Tag Archives: lake washington

Last Chance To Save Lake Washington Sockeye Fisheries?

Too few young sockeye are surviving as they rear in Lake Washington before going out to sea, and the runs — not to mention the famed salmon fisheries — could peter out in 20 years or so if nothing’s done.

SOCKEYE SMOLTS FACE AN INCREASING HOST OF PREDATORS IN LAKE WASHINGTON (THESE WERE PHOTOGRAPHED IN IDAHO), INCLUDING NATIVE SPECIES SUCH AS CUTTHROAT TROUT AND NORTHERN PIKEMINNOW, AND NONNATIVE ONES SUCH AS SMALLMOUTH, LARGEMOUTH AND ROCK BASS, YELLOW PERCH, AND NOW WALLEYE AND NORTHERN PIKE. (MIKE PETERSON, IDFG VIA NMFS, FLICKR, CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0)

That’s according to modeling put together by Dr. Neala Kendall, a WDFW research scientist, and shared for the first time publicly last night.

“Our analysis suggests that only small numbers of sockeye salmon will persist in Lake Washington under current conditions, much less provide future opportunities for tribal and recreational fisheries,” read one of her slides.

“Maintaining the run and restoring fisheries will be very challenging but not impossible,” it also said.

Kendall was presenting to 50 to 60 anglers and members of the Cedar River Council who’d gathered in a banquet room at Renton’s Maplewood Golf Course on an unusually warm evening for April.

The findings were grim news for the fishermen and state managers, as there are few salmon seasons as popular — or that provide the local economic jolt — as Lake Washington sockeye.

It’s been 12 years since the last one, held in 2006 after “insanely high” ocean survival for that year-class of fish brought home one out of every two smolts that left the lake.

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

Despite the promise and production of the new Seattle Public Utilities hatchery on the Cedar River, returns have only averaged 84,000 since then, with even the best of those years more than 200,000 fish shy of the mark to open the lake.

Aaron Bosworth, the state district fisheries biologist, was also on hand and said that smolt survival is now not only lower than it used to be but well below what it is to the north of the continent’s southernmost sockeye system, 2 to 4 percent versus 16 to 20 percent.

As for why that is, Bosworth said that University of Washington studies have ruled out forage and competition — there’s enough zooplankton in the lake to support the pelagic salmon as well as the huge biomass of longfin smelt.

A big and increasing problem is prespawn mortality on returning adults.

His data showed that between 1995 and 2013, from 45 to 85 percent of the sockeye that went through the locks turned up in the Cedar River. But since 2014 only 20 to 33 percent have. That may be function of warm waters in the ship canal making less-healthy fish more susceptible to disease. With the stock comprised of roughly 60 percent natural-origin fish, fewer spawners produce less eggs overall.

SOCKEYE MANAGERS SAY THAT THE PAST FOUR RETURNS OF SALMON THROUGH THE LAKE WASHINGTON SHIP CANAL (BACKGROUND) HAVE SEEN ABNORMALLY HIGH MORTALITY, WITH 67 TO 80 PERCENT OF THE FISH NOT SHOWING UP IN THE CEDAR RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Still, the “leading theory” now for why the runs aren’t better is predation by native cutthroat trout and northern pikeminnow, as well as nonnative species such as largemouth, smallmouth — Lake Washington was rated as the West’s eighth best for bass by Bassmaster as recently as 2016 — rock bass and perch.

The latter stocks might not eat as many smolts as the former, but they do exacerbate the problem, Bosworth said. With a warming climate, they’ll only do better too, it’s assumed.

Another invasive, walleye, are also now being found in the lake, and earlier this year a bass angler caught but unfortunately released a pike, the second known northern here in the past 15 months.

But sockeye snackers are also getting a helping hand from humanity.

Amy Windrope, who was WDFW’s director for the North Sound region before named acting deputy director for the agency, brought up a factor she’d heard a person in the audience mention: light pollution.

Essentially, between sunset and sunrise, all the bulbs we turn on to light the streets and highways, our sideyards, parking lots and more, create an overhead aura that has benefited the fish-eaters to the detriment of young sockeye as well as Chinook.

Kendall said that the effect has extended the time that salmon smolts are visible through the night, making them more vulnerable to predation and providing fewer hours for them to eat without risk.

Scott Stolnack, a King County watershed ecologist, said data showed that 20 years ago there was a definite period when cutthroat were not feeding, but for the past five years, their stomachs are now full at all hours.

