Tag Archives: hatchery

How To Fish The Lower Skagit For May Spring Chinook

For the first time since the birth of the Kingdome, Seahawks and Microsoft, the lower Skagit will be open for Chinook fishing in May.

And that raises the question, so, uhhhhhh, does anybody remember exactly how to catch these things in the big North Sound river next month anyway?

“You need to find a guy with a Skagit scow to answer that question,” jokes Brett Barkdull, the WDFW district fisheries biologist. “If he’s under 70, he’s just a poser!”

For the uninitiated — which included yours truly up until a very recent search of the interwebs — a Skagit scow is a rather unusual-looking watercraft from back in the day.

They’re like what might happen if, say, in the weedy backyard of some Sedro-Woolley sportsman, a Livingston and a flat-bottom duck boat shacked up and had a kid and then decided the kid would actually look a lot better with that old custom pickup truck camper over by the burn barrel plopped down on top.

IN THE EARLY DECADES OF SETTLEMENT, SCOWS — A TYPE OF WIDE-BOTTOMED, OPEN-TOPPED BOAT — WERE USED PRIMARILY AS FERRIES AND TO SHIP LUMBER AND OTHER GOODS, BUT DECLINED IN USE AS COMMERCE MOVED ONTO ROADWAYS. DOWNSIZED VERSIONS CAN STILL BE SEEN IN THE FORM OF FISHERMEN’S SKAGIT RIVER SCOWS, LARGELY HOMEMADE AND WHICH CAN INCLUDE A COMFY CABIN WITH ALL THE AMENITIES OF HOME. THIS 16-FOOTER BUILT IN 1982 WAS RECENTLY SOLD FOR $2,200. (CHRIS POLLINO)

“Yep, not a very pretty-looking combo, but functional,” notes Barkdull. “The boats were designed to be comfortable, i.e. you could anchor up in a spot and stay for a weekend. Common accessories included wood stoves, beds, fridges, etc.”

They’re essentially a much downsized version of the open-top ferries, cargo and lumber haulers and other work boats of the early days of settlement here and elsewhere in Pugetropolis.

Someone who might have not only brought a few Chinook over the gunnels of Skagit scows but perhaps sold one or two over the years is Larry Carpenter.

He’s a longtime Mount Vernon-area angler and retired local boat dealer who is pretty excited about the May 1-31 fishery on the Skagit between the Highway 536 Bridge in town and Gilligan Creek.

Carpenter recalls a range of successful approaches from back in the day.

“We used to troll the lower river with red (small) herring. Worked well for springers and big Dollies,” he says, Dollies being a name sometimes used for river-running bull trout.

“Just above the Mt. Vernon Bridge up to Avon, I trolled big Canadian Wonders upstream and was successful,” adds Carpenter, who is also the chair of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. “Sometimes anchoring with big Winner Spinners was also a good technique.”

That last one is what local fishing sharpie Kevin John of Holiday Sports in Burlington says the diehards will be running.

“It’s going to consist of tee beads in green, red or chartreuse, a 50/50 Indiana blade (likely 7s and 8s, 6 if the river gets low) and in this case a 2/0 treble hook,” he says. “It’s a great way to enjoy the fruits of our local brewing industry since you’re just going to be on anchor.”

In your scow (or jet sled), of course.

No word on whether John is partial to products from the Skagit, La Conner, Kulshan or Chuckanut swillhouses, but for the above setup he does recommend an 18- to 30-inch dropper line with a heavy, 12- to 16-ounce cannonball “so the lure stays put when the fish backs off.”

He adds that Spin-N-Glos with shrimp and/or eggs, as well as bait-wrapped Kwikfish will be popular, especially given the high likelihood the glacial Skagit will be on the cloudy side.

JACK LYNCH, A SALES ASSOCIATE AT HOLIDAY SPORTS IN BURLINGTON, STOCKS THE SHELVES AHEAD OF THE MAY 1 LOWER SKAGIT RIVER SPRING CHINOOK OPENER. (KEVIN JOHN, HOLIDAY SPORTS)

Herring behind an inline flasher would be another choice for the water conditions, John says.

Barkdull says that half-and-half Dick Nites used to be used too.

