Tag Archives: minter creek hatchery

More From Minter Hatchery Generator Failure Report, Discipline For 3 Staffers

Lord knows that someone who has difficulties running a toaster in the morning probably isn’t qualified to weigh in on matters such as restarting a backup generator at a state salmon hatchery.

But the root cause analysis for the failure of one at WDFW’s Minter Creek facility last winter was released yesterday and it makes for some aggravating reading.

A PAGE FROM THE 2018 OPERATIONS MANUAL FOR THE MINTER CREEK HATCHERY BACKUP GENERATOR STATES IT “SHOULD BE RUN BI-WEEKLY TO EXERCISE IT AND TO ENSURE EVERYTHING IS WORKING AS IT SHOULD.” (WDFW)

We’ve reported on this before here, here and here, but to review, the backup power source wouldn’t start after 45-plus-mile-an-hour gusts cut electricity to the South Sound hatchery around 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 14, 2018, essentially giving millions of Chinook fry there just 20 to 30 minutes to live before the lack of dissolved-oxygen-rich fresh water running through their incubation trays led to their death.

Crews scrambled to fix the generator, but it was out for around three and a half hours and was an entirely preventable disaster if it had been checked as routinely as the operating manual’s recommendation — every two weeks.

As a result of the investigation, three WDFW staffers described as “Minter Creek employees” have now been disciplined.

“One employee was demoted; another was suspended; and the third received a written reprimand,” said agency spokeswoman Michelle Dunlop late Monday afternoon.

She said that the punishments were based on the level of responsibility of the individuals.

Dunlop said the report, which is marked confidential and appears to have been finalized in March, was not released until the disciplinary process had been completed.

THE 97-PAGE-LONG DOCUMENT SHOWS that the last time the 22-year-old, 350 kW generator had been tested before the outage was Oct. 8, near the start of the fall storm season and 67 days beforehand.

The manufacturer’s operations manual “specifies bi-weekly testing of the generator system to maintain readiness,” WDFW-contracted independent investigators Ron Carper and Frank Sebastian write.

THE BACKUP GENERATOR’S CONTROL PANEL. (WDFW)

Prior to the October test, it had been 70 days since one was performed in July, their report shows.

They found that in the 21 months leading up to the disaster, the generator was only tested 12 times, on average once every 54 days, though with 16- and 17-day intervals in early 2018 too.

But it apparently wasn’t tested at all during one 195-day period — more than half a year — between early March and mid-September 2017.

Comments associated with that September test say “Tree on line (wind).”

As you can imagine, the frequency of testing went up following December’s disaster.

“After 12/14/2018, the average days between generator runs was 5.2 days,” their report states.

“Although hatchery staff responded promptly when the incident occurred and worked tirelessly to save fish at the hatchery, there were missteps along the way,” WDFW Director Kelly Susewind said in a press release yesterday that accompanied the report. “We’ve learned a lot from this and are addressing shortcomings identified by the contractors.”

THE REPORT ALSO INCLUDES INTERVIEWS and details how the two staffers stationed at Minter as well as another from a nearby facility who responded that evening as power outage alarms went off worked their butts off to try and get the generator going again.

As one drove over to the Purdy Napa to get new batteries and cables, another worked to get water flowing other ways to the trays holding young salmon, which succeeded in one area.

As the news also traveled up the chain of command, two firemen even arrived with a gas-powered pump but “did not have any hoses for the pump which would connect to the fittings at the hatchery,” and while it wasn’t their job to know, nor could they figure out why the generator wouldn’t fire up.

The report states that the initial failure to start was most likely caused by “a loose or cracked starting battery connection,” but there was only so much anyone could have done to get the generator going again after the “Emergency Stop” was activated to replace the batteries and cables.

That’s because a device known as an “air damper” first had to be reset.

The device is a rare one, with no generators elsewhere in the state hatchery system having one, according to the report.

“The generator would not start and displayed an ‘Air Damper’ fault light. [Name blacked out but a hatchery specialist 3] did not know the significance of this fault or how to correct it,” the report says.

It was only after a second person from the state’s Capital Assets Management Program in Lacey, a diesel mechanic, was apprised of the situation by phone at around 8 p.m. that they realized that that needed to be done and how to do it.

“These instructions resulted in the generator system becoming operational and suppling (sic) electrical power to the Minter Creek Hatchery,” the report states.

It’s believed that the delay in figuring out the air damper issue didn’t result in the loss of more fish.