“It’s always dusk for cutthroat,” he said.

Driving home afterwards as night fell on Seattle, that really hit home for me.

As I crossed the bridge between Bellevue and Mercer Island, I looked to the south and saw a particularly bright bank of big lights by the lake. And zipping along Interstates 405, 90 and 5 while illuminated for vehicle safety from above, it was like me and the other cars were smolts, any staters in the shadows cutts.

The question of the night really boiled down to: Do we want to do something about this in hopes of having sockeye fisheries again, and if so, What is that path?

Kendall’s modeling suggests the best way would be increasing survival of the young salmon, and that lifting it to rates of 4 to 8 percent yields a good response.

DR. NEALA KENDALL EXPLAINS LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE MODELING. A MODEL SUGGESTS THAT INCREASING SMOLT SURVIVAL WILL HELP REBUILD THE SALMON’S POPULATION OVER TIME. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

She did face questions from the audience about how confident she was in her work, which is based on current conditions continuing.

Tom Allyn, vice chair of the Cedar River Council, wanted to know how much increasing survival and other tweaks might cost.

When fellow panel member and sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck called for a show of support for asking WDFW to crunch the numbers, most if not all fishermen raised their hands.

In other words, for our part we’re not ready to give up on the salmon.

“After having heard how difficult a challenge it will be to restore Lake Washington sockeye sport fisheries, the public attending the meeting last night overwhelmingly voted for us to continue to see if that can be done,” said Urabeck. “This means convincing the Department of Fish and Wildlife and other entities like the Muckleshoot Tribe, King County, City of Seattle, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, etc., to engage in a feasibility assessment of a sockeye recovery action plan. I hope that my colleagues on the Cedar River Council will work with me to this end.”

Even as the Muckleshoots plan another year of walleye studies in the lake and WDFW biologists will again sample for diet and abundance of spinyrays in the ship canal, when talk centered around whether there were any current plans to actively remove predators — there are not — one fisherman pointed out, “You have a room full of volunteers.”

Lake Washington Sockeye, Fishing Subject Of April 24 Meeting

Lake Washington salmon and fisheries will be the subject of a meeting next week in Renton.

State biologists will be presenting on sockeye, coho, Chinook and steelhead at the Maplewood Greens Golf Course the evening of April 24.

LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE ANGLERS DURING THE 2006 FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

According to an agenda for the meeting of King County’s Cedar River Council, discussions will include escapement data over the past 20 years and lost sport and tribal fishing opportunities.

It also lists findings on the big metro lake’s sockeye runs as well as the outlook for the salmon stock.

Despite the promise of the new Seattle Public Utilities hatchery built on the Cedar River, there hasn’t been a sport sockeye season on Lake Washington since 2006, and this year’s forecast of just under 40,000 is well below the threshold for a fishery.

Tuesday’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. The golf course is located at 4050 Maple Valley Highway, Renton, WA 98058.

2nd Northern Pike Caught In Lake Washington, But Unfortunately Released

If you catch a northern pike in Lake Washington — or any other Washington lake, for that matter — do me a personal favor and chop its head off.

Slash its gills, slit its belly, hack it in half, singe the carcass over high heat.

(MERCER ISLAND POLICE)

Ahem, I apologize for letting fly such murderous thoughts on a Wednesday morning.

But I’m still scratching my head about what a bass angler was thinking when they caught and released one of the nonnative predators just south of Mercer Island in recent weeks.

It was the second pike captured in the big metro lake since early 2017, both of which could have only arrived in Lake Washington via someone’s livewell or cooler, just like the infestation of walleye.

Hell, we don’t need a border wall, we need a pike wall to keep these illegal piscine immigrants from spreading further into the state from the northeast corner.

And we should task the Washington National Guard with chasing down the bucket biologists responsible for it!

It’s possible that this particular basser was just really confused about what to do with their unexpected catch.

With two growing boys, lord knows I’ve been known to offer the advice “Better safe than sorry.” Who wants a ticket from the gamies for violating some arcane rule?

But I’ll bet today the angler might choose differently — at least, I hope they would.

“Whoever illegally stocked walleye and northern pike into Lake Washington is no friend of warmwater anglers. They are even no friend to walleye anglers,” says Bruce Bolding, the state’s spinyray fisheries manager. “Warmwater detractors tend to put all nonnative species under the same umbrella, but comparing pike and bass is like comparing apples and oranges.”