The Skagit is known for having some of the bigger Chinook in Puget Sound, but we probably won’t catch any springers the size of the one that Northwest Sportsman contributor Doug Huddle remembers hanging in the truck-stop diner of restaurateur-angler Harold Crane he worked for as a teen (very briefly in the kitchen, more remuneratively mowing the lawn).

Huddle said it was a 68-pounder and perhaps was caught on something called a Wells Spoon, made by a Mount Vernon nursery owner, and a favorite of hogliners who would run it behind lead, drop it back 40 or 50 feet and “sip coffee, McNaughtons or the soup of the day.”

“I kinda like to be actively hunting them myself,”John notes, “so I’d really look at Mag Warts in chrome, flame and chartreuse varieties.”

Mag Warts are famed from another spring Chinook fishery at the other end of Washington’s Cascade Range, but for this one this season WDFW is forecasting a total of 6,116 springers back to the Skagit system, with 4,113 of those being harvestable hatchery fish.

They’ve primarily been fished on in the upper Skagit, from Rockport to Marblemount, and in the lower end of the Cascade since 2005 and 2006, respectively.

The last time the lower Skagit was open for spring kings was 1989, but that fishery didn’t start until a month later, June 1, according to Barkdull.

He says that he had to go through old fishing pamphlets all the way back to 1976 before he found one that listed Chinook as open in May around Mt. Vernon. The season was open year-round for kings then.

(For the record, the 2009 lower river Chinook fishery was for summer/fall fish, but returns haven’t been strong enough since then to hold another season on that stock.)

This season’s daily limit is two hatchery kings, and depending on ocean feeding conditions they will likely weigh on average 10 to 12 pounds. Per WDFW’s emergency regulation change, a night closure is in place.

Gilligan Creek, the upstream boundary, drains into the Skagit on the river’s south side 3 1/2 miles west of the tiny community of Day Creek.

State salmon managers say they will be monitoring the fishery so that the “encounter” guideline isn’t eclipsed and are asking anglers to cooperate with creel samplers.

Barkdull says WDFW relies on accurate catch stats to manage opportunities and maintain ESA coverage from federal overseers.

Unfortunately, some anglers insist on being sneaky, perhaps because they think it will help extend the season or bear some grudge, but in the case of saltwater fisheries it only results in the cash-strapped agency having to operate test fishing boats to the tune of $20,000 a month and which prevents the opening of other opportunities.

“If we have to send out test boats on the Skagit we just won’t have the fishery” next year, says Barkdull.

THE SUN RISES OVER THE SKAGIT DELTA. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

If you don’t have a Skagit scow or other watercraft, don’t worry, you can still try your luck for May springers.

“For the bank guy it’ll pretty much be a plunking show, likely with a heavier rod and lead in the 6- to 10-ounce range,” tips John at Holiday Sports. “Shrimp is always most popular, but it’s hard to beat hot eggs wrapped in spawn netting.”

Bank spots begin at Youngs Bar just above the lower deadline and include off Whitmarsh Road, along the soccer fields in Burlington, River Road in Sedro-Woolley, pull-offs along South Skagit Highway, and the mouth of Gilligan Creek.

And whether you’re fishing of the shore or from a boat, he has two final suggestions.

“Biggest thing for me is scent and noise,” says John. “We’re likely going to have limited vis for much of the fishery and you have to give them something to key in on.”

Support For Lake Washington Sockeye Restoration Assessment At Meeting

With a show of hands last night in Renton, anglers and others asked a longtime Lake Washington sockeye advocate to request WDFW look into what it would take to recover the salmon stock and restore the fabled metro fishery.

ANGLERS AND SOME CEDAR RIVER COUNCIL MEMBERS RAISE THEIR HANDS IN SUPPORT OF HAVING FRANK URABECK (STANDING AT LEFT) ASK WDFW TO ASSESS WHAT IT WOULD TAKE TO RESTORE LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It’s a long-shot proposition with seemingly all factors now lined up against the fish, and two of the people who’d gathered in the Red Lion conference room supported just throwing in the towel instead.

But nobody was in favor of the status quo, which is modeled to lead to the extinction of the run in 40 years time — perhaps as few as 30 with this year’s lowest-ever forecast of just 15,153 back to the Ballard Locks is any indication, according to the local state fisheries biologist.

