reducing fishing time in the Straits and San Juans in summer; coming up with a limited-entry recreational fishing permit system for key orca foraging areas; increasing WDFW’s hydraulic code enforcement budget; working with the Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad on habitat work along the tracks as they run up Puget Sound; and pushing for the Corps of Engineers to quit the four dams on the lower Snake and then take them out, among others.

Inslee Directs State Agencies To Increase Salmon To Help Puget Sound Orcas

Harkening back to fishing in the San Juan Islands as a lad and hearing the booming breath of orcas in the fog, Washington Governor Jay Inslee today launched a new initiative to save the imperiled species.

He issued an executive order that in part calls for increased hatchery production of Chinook — the primary feedstock for southern resident killer whales.

A SCREENSHOT FROM TVW SHOWS WASHINGTON GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE SPEAKS BEFORE SIGNING AN EXECUTIVE ORDER ON ORCAS AND CHINOOK TODAY. (TVW)

But since it will take several years before those salmon make it to saltwater, he also asked the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to tweak this year’s recreational and commercial fisheries to make more available in key orca foraging areas and called on the region’s other salmon managers to help towards that goal.

It remains to be seen how 2018 seasons might be affected by the governor’s directive, signed at a tribal cultural center at Discovery Park moments ago, but in the short term, it could restrict salmon fishing in some parts of Puget Sound, though in the long term might boost it overall.

Inslee’s order also asks for more and sharper focus on habitat and fish passage work that directly benefits Chinook, as well as increased policing of waters where boaters and orcas cruise.

The just-passed state operating and last year’s Capital Budgets provide funding for the hatchery ($1.5 million) and enforcement ($548,000) pieces of that puzzle.

But the governor also gave WDFW a deadline of January 2019 to figure out the most important habitats for orcas and their prey, with an eye towards guiding the overall effort to bring orca numbers back up from their three-decade low of 76 and improve their health.

That could help fill in the blanks about which actions actually might be the most productive over the long haul.

Earlier this month, in a guidance letter to West Coast fishery managers, regional National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Barry Thom wrote that recent studies have linked killer whales’ low reproduction rates of late to “nutritional limitations.”

Part of Inslee’s executive order is for more focus on cleaning up Puget Sound contaminants, which get into the flesh of salmon as they feed on other fish and organisms and is passed up the food chain to long-lived killer whales.

Another strategy will be to do as much as can be under federal laws to manage the increasing bite that sea lions and harbor seals are taking out of Puget Sound orcas’ breakfast, lunch and dinner.

HUGH ALLEN SNAPPED THIS PIC IN FEBRUARY 2015 OF A HARBOR SEAL STEALING A RESIDENT CHINOOK OFF THE LINE OF A SAN JUAN ISLAND ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

A task force will make further recommendations.

Inslee said that the fate of orcas, Chinook and Washingtonians are intertwined, and said the order committed the state to actively recover killer whales.

Other speakers today included Leonard Forsman of the Suquamish Tribe who called the effort a “vital and important mission” that would take “some pain” and sacrifices to ensure its success.

During the signing ceremony, Inslee pointed outside and jokingly said that J-pod was swimming past at just that moment, then told a phalanx of agency directors and others to “Get to work.”

With Passage Of Capital Budget (Finally!), $74 Million For Hatcheries, Habitat, Access On Way To WDFW

With Washington’s 2017 Capital Budget finally approved by lawmakers yesterday and now on Governor Inslee’s desk for his signature this afternoon, tens of millions of dollars worth of repairs and upgrades to Washington hatcheries are set to begin.

THE JUST-PASSED 2017 CAPITAL BUDGET INCLUDES $2 MILLION FOR IMPROVEMENTS AT THE WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY NEAR GOLD BAR WHICH REARS COHO, SUMMER CHINOOK AND STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The package also includes $5 million to improve the health of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s forestlands, $1.5 million for Tucannon River floodplain restoration, $1.2 million for elk-damaged fencing, $1 million for Lake Rufus Woods access and $600,000 for waterfowl habitat across the state, among other projects.

“We very much welcome the Legislature’s action,” said Tim Burns, who heads up WDFW’s Capital and Asset Management Program. “The budget includes $74 million in direct appropriations and grant authority that will enable WDFW to continue making major improvements at our hatcheries, wildlife areas, and other facilities across the state.”