But it is emblematic of wider communications failures at the facility, beginning with what to do in that critical first half hour.

The report states:

“The employees at Minter Creek Hatchery did not have a pre-established plan or instructions on how to maintain water flow and overcome the failure of electrical power in sustaining fish viability. The employees realized maintaining oxygenation in the water flow was critical and initially worked at various unguided solutions. This included activation and utilization of non-electric powered pumps and gravity flow of water.”

It also says:

“The employees present at Minter Creek Hatchery did not have the knowledge, training or reference materials on how to fully reset the Emergency Stop control, following activation of the Emergency Stop control.

“The employees present at Minter Creek Hatchery did not have knowledge, training or reference materials on how to reset the Air Damper fault indication, following activation of the Emergency Stop control.”

A “Considerations for the future” section of the report lays out an improved set of responsibilities for the facility manager and their hatchery specialists.

About half an hour after the generator was started, local utility crews restored the electricity.

Several days later the root cause analysis was contracted.

The report states that the backup power source was serviced and tested in March 2018 and found to be in “good overall condition,” though it apparently had been at least six years since the starter batteries had been replaced.

Batteries are more likely to fail the older they get.

Carper’s and Sebastian’s conclusion states:

The best explanation of the root cause generator failure is the result from a loose or cracked starting battery connection. Due to potential for corrosion, vibration, and what can be fairly significant temperature cycles, generator manufacturers typically recommend maintenance procedures for regular inspections of all wiring. Battery cable connections may become loose or damaged and should be inspected at every
generator exercise cycle by gently tugging and wiggling the cables.

It is inherent that electrical terminations on hot lead battery posts that are on vibrating engine frames will tend to loosen over time, so regular checks are recommended.

According to the generator log book, it had not been run for 67 days prior to the failure. With more frequent testing and inspections, this issue with the battery cable could have been discovered and repaired under normal conditions.

WDFW initially estimated that up to 6.2 million Chinook fry might have died without fresh water circulating through their rearing trays, but have now revised that downwards to 4.1 million following “a more robust inventory.”

More than half have been replaced with “excess” fish from six state, tribal — including 750,000 from the Suquamish and Nisqually Tribes — and tech college hatcheries.

The facility also raises chum and coho salmon for state and tribal fisheries. Those fish return and spawn later in the year than Chinook, and their eggs were still in a stage where they could survive if the water was drained off but were still kept moist.

A SCHEMATIC DRAWING SHOWS THE LAYOUT OF MINTER CREEK HATCHERY. (WDFW)

AGAIN, I’M NOT TRYING TO COME OFF AS SOME EXPERT in these matters and I readily acknowledge that s*** is just gonna happen at the worst possible times.

Been there, done that.

I do appreciate that WDFW apparently published the report without being prompted to get ahead of some reporter’s public disclosure request.

It harkens back to agency leaders’ vow before state lawmakers last winter to “to hold ourselves accountable for the tragic loss of the fish.”

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND, FISH PROGRAM DEPUTY ASSISTANT DIRECTOR KELLY CUNNINGHAM AND HATCHERY DIVISION MANAGER ERIC KINNE SPEAK BEFORE A STATE SENATE COMMITTEE ON WHAT HAPPENED AT MINTER CREEK. (TVW)

“We’re committed to making improvements to safeguard against another incident like the one at Minter Creek,” Kelly Cunningham, WDFW acting assistant Fish Program director said in the news release.

But even as the problem is being addressed, the report reveals an operations negligence that I find unacceptable.

That the two-decade-old generator wasn’t tested more frequently or ahead of the National Weather Service’s forecasted high wind warning that day, which put the fish at risk, boggles my mind.

That there wasn’t an established backup plan to the backup power source is puzzling.

As wild salmon continue to struggle and their recovery is decades — centuries? — down the road, the future of our seasons and starving orcas depend ever more highly on producing fish.

Minter is a key hatchery, putting out Chinook and chum, which southern resident killer whales depend on year-round and in fall, respectively.

Again, WDFW is obviously working on improving their operation, but they need to do better, and show us they are.

This was an entirely preventable, manmade disaster that didn’t need to happen if regular testing had been undertaken and it wasn’t assumed that the generator would just fire up whenever needed.

A harsh lesson, but one that’s been learned hopefully.

Minter Hatchery Generator Failure Investigation Out; Hadn’t Been Tested For 2 Months; 3 Staffers Disciplined

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) today released an investigation into last December’s generator failure at Minter Creek Hatchery that resulted in the loss of millions of salmon fry.