“The reality is, it’s going to be very, very, very tough to get all the players to do something,” acknowledged Frank Urabeck before calling for the vote from the 40 or so members of the public and 10 members of the Cedar River Council.

Not everyone held up a hand for any option, but Urabeck’s plan is to approach WDFW Director Kelly Susewind and ask that the agency conduct a feasibility assessment on what can be done and how much it would cost to bring sockeye back to fishable numbers.

Urabeck said it would likely require “a massive effort, a huge amount of money.”

But even as predation on smolts in the lake grows and more and more adult sockeye are dying between the Ballard Locks and the Cedar River, there are still some glimmers of hope.

The meeting followed on a similar one last year but which did not include Seattle Public Utilities.

Last night, SPU was at the table in the form of watershed manager Amy LaBarge, who gave a presentation about the utility’s Landsburg mitigation hatchery, completed in 2012 with a capacity of 34 million sockeye eggs, but which has only ever been able to collect 18 million due to low returns.

And since that 2018 gathering, Urabeck indicated that there had been talks going on behind the scenes too.

“I can’t say if I’m optimistic, but there has been dialogue,” he said near the end of the two-hour meeting.

Other players in the issue include the Muckleshoot Tribe and WDFW, the latter of which operates the sockeye hatchery for SPU.

Brody Antipa, the regional hatchery manager for the state agency, was in house and he talked about how he began his career as the guy who “lived in a trailer down by the river” at the old temporary facility on the Cedar, which was opened in the early 1990s over concerns that the run at the time was faltering.

The system produced reliably high returns of as many as 400,000 spawners into the river in the 1960s and 1970s, at the end of the era when Lake Washington was thick with blue-green algae that hid the smolts from predators.

Following cleanup efforts, water clarity went from as little as 30 inches in 1964 to 10 feet in 1968 to up to 25 feet in 1990, according to WDFW district fisheries biologist Aaron Bosworth.

Native cutthroat and northern pikeminnow primarily but also nonnative bass, yellow perch and other species suddenly had the advantage over the young sockeye.

The years of 400,000 reds on the redds were over just as anglers had figured out how to reliably catch sockeye in the lake with just a plain old red hook.

In the 1990s, Antipa said that testing at the hatchery determined that feeding the young sockeye was helpful before turning them loose to rear in the lake a year to 14 months.

By the early 2000s, fisheries went from once every four years to once every other year — 2002, 2004, 2006.

But since then there’s been nothing but a string of increasingly bad years, with last fall seeing just 7,476 of the 32,103 sockeye that went through the locks reaching the Cedar, despite no directed fisheries and only a small biological sampling program operating at Ballard.

IF WE DON’T GET OFF OUR COLLECTIVE ASS, THAT FLAT LINE REPRESENTS THE FUTURE OF LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE, BUT A FEW ARE READY TO THROW IN THE TOWEL WITH THE ENORMITY OF THE JOB AND CHALLENGES THE FISH FACE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The rest died from prespawn mortality caused by fish diseases that may have become more deadly and prevalent due to warmer water in the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

During last night’s question-and-answer period, the audience and Cedar River Council members focused on tweaking the hatchery operations — whether or not Baker and Fraser sockeye could be used to reach full eggtake capacity; if the facility was able to hold the fry longer for a feeding and later-release programs that show promise; and if it could be used to just raise coho and Chinook instead.

The short-term answer to all that was “no” — the current management plan that the hatchery operates under doesn’t allow it.

So, asked a member of the council, how do we change that plan?

LaBarge, the SPU staffer, said that would need to go through stakeholders to get buy-in.

“The conversation is starting about that,” she said.

Another issue is all the predators in Lake Washington.

Antipa said that where once just getting 40 million fry into the lake all but guaranteed a fishery a few years later, the 70 million that swam out of the Cedar in 2012 didn’t result in anything.

Partly that’s due to the circular feedback of PSM issues affecting how many eggs are available at the hatchery and in the gravel , but rock bass have joined the suite of piscovores, along with walleye and at least one northern pike.

A bill on its way to Gov. Inslee’s desk would require WDFW to drop daily and size limits on largemouth and smallmouth in Lake Washington, along with all other waters used by sea-going salmonids in the state.

Realistically that won’t do diddly to bass populations, but gillnetting efforts the Muckleshoots have begun more seriously next door in Lake Sammamish might.