The budget wasn’t passed last year due to disagreements over how to address the state Supreme Court’s Hirst Decision and its impacts on rural landowners.

But this week saw a breakthrough compromise from lawmakers. It involves a mix of limiting how much water new small wells can withdraw, $300 million for inbasin conservation work and shifts the onus of permitting back to the Department of Ecology instead of counties, per the Tacoma News Tribune.

Among WDFW’s fish hatcheries that will benefit from the deal and the work it funds:

Naselle: $8 million for renovations
Minter Creek: $6.5 million for work on intakes
Clarks Creek: $6.35 million for rebuilding
Hoodsport: $4.756 million for holding pond renovations
Forks Creek: $2.425 million for work on intakes, diversion
Wallace: $2.001 million for replacing intakes, holding pond
Soos Creek: $2 million for renovations
Eells Spring: $1.4 million for renovations
Kalama Falls: $816,000 for work on raceways
Dungeness: $615,000 for replacing main intake
Samish: $350,000 for work on intakes

The Capital Budget also includes grants for habitat, recreation and fish passage barrier removals, including:

South Coast: $7.242 million for 14 Coastal Restoration Initiative projects
Buford Creek (Asotin Co.): $4.7 million for a fish passage barrier removal project
Lower Chehalis River: $4.079 million for surge plain protection project
Chico Creek: $3.875 million for fish passage barrier removal project
Woodard Bay: $3.233 million for wetland restoration project
Big Bend Wildlife Area: $3 million for critical habitat project
Cowiche Watershed: $3 million for critical habitat project
Klickitat Canyon: $2.4 million for critical habitat project
Simcoe Wildlife Area: $2.14 million for critical habitat project
Kennedy Creek: $2.111 million riparian project
Sinlahekin Wildlife Area: $245,000 for a campground project
Samish River access: $182,000 for parking, recreation project

Olympia Update: Fishermen Support Boosting Salmon Production For Orcas; More Bills In Play

Top Washington fishing organizations lent strong support to a bill that would raise 10 million more Chinook and other salmon a year — for orcas.

Leaders and representatives from Puget Sound Anglers, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Fish Northwest and Coastal Conservation Association, the salmon fishing ports of Ilwaco and Westport and commercial fleets all spoke in favor of House Bill 2417, which provides $1.55 million in General Fund revenues for the bid to benefit the state’s struggling killer whale population.

A MEMBER OF A SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALE POD FLICKS ITS TAIL. (CANDACE EMMONS, NMFS, FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/)

It’s one of two major proposals this session to ramp up salmon production, the other being in Governor Jay Inslee’s budget, which also features fixing up hatcheries to support the goal and increased patrols to protect the marine mammals.

During yesterday’s public hearing on HB 2417 before the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, PSA’s Ron Garner called orcas “one of the neatest animals in the world” and shared up-close encounters as the whales chased salmon against his fishing boat to catch their dinner.

“I think this is a time when all of us to come together — the tribes, the commercials, the recreationals — all of us can come together because we need to save our precious orcas,” said Garner. “It’s a way of life, our fishing, and if we’re able to fish more with it, that’s great, but we can’t let our orcas go extinct on our watch. I think that’s an important thing. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t support helping our orcas out.”

Butch Smith, representing both the Ilwaco and Westport Charterboat Associations, said, “The ocean salmon fishermen do not want the orca to go extinct, especially when we have the ability to produce salmon to help the orca whale.”

Steve Westrick, skipper of the Westport-based Hula Girl, said that diminishing hatchery production had put orcas close to a tipping point.

“The whole world’s watching us,” said Greg King of Friends of the Cowlitz. “Are we going to let these orcas die and have that blood on our hands? I don’t think we want that, and I support two four one seven.”

The bill also drew support from two representatives from the commercial fishing industry, Greg Mueller of the Washington Trollers Association and Dale Beasley of the Coalition of Coastal Fisheries.

But some like NSIA also called on prime sponsor Rep. Brian Blake, Democrat of Aberdeen, to expand it to include hatcheries in Puget Sound and bump up production goals.

And Garner pointed out that strong harbor seal predation on Chinook smolts also needs to be addressed.