ACCORDING TO A WDFW PRESENTATION BEFORE THE STATE SENATE AGRICULTURE, WATER, NATURAL RESOURCES & PARKS COMMITTEE’S THIS IS THE GENERATOR THAT FAILED TO START AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY DURING A DECEMBER WINDSTORM POWER OUTAGE. (WDFW)

The investigative reports, conducted by outside contractors, are available on the department’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2019-06/minter-creek-hatchery-investigation-report.pdf.

The contractors looked into both the technical cause of the generator failure as well as the hatchery staff’s response, said Kelly Susewind, WDFW Director.

“Although hatchery staff responded promptly when the incident occurred and worked tirelessly to save fish at the hatchery, there were missteps along the way,” Susewind said. “We’ve learned a lot from this and are addressing shortcomings identified by the contractors.”

On Dec. 14, 2018, a windstorm knocked out power to the Minter Creek Hatchery in Pierce County. The hatchery’s industrial-sized generator – which would have provided backup power to the pump supplying water to fish incubators – didn’t start. Investigators concluded the generator failed due to a loose or cracked connection with the battery.

The faulty battery connection could have been detected and repaired “under normal conditions” had staff routinely tested and inspected the generator, according to the investigation.

A LOG SHOWING DATES THE MINTER CREEK BACKUP GENERATOR WAS TESTED. “ACCORDING TO THE GENERATOR LOG BOOK, IT HAD NOT BEEN RUN FOR 67 DAYS PRIOR TO THE FAILURE. WITH MORE FREQUENT TESTING AND INSPECTIONS, THIS ISSUE WITH THE BATTERY CABLE COULD HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED AND REPAIRED UNDER NORMAL CONDITIONS,” INVESTIGATORS CONCLUDED. (VIA WDFW)

Within days of the incident, Kelly Cunningham, acting assistant director of WDFW’s fish program, instructed hatchery managers across the state to increase the frequency of generator testing going forward.

“I believe Minter is an isolated incident, but I’ve asked staff to take additional precautions to keep hatchery generators in good condition,” Cunningham said.

Based on the investigation, WDFW additionally is making sure hatchery staff statewide have sufficient training in generator operations and have well-communicated contingency plans in place, Cunningham said.

“We’re committed to making improvements to safeguard against another incident like the one at Minter Creek,” Cunningham said.

The department has disciplined three Minter Creek employees for not keeping the generator in working order.

WDFW has also taken steps to replace the fish lost due to the power outage. In late December, WDFW received federal approval to use 2.26 million excess fish from six other hatcheries to offset the loss at Minter.

The department initially reported losing about 6.2 million Chinook salmon fry. However, a more robust inventory in the following months showed the loss to be roughly 4.1 million fish.

The department operates 80 hatcheries across Washington and raises 68 million Chinook salmon annually.

More Details On Minter Hatchery Chinook Loss Emerge At Senate Hearing

State senators learned new details about efforts to overcome the backup generator failure that led to the deaths of an estimated 6 million fall Chinook at a South Sound salmon hatchery during a December windstorm.

ACCORDING TO A WDFW PRESENTATION BEFORE THE STATE SENATE AGRICULTURE, WATER, NATURAL RESOURCES & PARKS COMMITTEE’S THIS IS THE GENERATOR THAT FAILED TO START AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY DURING A DECEMBER WINDSTORM POWER OUTAGE, LEADING TO THE DEATHS OF OVER 6 MILLION FALL CHINOOK. (WDFW)

During a work session this afternoon before members of Sen. Kevin Van De Wege’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, three high-ranking WDFW officials again called the incident at Minter Creek Hatchery unacceptable and said that two investigations were launched this week into what happened.

They also said that the comanagers had been “wonderful to work with” in trying to backfill the loss with 2.75 million kings from two tribal hatcheries, along with fish from state and a technical college facilities.

The WDFW staffers who went before senators were Director Kelly Susewind, Fish Program Deputy Assistant Director Kelly Cunningham and Hatchery Division Manager Eric Kinne.

THREE HIGH-RANKING WDFW OFFICIALS SPEAK BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE. (TVW)

They described the events and fallout of Friday, Dec. 14 when around 5:30 p.m. the power went out at Minter as high winds raked the area.