TWO THUMBS UP FOR SEATTLE SOCKEYE FROM THIS ANGLER DURING THE 2004 SEASON. (RYLEY FEE)

Before the show of hands, Max Prinsen, the chair of the Cedar River Council, recalled how in 1979 he came north from California at a time when bald eagles and condors were “gone” in the Golden State.

“But with changes we made as a society we brought those species back,” he noted.

After Urabeck’s vote, he spoke again.

“These fish aren’t just important as a fishery, but as a part of Northwest life,” Prinsen said. “I think it’s important to conserve this resource. It’s great to see this much interest.”

I would quibble with his use of the word “resource” — by chance this morning on the bus while proofing our Alaska magazine I read a quote from the author Amy Gulick about a Tlingit woman in Sitka who taught her that “The word ‘resource’ implies an end product, a commodity. But ‘relationship’ is so much deeper and multi-faceted. If you have a relationship with salmon, then you also have a relationship to a river, a home stream and the ocean. And you probably have relationships with people in your community connected to each other by way of salmon. We show gratitude for healthy relationships because they make our lives richer.”

But Prinsen was also among those who’d raised their hands, and I’ll bet something along the lines of a relationship with the sockeye was what he meant anyway.

Skykomish, Wallace, NF Stilly Closing Due To Low Steelhead Returns

THE FOLLOWING ARE EMERGENCY RULE-CHANGE NOTICES FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Portions of Skykomish and Wallace rivers to close to fishing

Action: Closes the Skykomish and Wallace rivers to fishing.

DUE TO LOW RETURNS OF HATCHERY STEELHEAD, THE SKYKOMISH (HERE), WALLACE AND NORTH FORK STILLAGUAMISH WILL CLOSE TO FISHING. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Effective date: Jan. 7, 2019 through Feb. 15, 2019.

Species affected: All species.

Location: Skykomish River, from the mouth to the forks
Wallace River, from the mouth to 200 feet above the hatchery water intake.

Reason for action: The Wallace River and Reiter Ponds hatcheries currently have less than half of the early winter steelhead broodstock on hand needed to meet egg take goals. The early winter steelhead goals are 140,000 smolt from Reiter Ponds and 27,600 smolt from the Wallace Hatchery.

Additional information: Fishing will reopen when egg take goals have been met. The Snoqualmie, Snohomish rivers and tributaries remain open as described in the fishing rules pamphlet.

North Fork Stillaguamish River to close to fishing

Action: Closes the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River to fishing.

Effective date: Jan. 7, 2019 through Feb.15, 2019.

Species affected: All species.

Location: North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, from the mouth upstream to the Swede Heaven Bridge (includes the Fortson Hole area).

Reason for action: The Whitehorse Hatchery does not have enough early winter steelhead broodstock on hand to meet egg take goals. The goal is 130,000 smolt and the hatchery currently has 72,400 eggs on hand.

Additional information: Fishing will reopen when egg take goals have been met.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email:
GreenHatcheriesEIS.wcr@noaa.gov

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

Fax:
(503) 231-6893

Low Salmon Returns Lead To Restrictions On Parts Of Grays, Toutle Systems

THE FOLLOWING ARE EMERGENCY RULE-CHANGE NOTICES FROM WDFW

WDFW FISHING RULE CHANGE   
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091
http://wdfw.wa.gov

October 3, 2018

Chinook salmon retention to close on Toutle, North Fork Toutle rivers

Action: Chinook salmon retention closes on the Toutle River and the North Fork Toutle.

\ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Effective dates: October 6, 2018 until further notice. 

Species affected: Chinook salmon.

Locations: The Toutle River from the mouth to the forks; the North Fork Toutle River from the mouth to the posted markers downstream of the fish collection facility.

Reason for action: Fall chinook salmon returning to the North Toutle Hatchery, located on the Green River, are tracking well below the pre-season forecast and are not currently projected to meet the hatchery broodstock goal. These fish must first migrate through the Toutle and North Fork Toutle rivers. Closing the Toutle River and North Fork Toutle River to chinook salmon retention will increase the number of hatchery fish available for broodstock and help ensure fishing opportunities in future years.