Pike are an invasive aquatic species — the seventh most unwanted in the entire million square miles of the Western United States, according to a recent report.

They pose a huge threat to native species and the restoration of salmon in the Upper Columbia, as well as downstream should they get past Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams.

So let’s go over the rules for this Fish and Wildlife Commission-designated prohibited species.

Per WDFW’s fishing regulations, there is no minimum size on northern pike, there is no daily limit on northern pike, there is no possession limit on northern pike.

Perhaps the next iteration of the pamphlet should have another line reading something like:

All northern pike hooked and landed by anglers are required to be killed — and a wooden stake must be pushed through the fish’s heart.

I doubt WDFW will do that anytime soon, but I like what the Colville Tribes are doing. This year they’re again offering a $10 reward per pike caught on Lake Roosevelt and the Kettle River.

So in that spirit, I will pay $50 to anyone who brings me a northern pike AND CAN PROVE via video and pictures beyond a shadow of a doubt that it indeed was caught in Lake Washington.

(2018 limit: $150, or first three fish — hey, I’m not made of money and let’s not tell my wife about this, OK?)

We’re at 14240 Interurban Avenue South, Suite 190, Tukwila, WA 98168, less than 7 miles from the Gene Coulon Ramp, and open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Bring me your dead.

Lake Washington Sockeye Count Tops 110,000, But Declining

The odds of a Lake Washington sockeye fishery this year — long to begin with — seem remoter still with today’s updated count unless somehow hesitant salmon managers acquiesce to a Hail Mary bid.

A total of 111,509 have passed through the Ballard Locks since the tally began June 12, and the year’s best days appear to be behind us.

IT’S BEEN 11 YEARS SINCE THE LAST LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE FISHERY, AND DESPITE CALLS FOR AN “OLD TIMES SAKE” SEASON THIS YEAR, THAT’S INCREASINGLY UNLIKELY WITH THE LATEST BALLARD LOCKS COUNTS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Nearly 7,500 were counted July 4, with 21,740 in the three days before and day afterwards.

But since then daily counts have dipped to 2,772 Wednesday and 2,271 yesterday.

The run has typically peaked by now, though of note 2006 didn’t hit its midmark till mid-July.

If there’s good news, it’s that the forecast of 77,292 was wrong, and there does appear to be some softening on the standing escapement goal of 350,000 sockeye to trigger sport and commercial tribal fisheries.

According to a recent WDFW letter, talks have been ongoing with the comanagers about “a new abundance-based management framework that allows for some directed fisheries at run-sizes of 200,000 or greater.”

Written July 7, the communique from Director Jim Unsworth expresses cautious optimism that that figure might be reached.

But Frank Urabeck, a longtime recreational angling advocate who closely watches the counts, now estimates the run will come in somewhere north of 130,000, which is above the 100,000 that he hoped might trigger a “token, for old times’ sake” fishery on Lake Washington, where we haven’t seen a sockeye season since 2006.

Since then, an average of 78,000 — high: 2013’s 178,422; low: 2009’s 21,718 — have entered the locks with fewer still actually spawning.

By comparison, between 2006 and 1972, only three years saw 78,000 or fewer sockeye enter; even the bad salmon years of the mid-1990s were higher.

It’s believed that despite the new Seattle Public Utilities hatchery on the Cedar River, young sockeye are suffering increasing and strong predation in the lake and as they make their way through the Ship Canal, which also appears to be a thermal block for returning adults, leaving them more prone to disease.

This year’s run would also have been at sea during the fish-run-destroying Blob.

Among Urabeck’s aims is to draw attention to what he considers to be a failing run, and he sees this year’s return as what amounts to a last-gasp opportunity to get anglers on the lake and rally support for what once was a wonderful salmon fishery in the heart of the state’s biggest metropolis.

If you never had a chance to partake in it, it was the absolute best kind of insanity going.

Urabeck wants one last go.

“I encourage sportfishing anglers to contact Director Unsworth and the MIT to encourage them to avoid losing this special opportunity to gain public support for our fisheries programs,” he said this morning.

Unsworth, who wrote that Urabeck’s call for a season if the count hit 100,000 “certainly caught my attention,” agreed that Lake Washington salmon aren’t faring well, but was more optimistic about the future.

“It will be a challenging task, but the restoration of clear, clean, and swimmable water to Lake Washington in the 1960s shows what can be accomplished with our engaged and supportive public,” Unsworth states in the letter to Urabeck.