According to them, when the 350 kVA generator didn’t immediately fire up, staffers soon figured out that batteries on the large diesel-fired power source weren’t charging.

So they yanked batteries out of vehicles at the hatchery to use instead to try to get water flowing again into the dozens of incubation trays where the young Chinook were rearing.

While salmon eggs can get by for awhile without flowing water, not so for the inch-long fish.

But when that failed too, crews discovered a cable on the generator had burned up.

After alerting WDFW’s “phone tree” and even calling the local fire department for help, a hatchery employee drove to a nearby auto parts store to buy cables and batteries.

Crews ultimately were able to get a small pump running and water again flowing into the trays before the generator was finally started more than two and a half hours after the power went out.

But by then then bulk of the damage was one.

The fish in the trays were poured into ponds at the hatchery and there’s a chance that some actually survived, but WDFW won’t know until they reach the “swim up” stage.

They said that 1.75 million of the replacement fish would be released in the Deschutes River, the other 1 million at Minter Creek.

Meanwhile, contractors began two separate investigations this week, one from an engineering standpoint about why the generator failed, and the other whether adequate emergency procedures were in place and how hatchery workers responded.

The three WDFW officials said they plan to revise statewide protocols and use the results of the investigation “to hold ourselves accountable for the tragic loss of the fish.”

The details on Minter were part of their larger presentation on state hatchery salmon and steelhead production, including how output has decreased since the late 1980s due to reforms, ESA listings and budget cutbacks, and the 24 million-salmon increase for orcas that WDFW hopes lawmakers will fund during this year’s legislative session.

Built into this biennium’s budget proposal from Gov. Inslee is also $75.7 million to upgrade the state’s hatcheries.

After hearing about the disaster at Minter, Sen. Christine Rolfes asked if backup generators had been checked at WDFW’s other facilities.

Cunningham answered that they are all tested monthly, but said that by chance one did fail to start at one in the Columbia Basin during a test the day before Minter’s wouldn’t kick in.

And worryingly, “full load” tests — meaning all power is turned off and everything has to be run on the generator — aren’t done at some because the systems and equipment are so untrusted, senators were told.

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part III

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

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

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

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and then June through September. Below we wrap up with October through December.

OCTOBER

Oregon began offering big game preference points instead of just cold, hard cash for those who help state troopers arrest or cite fish and wildlife poachers. The new option in the Turn In a Poacher program awards five points for cases involving bighorns, mountain goats, moose and wolves; four for elk, deer, antelope, mountain lions and bears. While the points all have to go to either elk, buck, antlerless deer, pronghorn or spring black bear series hunts, it significantly raises the odds of being drawn for coveted controlled permits.

OSP SENIOR TROOPER DARIN BEAN POSES WITH THE HEADS OF THREE TROPHY BUCKS POACHED IN THE GREATER SILVER LAKE AREA. (OSP)

The lowest catch station recorded the highest haul when the Columbia-Snake 2018 pikeminnow sport-reward program wrapped up this fall. “It is the first time in the Pikeminnow Program’s 28-year history that the Cathlamet station has been the number one location,” noted Eric Winther, who heads up the state-federal effort aimed at reducing predation on salmonid smolts. With 25,135 turned in there, Cathlamet accounted for 14 percent of the overall catch of 180,309 pikeminnow this year. Boyer Park produced the second most, 22,950, while usual hot spot The Dalles was third with 22,461, less than half of 2017’s tally.

Using DNA from northern pike, USFS researcher Dr. Kellie Carim turned the widespread assumption about where the fish that have invaded Washington came from on its head. “The history we’ve told ourselves, the simplest explanation, is that the fish are flowing downstream from Western Montana,” Carim told us in early fall. “However, what the genetic analysis says is that those in Lake Roosevelt and the Pend Oreille River are closely related to those in the Couer d’Alene drainage.” In other words, a bucket biologist or biologists drove them between the watersheds. Also on the invasive species front, earlier in the year, scientists began to suspect that Sooke Harbor was not the source of the European green crabs showing up in Puget Sound waters but from somewhere on the Northwest’s outer coast.

SPECIALISTS FROM WASHINGTON SEA GRANT AND THE MAKAH TRIBE CONSIDER WHERE TO SET TRAPS IN AN ESTUARY FOR EUROPEAN GREEN CRABS. (WSG)

Oregon and Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commissions were urged not to roll back the Columbia River salmon reforms by no less than the former governor who got the ball rolling. “There’s absolutely no reason to change right now, it makes no sense,” said Oregon’s John Kitzhaber in one of several short videos that came out ahead of indepth reviews for the citizen panels.