Additional information: The Green River is also currently closed to chinook retention. Retention of hatchery coho remains open on the Toutle, North Fork Toutle and Green rivers. All other permanent rules remain in effect. Please refer to the Sport Fishing Pamphlet for complete rule information.

Information contact: Tom Wadsworth, District Fish Biologist, (360) 906-6709.

Grays and West Fork Grays rivers to close for hatchery coho retention

Action: Closes the Grays and West Fork Grays rivers to retention of coho.

Effective date: October 6, 2018 until further notice.

Species affected: Coho salmon.

Location: The Grays River to the mouth of the South Fork Grays River and West Fork Grays River from the mouth upstream.

Reason for action: The Grays River Hatchery coho return to date is below what is needed for hatchery broodstock. The 2018 return has been influenced by poor ocean conditions and reduced juvenile releases in previous years. Closing coho retention in the Grays River and West Fork Grays River will increase the number of hatchery fish available for broodstock and help ensure fishing opportunities in future years.

 Additional information: Fishing remains open on the mainstem Grays River upstream of the mouth of the South Fork as well as the South and East Fork Grays Rivers under permanent rule as described in the 2018/2019 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet.

 Information contact: Region 5 Office, 360-696-6211 *1010

Fish Commissioner Calls For Sharp Increase In Chinook Production For Orcas

Fifty million more Chinook would be released for southern resident killer whales under a plan being pitched by a member of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and which would also provide “shirttail benefits” for salmon anglers.

Don McIsaac wants to release 30 million kings in four areas of Puget Sound, and another 20 million from hatcheries in the Columbia River system to help feed the starving pods.

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

Their plight has gripped the region this summer and this past March led Governor Jay Inslee to sign an executive order directing state agencies such as WDFW to do all they can to help save the species.

The retired longtime director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, McIsaac’s been active on the commission working towards those goals and he detailed his latest proposal on The Outdoor Line on Seattle’s 710 ESPN this past Saturday morning.

“These (smolts) would be released in carefully selected areas where negative impacts to the genetic strains of wild Chinook salmon would be minimized and using genetic strains for hatchery production that have migration patterns that take them to the areas where the killer whales are so they can feed on them,” he said.

IN A SCREEN GRAB FROM C-SPAN 3, DONALD McISAAC SPEAKS BEFORE A CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE IN JANUARY 2014. (C-SPAN)

“The intent is to make a significant difference, a big difference, in the number of adult Chinook available to killer whales and tag along some significant fishery improvements,” said McIsaac.

Lack of prey is one of the primary factors in why local orcas are doing so poorly.

Fellow commissioners heard McIsaac’s proposal earlier this month and deferred action on it until September, and now he’s looking for support from anglers.

Under his plan, the Puget Sound smolts would be released from “dead end bay areas,” places like Olympia’s Deschutes River (10 million), which has a waterfall near its lower end.

“This is the kind of excellent area where you could enhance the number of Chinook salmon released and not cause problems with wild salmon but gain the benefits of these salmon swimming up through Puget Sound, hanging around Puget Sound, which can be done by manipulating when you release the fish,” McIsaac said.

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

Others include East Sound between two lobes of Orcas Island (10 million), Agate Pass (5 million) and southern Hood Canal (5 million).

Chinook from the Deschutes and Hood Canal were identified as two of the most important current stocks for orcas, according to a recent analysis.

So too were spring Chinook from Lower Columbia tribs, and McIsaac’s plan would increase production of them and other king stocks.

“There will be some shirttail benefits of all these fish swimming around, and whenever a fishing season is open, then this would benefit fisheries,” McIsaac acknowledged. “So this is intended to be kind of a win-win scenario. They don’t come around that often … but that’s what is intended.”

But his plan primarily aims to test whether increasing prey availability will help reverse orcas’ decline over the decades.

A recent paper suggests that harbor seals and sea lions are now consuming six times as many Puget Sound Chinook as recreational and commercial fisheries — and twice as much as SRKWs.

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

McIsaac and the commission recently passed a policy statement that advocates a “goal of significantly reducing pinniped predation on salmon” in the Columbia and Puget Sound. On the radio show he cautioned that that shouldn’t be exaggerated into a call for a “huge lethal removal effort,” rather behavior oriented.

As runs have declined due to longterm habitat issues and other factors and state hatchery production has been cut in half from 56 million in 1989 to 28 million in 2016, angling seasons have also been pruned way back, yet there are rumblings more might be coming.