The director says that his agency as well as the tribes, county and utilities are “now implementing and advocating for the actions necessary to improve salmon survival in the Lake Washington basin.”

“In this urban setting, we will need to think ‘out-of-the-box’ to find solutions that provide for salmon in the future. In part, this will likely require rethinking how we use our hatcheries. As you recall, we joined with you and others in the Year-15 Comprehensive Review of the City of Seattle’s Habitat Conservation Plan in recommending new supplementation techniques that maximize fry-to-adult survival through a combination of extended rearing and delayed release timing,” Unsworth states.

Meanwhile, the Muckleshoot and Suquamish Tribes are holding their annual ceremonial and subsistence fisheries, with goals of 1,000 and 2,500 sockeye each, and yesterday saw dipnetting in the ladder as tribal biologists in conjunction with WDFW collected salmon for a longterm biological sampling program.

What the longterm health of the sportfishery holds is anyone’s guess, but at the moment, it is on life support at best this year.

Last Hurrah? Pessimistic Angler Wants To Open Lake Washington Sockeye One Final Time

A Washington sockeye angler is calling on WDFW to open Lake Washington this summer for a last-hurrah season if more than 100,000 of the salmon pass through the Ballard Locks.

We’re already nearly one-fifth of the way there, with 19,139 counted as of yesterday and the usual run peaks still ahead of us.

But it would be a sharp change from past fisheries, which haven’t been held until managers were sure 350,000 were entering the system, and would require tribal comanagers to sign off on.

IMAGES FROM THE LAST LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE FISHERY, IN 2006. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Frank Urabeck, a long time fisheries activist, terms it a “token, for old times’ sake” opportunity in an email to WDFW Director Jim Unsworth and a number of agency honchos late this afternoon.

“Looking at the Cedar River wild and hatchery production data I am convinced this is last chance we will have for run to be this good and an opportunity to show what it once was like. Public deserves something given the significant imbalance in cumulative harvest as a result of the tribal C&S fisheries since 2006,” Urabeck writes.

He worries the system’s sockeye population may be past a “tipping point” to ever recover and host an opener at that higher return level.

It certainly feels like this is a fishery from bygone days, or at least the dawn of the Twitter and Facebook age.

While the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Tribes have had limited annual ceremonial and subsistence sockeye fisheries with a total catch Urabeck estimates at 30,000 to 40,000, it hasn’t been since 2006 that salmon mania has descended on the big water just east of Seattle.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Since then Urabeck and the rest of us have been on the sidelines, carefully watching the locks counts in hopes there might be enough, but always turning away disappointed, despite the promise of the new Seattle Public Utilities hatchery on the Cedar River, capable of cranking out 34 million sockeye fry.

Unfortunately, as they rear in the lake for a year, many if not most smolts are being eaten by piscivorous fish and other predators.

And returning adults are increasingly dying from disease after they pass from the locks to the lake through the too-warm, relatively shallow ship canal — 40 percent of Cedar-bound sockeye in both 2014 and 2015, according to the Muckleshoot Tribe.

Despite record hatchery fry production in 2012, which should have yielded as many as 500,000 adults, according to Urabeck, instead we saw one of the most abysmal returns on record, just 12,000 to 15,000 back to the Cedar.

But at the same time, recent years’ returns, including this one, were at sea through The Blob and most likely were affected like 2015’s pinks and coho, so it’s possible runs could bounce back with improving ocean conditions and increased control of freshwater predator species.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Still, hopes for slapping some homegrown sockeye on Seattle barbecues have been fizzling for some time.

So with the future looking grim in his eyes, Urabeck is calling for a couple days of fishing some time in late July or early August, and foresees a harvest of 10,000.

“The proposed special fishery would not have any significant impact on sockeye reaching the Cedar River and the sockeye hatchery operated by the City of Seattle, which has failed to meet expectations. Remember, the Cedar River sockeye were introduced from the Baker River and are under no ESA constraint,” he writes to Unsworth.

If the state and tribes get on board and enough sockeye actually arrive — the official forecast calls for 77,292 back to the locks and it’s hard to say whether 2017’s good start means the run is early or big or both — it could also give local tackle stores a much-needed shot in the arm after two deflating summers.

The 18-day 2006 season produced $8.6 million in economic benefits and a catch of 59,000 sockeye, according to WDFW.

We’ll fold in comment from the agency as it arrives.