IN A NEW VIDEO, FORMER GOVERNOR JOHN KITZHABER URGES VIEWERS TO MAINTAIN THE COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON REFORMS.

With salvaging roadkilled deer and elk in Oregon set to begin Jan. 1, 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted regulations for how the program will work. It’s similar to Washington’s, except that antlers and heads must be turned in to any ODFW office (here are addresses and phone numbers of the two dozen across the state) within five business days and Columbian whitetail deer may be salvaged, but only in Douglas County, where the species was declared recovered in 2003.

Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer resigned after a distasteful photo of him with a dead “family of baboons” surfaced following an African safari with his wife. Fischer initially defended his actions, telling the Idaho Statesman, “I didn’t do anything illegal. I didn’t do anything unethical. I didn’t do anything immoral.” In accepting Fischer’s requested resignation, Gov. Butch Otter stated, “Every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment. Commissioner Fischer did not.”

FORMER IDAHO FISH AND GAME COMMISSIONER BLAKE FISCHER OF MERIDIAN RESIGNED AFTER GOVERNOR BUTCH OTTER REQUESTED HE DO SO. (IDFG)

This year’s return of coho to the Columbia River was woeful at best, but there was a glimmer of good news when the Nez Perce announced that the first adult in more than 50 years returned to Northeast Oregon, thanks to a joint tribal-ODFW release of half a million smolts in March 2017. At least 125 had arrived at a weir on the Lostine River as of earlier this month, and tribal fisheries manager Becky Johnson estimated there were 800 more still on their way at that point.

FEMALE COHO TRAPPED AT THE LOSTINE RIVER WEIR ON OCTOBER 26, 2018 — THE FIRST SINCE 1966. (NEZ PERCE TRIBE)

With small, 2- to 3-inch razor clams dominating the population in Clatsop County’s sands, Oregon shellfish managers with support from the public decided to postpone harvesting any until this coming March, in hopes they would be larger by then. On the north side of the Columbia River, Washington’s Long Beach will only see a limited opener this season due to low salinity levels in winter 2017 that affected survival and led to a higher concentration of small clams.

OREGON SHELLFISH MANAGERS SAY ITS NORTHERN RAZOR CLAM POPULATION IS ON THE SMALL SIDE AND SEASON WAS POSTPONED TILL MARCH. (ODFW)

WDFW’s new Director Kelly Susewind hit the highway, the airwaves and the interweb to flesh out his thinking on hot-button fish and wildlife issues, set the tone for what his priorities are going forward, and listen to the needs of sportsmen and Washington residents. He hosted half a dozen meetings across the state, appeared on TVW’s Inside Olympia and did a webinar as the agency tried to build support for its $67 million ask of the legislature in 2019.

It wasn’t just small clams on the Oregon Coast sparking concerns — low early returns and catches of fall Chinook led ODFW to restrict fishing from the Necanicum to the Siuslaw, closing all the rivers above tidewater and reducing limits in the bays from three to one for the season. When subsequent surveys began to show more fish arriving on the spawning grounds, sections of the lower Siletz then Alsea and Yaquina Rivers were reopened, but further south, it wasn’t until late November before ODFW was able to lift gear restrictions on the low-flowing Chetco and Winchuck Rivers.

NOVEMBER

Western Washington tribes launched an ambitious, coordinated, long-term effort to identify and restore key salmon habitats as well as gauge land-use decisions in the region. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s Tribal Habitat Strategy was described by chair Lorraine Loomis as an “effort … based on what we know is actually needed to achieve ecosystem health, not what we think is possible to achieve given current habitat conditions.”

THE COVER OF THE NORTHWEST INDIAN FISHERIES COMMISSION’S NEW “TRIBAL HABITAT STRATEGY” REPORT SHOWS A KITSAP COUNTY CULVERT ON CARPENTER CREEK THAT HAS SINCE BEEN REMOVED, IMPROVING FISH PASSAGE AND ESTUARY FUNCTION. (NWIFC)

Cattle depredations that seemed like they’d never end in Northeast Washington led to essentially three different lethal wolf removal operations ongoing at once, two by WDFW targeting all the remaining OPT wolves and one Smackout Pack member, and one by a producer for any Togo wolves in their private pastures. By year-end at least four wolves had been killed by state shooters in hopes of reducing livestock attacks, and the Capital Press reported at least 31 calves and cows had been confirmed to have been either killed or injured by wolves in 2018, “more than double any previous year.”