“Closing back fisheries isn’t going to put enough in front of them,” McIsaac told Outdoor Line cohosts Tom Nelson and John Martinis. “And if you just look at closing these fisheries in Puget Sound alone, the number becomes even smaller. People say just close things off of this side of that island or that side of the other island, (but) the numbers are so small they just won’t make a difference.”

KIRAN WALGAMOTT PEERS INTO THE RACEWAYS AT THE WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY NEAR GOLD BAR. THE FACILITY REARS COHO, SUMMER CHINOOK AND STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Anglers are being rallied to an orca task force meeting tomorrow at the Swinomish Casino over fears that salmon fishing will be scapegoated instead of dealing with the big issues.

It’s not clear how long it would take to collect the necessary number of eggs, how much new infrastructure might be needed and whether McIsaac’s plan would be challenged — some are scorning the idea that hatchery production might be a real bridge.

And for his part, McIsaac openly admitted that increasing Chinook production will take a lot of money and said some should come from the federal government.

“I think it’s time for the Fish and Wildlife Commission to make a strong policy statement, to go big and try to address this situation.. The revenue situation in the state of Washingotn is very positive. We’re not in a recession … There’s a lot of tax money that’s out there for the legislature to think about spending and we hope that they think about the killer whales, they think about the fishing industry. Again, this seems like a win-win proposal and it’s money well spent,” he said.

Host Nelson urged anglers to support his idea by emailing the commission@wdfw.wa.gov.

And McIsaac asked them to also talk with “friends in the conservation community” to increase awareness of the issue.

Hatchery Steelhead Retention Opening For A-runs In Lower Snake

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EMERGENCY RULE-CHANGE NOTICE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Hatchery steelhead retention to open in lower Snake River

Action: Opens lower Snake River to retention of hatchery steelhead measuring under 28 inches in length.

SNAKE RIVER ANGLERS BELOW CLARKSTON WILL BE ABLE TO RETAIN HATCHERY STEELHEAD AS OF SATURDAY, NOV. 18, BUT ONLY THOSE LESS THAN 28 INCHES. SOPHIA WITHROW CAUGHT THIS ONE IN 2012 OFF WAWAWAI. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

Location:

  • Snake River from the mouth of the river (Burbank to Pasco railroad bridge at Snake River mile 1.25) to the Washington/Idaho state line, at Clarkston Wash.: Daily limit of 2 hatchery steelhead; release all steelhead 28 inches or greater in length.

Areas already open to steelhead retention:

  • Snake River from the Idaho/Washington state line (at Clarkston, Wash.) upstream to the Couse Creek Boat Ramp: Daily limit of 2 hatchery steelhead; release all steelhead 28 inches or greater in length.
  • Snake River from Couse Creek Boat Ramp upstream to the Idaho/Oregon state line: Daily limit of 2 hatchery steelhead; no size restrictions.

Dates:   Nov. 18, 2017, until further notice.

Species affected:  Steelhead.

Reason for action: Lagging steelhead returns during the summer of 2017 led fisheries managers to initially close or reduce daily limits for steelhead fisheries to protect both A-run steelhead (fish smaller than 28 inches) and B-run steelhead (those 28 inches and larger) destined for the Columbia and Snake river basins. However, A-run steelhead, both wild and hatchery-origin adults, have returned in adequate numbers to allow opening portions of the Snake River to steelhead retention, including the lower portion of the river.

Allowing retention of fish measuring less than 28 inches in length will give anglers the opportunity to harvest excess hatchery A-run steelhead, while still providing protection to the remaining B-run steelhead within this reach. WDFW will continue to monitor the steelhead run over the coming months, and either curtail the harvest of steelhead if needed, or provide more harvest opportunity if possible. Anglers fishing in this area should continue to check emergency rules for any updates.

Other Information: Anglers must use barbless hooks when fishing for chinook or steelhead in the Snake River.  Anglers cannot remove any chinook or steelhead from the water unless it is retained as part of their daily bag limit. Anglers should be sure to identify their catch because unmarked chinook salmon, coho salmon and steelhead are also in the Snake River during this fishery.