Under the bill’s initial version, the salmon would be raised at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Kalama Falls, Beaver Creek, Naselle, Humptulips, Skookumchuck, and Lake Aberdeen hatcheries.

Penny Becker, WDFW diversity manager, said her agency was in favor of HB 2417.

“We’re committed to ramping up hatchery production to try and deal with this issue of prey availability for southern residents as possible,” she said.

Becker said WDFW was working with Blake on production goals and cautioned that Endangered Species Act issues, Hatchery Review Scientific Group recommendations and broodstock requirements needed to be considered.

Some of those concerns were echoed by retired WDFW Director Phil Anderson, who now sits on the Pacific Salmon Commission and is chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and who also called the bill a “great start.”

“As we’re putting these packages together, looking at all available resources and facilities, that we keep in mind there can be multiple benefits coming from this additional production,” said Anderson. “Orcas is the primary and we ought to be looking and selecting stocks that are most likely to increase the prey base for southern resident killer whales. But we can also build into that strategy looking for economic opportunities in terms of reinforcing recreational and commercial fisheries as we make those selections.”

Nobody spoke against the bill.

Rep. Vincent Buys, a Republican who represents most of Whatcom County outside of southern Bellingham, asked WDFW Hatchery Division Manager Eric Kinne if the state still had the facilities to ramp up production.

“We have taken out some of the infrastructure but most of that infrastructure still exists,” Kinne said.

AGENCY-REQUEST LEGISLATION

As you might expect, HB 2417 isn’t the only fish-, wildlife- and habitat-related bill active in Olympia. Between state legislators and Department of Fish and Wildlife-request bills, there is a host of other proposals out there to flesh out.

Raquel Crosier, who is WDFW’s very busy legislative liason, provided a rundown on three bills the agency has asked for state representatives’ and senators’ help on.

They address sportsman recruitment, ADA accommodations, and a bill that would “fix” another from last year that delivered a “disproportionate” impact on instate guides.

Through the lens of our old friend the Olympia Outsider here’s a look at those and others in play:

Hunting and Fishing Recruitment Bill: With Washington sportsmen aging dramatically, House Bill 2505 and its companion in the Senate, SB 6198, aim to increase participation in fishing and hunting through a multi-pronged approach.

“It raises the youth age for fishers to 16, provides a hunter education graduate coupon of $20 on your first hunting license, and provides the department authority to develop bundled discount license packages (like multiyear or family packages),” Crosier says.

It would also let anglers buy a temporary license to fish during April’s lowland lakes opener instead of requiring a more expensive year-round one.

Recruitment is a big problem for fish and wildlife agencies, and WDFW is no different. According to handout Crosier forwarded, the average age of the state’s hunters and anglers has increased from 46 for both groups in 2007 to 52 and 54, respectively in 2015.

Prime sponsors: Rep. Brian Blake, D, South Coast, Sen. Dean Takko, D, South Coast

Bill status: Public hearing at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Anything that makes it easier and cheaper to get more people on the water in the woods, thereby helping conservation and, yes, our industry, is a good thing.

ADA Accommodations Bill: HB 2649 aims to make it “easier for disabled hunters and fishers to get into the sport and (improves) the department’s service delivery and accommodations process,” Crosier reports.

“(It) condenses multiple disabled hunting and fishing licenses and permits into one special use permit and expands who can sign disabled hunter and fisher reduced rate and accommodation forms,” she explains.

Prime sponsor: Rep. Andrew Barkis, R, Pierce County

Bill status: Public hearing at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Another good bill to pass.

Fishing Guide Fee Fiasco Fix Bill: While Washington hunters and anglers were spared fee increases last year, not so with fishing guides. Instate operators saw their license costs more than double, while out-of-state guides received a dramatic price break.

HB 2626 and SB 6317 aim to reverse that.

“The fishing guides got a disproportionate increase compare to other commercial license types,” says Crosier. “Also, we were tracking a court case on nonresident rates as session was going and didn’t quite get the nonresident commercial rates in line with the court-approved model. We are looking at increasing the nonresident rates to set them at the court-approved rate ($385 above the resident rates) and using that savings to reduce the resident fishing guides rates.”

Under the bill, a resident food fish guide license would be reduced from $280 to $210 (it was $130) while the corresponding nonresident fee would go from $355 to $595 (it was $630).