LIFE COULD BE WORSE — YOU COULD GROW A BUCK ON YOUR BUTT … OR AT LEAST HAVE A TRAIL CAMERA RECORD SOMETHING ALONG THOSE LINES. THIS UNUSUAL ALIGNMENT WAS RECORDED AT A WASHINGTON WILDLIFE AREA IN THE NORTHEAST CORNER OF THE STATE DURING THE FALL RUT. (WDFW)

Significantly increasing Chinook abundance to help out starving orcas was among the key recommendations Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force voted to forward to Governor Jay Inslee after months of discussion and public comment. Members also urged suspending southern resident killer whale watching for all fleets — commercial, recreational, kayak, rubber dingy, etc., etc., etc. — for the next three to five years. The recommendations were generally supported by sportfishing reps who took part in the task force’s work. “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 also expressed concern about “organizations who will file lawsuits to fight increased production no matter how thoughtfully done and no matter how dire the need.”

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

IDFG Director Virgil Moore announced that he was retiring in January after eight years at the helm of Idaho fish and wildlife management and a four-decade-long career in the field, including a year as ODFW’s director. “Working together, Fish and Game and our wildlife resources are in excellent shape and ready to be handed off to new leadership,” he said in a press release. Fellow Fish and Game honcho Ed Schriever was named as Moore’s replacement.

Federal researchers found that one top way to recover Chinook in Puget Sound streams is to restore side channels. Providing space for the young ESA-listed fish to grow as well as shelter from flood flows adds complexity to river systems, increasing its potential value as habitat. The work, some of which was done on the Cedar River, could help answer where and how to get the best bang for restoration dollars. In a related story, for the first time since the project wrapped up in 2014, a pair of kings chose to spawn in a portion of a Seattle stream that had been engineered for salmon to dig redds. “That’s a vote of confidence!” said a utility district biologist.

A SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITY IMAGE SHOWS A PAIR OF CHINOOK SALMON ON THE GRAVEL OF LOWER THORNTON CREEK, EAST OF NORTHGATE MALL. (SPU)

With the threat of a federal lawsuit hanging over their heads, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted in mid-November to suspend steelhead season in early December. IDFG’s permit to hold the fishery had expired nearly 10 years ago and other priorities had kept NMFS from issuing a new one, providing an opening for yet another low-hanging-fruit lawsuit from the usual suspects. “The loss of that opportunity, even temporarily, due to a lawsuit and unprocessed permit is truly regrettable,” said Virgil Moore in a letter to Idaho steelheaders. The pending closure didn’t affect Washington fishermen angling the shared Snake, and it led one of the six litigant groups to subsequently back out, saying its goal of spurring the feds into action had been achieved. But on the eve of the shutdown, an agreement was reached between a newly formed group of anglers and towns, Idaho River Community Alliance, IDFG and the other five parties. It kept fishing open, closed stretches of the South Fork Clearwater and Salmon, and included voluntary measures.

A LAST-MINUTE AGREEMENT KEPT STEELHEADING OPEN ON THE NORTH FORK CLEARWATER AND OTHER IDAHO STREAMS FOLLOWING A THREATENED FEDERAL LAWSUIT OVER A LACK OF A FISHERIES PERMIT. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The federal Fourth National Climate Assessment, released over Thanksgiving weekend, painted a rough go of it for fish, shellfish and wildlife in the Northwest. It projected that Washington salmon habitat will be reduced by 22 percent under a scenario that includes continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, razor clamming would decline “due to cumulative effects of ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, higher temperatures, and habitat degradation,” and that more management to ensure sufficient waterfowl habitat would be needed. The report, required by Congress, did say deer and elk may actually thrive due to less winterkill and improving habitat because of increased wildfires, but could also be impacted by “increases in disease and disease-carrying insects and pests.”

ODFW launched its new electronic license program, so easy that even hook-and-bullet magazine editors can (eventually) figure it out. Essentially, the app allows sportsmen to carry an e-version of their fishing and hunting licenses on their phones, etc., as well as tag critters and fill in punch cards with an app that works even offline in Oregon’s remote canyons.