Anglers are reminded to check the 2017/2018 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet for other regulations, including possession limits, safety closures, and a definition of a hatchery steelhead.  Anglers should continue to check emergency regulations for new and changing seasons.

 

Idaho Water Chemistry Affecting Hatchery Sockeye Survival?

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho Fish and Game’s sockeye recovery program has overcome many challenges in preserving the species, and scientists are continuing to learn and improve as they transition from staving off extinction to growing Idaho’s sockeye population.

Fish and Game’s Assistant Fisheries Chief Paul Kline said F&G biologists think they’ve answered a nagging question about its relatively new sockeye hatchery in Springfield. The hatchery succeeded in raising lots of young sockeye, but the fish have survived poorly after being released to migrate to the Pacific.

IDAHO HATCHERY SOCKEYE PRODUCTION MAY BE HAMPERED BY WATER HARDNESS DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WHERE ADULTS LIKE THIS 2017 RETURNER ARE HATCHED AND REARED AND WHERE THEY’RE RELEASED. (ROGER PHILLIPS, IDFG)

A hard journey made harder

Biologists found differences in water hardness between Springfield Hatchery in Southeast Idaho where the fish are raised from eggs and Redfish Lake Creek near Stanley where they’re released.  Differences in water chemistry between the two waters may be adding stress to fish that are already stressed from “smoltification” – a period when they migrate downstream and their bodies transition from freshwater to saltwater.

Biologists are investigating higher-than-expected mortality that started in 2015, the first year Springfield Hatchery’s sockeye were released for migration. That year, about 37 percent of the young sockeye survived the trip between Lower Granite Dam about 30 miles downstream from Lewiston and Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, which is the last dam the fish cross enroute to the Pacific.

But the spring of 2015 was a low water year for migrating young salmon, which need high flows to flush them to the ocean. Upper Columbia River sockeye, Idaho’s closest geographic cousins, also had poor survival.

However, river conditions and survival of Upper Columbia River sockeye improved in 2016, but survival of Idaho’s sockeye dropped, signaling Idaho’s fish were facing other challenges.

Solving the mystery through science

Biologists explored potential causes and improved or eliminated some possibilities, such as additional stress associated with high levels of dissolved gas, and stress from loading fish on trucks and transporting smolts from the hatchery to the release site.

Unlike other salmon species that Fish and Game has decades of experience raising in hatcheries, sockeye production is relatively new. Sockeye hatcheries are common in Alaska and Canada, and over 20 years ago, Idaho biologists followed guidance from these programs to establish rearing and fish-health protocols for the Eagle Hatchery Sockeye Salmon Captive Broodstock Program. That program likely saved Idaho’s sockeye from extinction.

The same protocols are also being followed at the Springfield Hatchery.  Kline pointed out most of Alaskan and British Columbia hatcheries are in the same river systems where the fish are released, not raised off site with a different water source like at the Springfield Hatchery.

The water at Springfield comes from wells with a hardness of about 200 milligrams per liter of calcium carbonate, compared with Redfish Lake Creek at less than 20 milligrams per liter. Kline described Redfish Lake Creek as “almost like distilled water” Whereas, Springfield’s water is typical for Southeastern Idaho.

Kline pointed out water hardness is not an issue for raising sockeye from eggs, and the young fish do well in the Springfield Hatchery. There is little to nothing in the scientific literature regarding water hardness in relation to rearing sockeye in hatcheries, however big changes in water chemistry can spell trouble for any species of fish.

“We’re treading on fresh ground here,” he said.

Biologists theorized that when young salmon enter the smolt phase of their life and transition from freshwater to saltwater, the additional stress of going from hard water to soft water may contribute to higher-than-expected mortality.

Biologists at Idaho Fish and Game’s Eagle Fish Health Laboratory experimented with a few young sockeye, testing their response after being trucked and transferred to tanks filled with hard water from Springfield, soft water from Redfish Lake Creek or Salmon River water with hardness roughly between those two.

A smoking gun?

They found young sockeye transferred from Springfield well water to Redfish Lake Creek water had elevated cortisol levels, which is an indicator of stress, and those levels increased over time. Whereas fish that were transferred to water taken from Springfield’s well, or the Salmon River, quickly began to recover from the stress of the road trip.