A resident game fish guide license would drop to $305 from $410 while the nonresident one would increase from $485 to $690.

Prime sponsors: Rep. Brian Blake, D, South Coast; Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D, Olympic Peninsula

Bill status: Public hearing at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Math has never been the OO’s strongest suit, but it should cost much more for nonresident guides to benefit from the state’s fish stocks. This corrects last year’s error.

ALSO PERCOLATING

Beyond those three agency-request bills, there are many more bills prowling the halls of power, including:

HB 2771: “Managing wolves using translocation”

Effect: Directs WDFW to immediately begin capturing and moving wolves from areas where they’re causing livestock depredations — for instance, Northeast Washington — to areas they’re not (yet).

Prime sponsor: Rep. Joel Kretz, R, Northeast Washington

Bill status: Referred to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: It’s clear Northeast Washington is bearing the brunt of wolf problems, but translocation bills haven’t moved much in recent years, and it’s possible this one won’t either.

HB 2276, SB 6315: “Concerning notification of wildlife transfer, relocation, or introduction into a new location”

Effect: Requires WDFW to hold a public hearing before moving critters to different parts of the state, and there must be 30 days advance notice of that hearing in the communities most affected.

Prime sponsors: Rep. Carolyn Eslick, R, North Cascades; Sen. Ken Wagoner, R, North Cascades

Bill status: Public hearing Jan. 11; subject of Jan. 18 House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee executive session.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Inspired by word that the National Park Service and WDFW would like to move mountain goats from the Olympics to North Cascades, the bill still needs better definition so it doesn’t squelch releases of, say, pheasants or butterflies to state wildlife areas, or suburban-garbage-raiding bears into the woods.

SB 6127: “Improving the management of the state’s halibut fishery”

Effect: WDFW would need to “advocate” for halibut fishing openers to be on consecutive days instead of the opener’s Thursday, Saturday setup. Also sets the price of a halibut catch card at $5, which would go towards monitoring and managing the sport fishery.

Prime sponsors: Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D, Olympic Peninsula

Bill status: Referred to the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: The senator from the Straits has been itching to address halibut fishing for awhile, and now can as the chair of the committee that can hear this bill.

SB 6268, “Creating the orca protection act”

Effect: Requires WDFW to add extra marine patrols to protect baby killer whales, orca feeding areas and pods during the busiest whale-watching weeks of the year.

Prime sponsor: Sen. Kevin Ranker, D, San Juan Islands

Bill status: Referred to the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Just so long as it’s funded and, say, everyone is policed evenly.

HB 2337: “Concerning civil enforcement of construction projects in state waters”

Effect: Would allow WDFW to issue a stop work order if hydraulic code or other rules were being broken and levy fines of up to $10,000 overall, up from $100 a day.

Prime sponsor: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D, westernmost King County

Bill status: Public hearing Jan. 11; subject of Jan. 18 House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee executive session.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: From a salmon-friendly perspective, not a bad idea to put a little enforcement behind the rules.

HB 2175, “Concerning natural resource management activities”

Effect: Allows WDFW to sign off on a range of land management activities — brush cutting, grazing, firewood gathering and others — without having to prepare a state environmental impact statement.

Prime sponsor: Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R, Northeast Washington

Bill status: Bill status: Public hearing Jan. 9; subject of Jan. 18 House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee executive session.

OTHER BILLS

In the wake of the Cypress Island netpen failure that led to the escape of upwards of 160,000 Atlantic salmon, a few of which are still turning up, three bills take on aquaculture in Puget Sound.

They would (HB 2418) study existing facilities and report back to the legislature before authorizing more to be built, bar the “cultivation” (HB 2260) of Atlantics in the state’s saltwaters, and prohibit DNR (SB 6086) from signing new or extending existing leases, effectively ending the farming of nonnative fish by 2024.

Of those, the last — sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D, San Juan Islands — has moved the furthest. It’s now in Senate Ways and Means.

An unresolved issue from last year’s lengthy legislative session, the Hirst Decision and its potential effect on rural landowners as well as salmon-bearing waters is the subject of two bills, HB 2740 from Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D, westernmost King County HB 2740 and SB 6091 from Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D, Olympic Peninsula.

The latter has made the most progress; a substitute bill was sent to the Senate floor and there were long negotiations with the legislature’s four main caucuses.