In what would also be a continuing news story in the year’s final month, ODFW received federal permission to lethally remove as many as 93 California sea lions annually at Willamette Falls and in the lower Clackamas. “This is good news for the native runs of salmon and steelhead in the Willamette River,” said ODFW’s Dr. Shaun Clements, whose agency had estimated that if nothing were done, there was a 90 percent chance one of the watershed’s wild winter steelhead runs would go extinct. “We did put several years’ effort into non-lethal deterrence, none of which worked. The unfortunate reality is that, if we want to prevent extinction of the steelhead and Chinook, we will have to lethally remove sea lions at this location,” he said in a press release.

And near the end of the month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 196 to 180 to fully delist gray wolves in the Lower 48. But that was as far as the Manage our Wolves Act, co-sponsored by two Eastern Washington Republicans, was going to get, as at the end of the year it went nowhere in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works and the incoming chair of the House Natural Resources Committee flatly told a reporter that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years. Meanwhile, WDFW and the University of Washington began year three of predator-prey research across the northern tier of Eastern Washington.

A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING FAWN QUARTERS BACK TO A DEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (JEFF FLOOD)

DECEMBER

Poor fishing up and down the West Coast in recent years was among the factors that forced the owners of Ollie Damon’s reel repair shop in Portland to close up for good this month, ending the run of a famed name that first opened for business in the late 1940s. “It’s sad for us but we can’t work forever,” said Rich and Susan Basch who bought the shop in the 1990s and used to service as many as 5,000 to 6,000 reels annually, and who said that they’ll miss their customers “immensely” as they also retire.

PORTLAND’S OLLIE DAMON’S CLOSEd ITS DOORS DEC. 29, MARKING THE END OF AN ERA. (OLLIE DAMON’S)

We’ll know a lot more about 2019 salmon expectations later in winter, but the year’s first forecasts came out in early December, with Columbia River managers expecting an overall run of 157,500 springers, 35,900 summer kings, and 99,300 of the red salmon, all below 10-year averages but no surprise given recent ocean conditions. The outlook for upriver brights is similar to 2018, with tule Chinook below the 10-year average, but with spring’s offshore survey finding good numbers of young coho in the ocean and a strong jack return to the river this fall, there is some potential good news for silver slayers.

The poaching of one of Oregon’s rare moose north of Enterprise in November led to a handsome reward offer of not only $7,500 at last check but a guided elk hunt on the nearby Krebs Ranch, a $3,500 value in itself. “The poaching of a moose is a tragic thing,” said Jim Akenson of the Oregon Hunters Association, chapters of which stepped up to build the reward fund. “Especially because our moose population is low – fewer than 70 in Oregon.” This is at least the second moose poached in Northeast Oregon in recent years. Thadd J. Nelson was charged in early 2015 with unlawfully killing one in mid-2014. He was later killed by robbers.

OREGON’S MOOSE POPULATION WAS LAST ESTIMATED AT 75 OR SO. (PAT MATTHEWS, ODFW)

Washington Governor Jay Inslee touted an “unprecedented investment” of $1.1 billion to recover orcas and their key feedstock — Chinook — in his proposed 2019-21 budget. It includes $12 million for WDFW to maximize hatchery production to rear and release an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts, a whopping $205 million boost for DOT to improve fish passage beneath state roads, and $75.7 million to improve the state’s hatcheries (hopefully testing generators more frequently!). Inslee’s budget, which must still be passed by lawmakers, also includes the fee increase but $15 million WDFW asked for for conservation and habitat work was pared down to just $1.3 million for the former.

With the significance of Chinook for orcas in the spotlight of course a mid-December windstorm would knock out power to a state hatchery, and when the backup generator failed to immediately kick in, around 6 million fall and spring fry died. That angered fishermen and killer whale advocates alike, and led to a rare statement by a WDFW director, Kelly Susewind on the “painful loss.” As an outside investigation is launched into what exactly what went wrong, up to 2.75 million fish from a mix of state, tribal and tech college hatcheries were identified as possible replacements, pending buy-in from several more tribes.

SALMON INCUBATION TRAYS AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY. (WDFW)

Federal, state and tribal officials agreed to a three-year trial to see if increasing spill down the Columbia and Snake Rivers can “significantly boost” outmigrating salmon and steelhead smolt numbers. The agreement came after early in the year U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon ordered spill to occur and Eastern Washington House of Representatives members tried to kill it. Testing begins this coming April — “It can’t happen soon enough,” said NSIA’s Hamilton.