Spreading the risk and learning

Biologists are developing several strategies to test their theory and ease young sockeye’s transition from hard water to soft water. This fall, some fish were released directly into Redfish Lake as pre-smolts, and they will spend the winter in the lake before naturally migrating downstream through Redfish Lake Creek and into the Salmon River.

Others will be raised at the Sawtooth Hatchery in raceways that would normally be used for young Chinook salmon, but a low 2017 Chinook return means there’s temporary space available.

The remaining fish will continue to be raised at the Springfield hatchery, and biologists are continuing to refine protocols to help 2018 releases go more smoothly, including gradual water softening during trucking, mixing water in trucks before fish are released, and acclimating fish for a few days in Sawtooth Hatchery’s moderately hard water before release.

Fish will be released in Redfish Lake Creek and the Salmon River near the Sawtooth Hatchery. Kline said if water hardness is the problem, the test groups should provide some answers without further endangering the entire group of young fish.

“We’re getting closer to long-term solutions, but in the mean time, we are spreading our risk,” he said.

Biologists want to solve the problem, but it’s a constant challenge considering there are many other variables in play beyond their control, including weather, river and ocean conditions. Young sockeye only migrate downstream once per year, and it takes another year to see how many return as adults.

“We want to be sure we’re checking off probable causes accurately,” Kline said. “Between 2018 and 2019, we’re going to learn a lot.”

Another bump in a long road

It can be a frustrating setback for Fish and Game biologists who’ve devoted their careers to saving sockeye from the brink of extinction, and then boosting annual adult returns from single digits, to dozens, and now to hundreds. Kline said the goal is to increase that to thousands of adult sockeye in the future.

He also tries to keep the current smolt survival in perspective. He remembers when Idaho sockeye were listed in 1991 under the federal Endangered Species Act, only four adults returned to the Sawtooth Basin. The total annual returns to Idaho between 1991 and 1999 were 23 sockeye, which included two years when none returned.

By comparison, 157 adult sockeye returned to the Sawtooth Basin in 2017, which was a down year. The 10-year average from 2008 through 2017 is 690 sockeye annually, which you can read about in this September sockeye article explaining the 2017 return.

Biologists expect more sockeye will return to Idaho each year if they can raise and release more young fish and improve their survival through the Salmon, Snake and Columbia rivers to the Pacific. If Springfield’s water hardness situation proves to be the culprit, Kline sees solving it as a hurdle, not a wall.

“It’s not a disaster, it’s part of what you experience when you open a new hatchery,” he said. “It’s disappointing, but we’re not going to let it get us down.”

IDFG Will Move Sockeye Broodstock From Hatchery In Flood’s Way

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho Department of Fish and Game fisheries biologists today decided to move 4,000 endangered sockeye salmon from the agency’s Eagle Fish Hatchery, in order to protect the fish from possible flooding.  The sockeye will be moved in trucks to Fish and Game’s Springfield Hatchery in Eastern Idaho.

The Eagle facility is located near Eagle Island State Park along the south channel of the Boise River, which is running at flood stage.

SAND BAGS PROTECT A HATCHERY SPECIFICALLY TASKED WITH RECOVERING IDAHO SOCKEYE FROM RISING FLOODWATERS. (SUE NASS, IDFG)

Fish and Game crews have placed sandbags around buildings and electrical pumps that supply water to the hatchery.  However, if is power lost for an extended period of time, the hatchery’s sockeye could be in jeopardy.

Crews will begin loading and transporting the fish on Thursday, March 30.

Sockeye held at the Eagle Hatchery act as captive brood stock for sockeye that are spawned to produce young for release into Red Fish Lake and Pettit Lakes where they eventually migrate to the ocean.  Other offspring are kept in captivity at facilities like Eagle Hatchery to provide a genetic bank that acts as safeguard against natural catastrophes, such as lethal river conditions.

The Springfield Hatchery was completed in 2013 and is solely dedicated to rearing sockeye.  It is expected to produce a million sockeye smolts for release in 2018.

In 2016, 567 sockeye returned to the Sawtooth Valley, slightly below the 10-year average of 664 fish, but a huge improvement over previous decades.

In 1992, a single sockeye dubbed “Lonesome Larry” was the only fish to return to Red Fish Lake.  He was one of 16 adult sockeye along with juveniles used to help jump start the recovery of Idaho’s sockeye salmon.