WDFW’S FIRST KARELIAN BEAR DOG, MISHKA, PASSED AWAY LATE IN THE YEAR. HANDLER “BRUCE (RICHARDS) SAID OF MISHKA THAT WHAT HE ACCOMPLISHED IN ONE YEAR WAS AKIN TO WHAT ONE WILDLIFE OFFICER COULD ACCOMPLISH IN A LIFETIME OF WORK,” BEAR SMART WA POSTED ON INSTAGRAM. THE DUO HAD A LONG CAREER OF CHASING BEARS AND HELPING ON POACHING CASES IN GREATER PUGETROPOLIS. ALSO IN 2018, ANOTHER WDFW KBD DOG, CASH, DIED FOLLOWING A BATTLE AGAINST PROSTRATE CANCER. (WDFW)

And finally, and in probably the best news of the whole damn year — which is why we saved it to last, but also because it happened so late in 2018 — the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act was signed into law by President Trump after zipping through the Senate and House this month. With bipartisan leadership from Northwest lawmakers and support from the DFWs, tribes and fishing community among others, the bill essentially provides up to five one-year permits to kill as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia River and its salmon-bearing tributaries. Not that that many likely will be taken out, but this should FINALLY help address too many pinnipeds taking too big a bite out of ESA-listed stocks and help keep one of their new favorite targets, sturgeon, from ending up on the list too.

And with that, I’m calling it a year on this three-part year in review — read the first chunk, covering January through May here, and the second, June through September, here.

Take care, and happy new year!

AW
NWS

Chinook Fry From WDFW, Tribal, Tech College Hatcheries Would Help Replace Half Lost At Minter

Washington fishery managers are adding more details on their Christmas Eve press release about where they hope to get fall Chinook fry to replace nearly half of those lost during a power outage and backup generator failure.

YOUNG SALMONIDS AT ANOTHER WDFW HATCHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The young fish would be transferred from a mix of state, tribal and college hatcheries located everywhere from the North Sound to Hood Canal to Deep South Sound.

They include WDFW’s Samish, Hoodsport and George Adams Hatcheries, the Nisqually Tribe’s Clear Creek Hatchery, the Suquamish Tribe’s Grovers Creek Hatchery and Bellingham Technical College’s Whatcom Creek Hatchery.

It wasn’t clear how many would come from each, but according to WDFW a total of 2.75 million replacement fish have been identified to partially make up for the loss of 5.7 million fall kings at Minter Creek following the December 14 windstorm.

The available “excess” fry, as they were called in the press release, are more of a “byproduct” during rearing than an insurance policy against catastrophic loss, according to WDFW spokesman Craig Bartlett.

“NOAA sets the parameters for smolt releases and hatchery managers want to make sure they raise enough fry to meet those targets. Since raising the exact number of fry needed isn’t possible, they’d rather raise a few too many than come up short,” he explained.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries branch gave WDFW tentative approval to move the fish on the condition that the agency get nine treaty tribes to agree to it.

Bartlett said that as of earlier this week, four tribes had already and he hoped another five would after the holidays, when more state and tribal staffers are back in their offices.

A spokesman for NMFS’ West Coast region couldn’t be reached for comment on the caveat due to the partial government shutdown, but Eric Kinne, WDFW’s hatchery manager, typified it as “just part of co-management.”

The fry would be reared at Minter and released next spring in the creek there and at Tumwater Falls on the Deschutes River near Olympia.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind called losing the fall fry along with half a million spring kings set for release in the White River “a painful setback for state and tribal fishers, for the communities that depend on fishing, and for southern resident orcas that feed on Chinook.”

A root cause analysis will be performed to figure out why the backup generator couldn’t be started for nearly three hours, cutting water flow to hundreds of trays holding thousands of Chinook each, depriving them of oxygen.

Susewind’s Hatchery Statement Rare For A WDFW Director To Make

It’s relatively rare for WDFW directors to issue special statements, so the one that came out yesterday evening from Kelly Susewind on the loss of millions of baby Chinook at one of his hatcheries is pretty notable.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

Mostly they speak through press releases, like his agency’s late Monday afternoon hit-send-and-run-like-hell announcement about the Dec. 14 windstorm disaster and which came out via email and as a link posted on Twitter, where fishing and hunting news otherwise goes to die.

Susewind’s instead went on WDFW’s Facebook page during a high-social-media-use period and its six brief paragraphs were a recap of what happened, its potential impact to fisheries, what was being done to replace the salmon, and the process moving forward.

It was also posted it in a very prominent position on the agency’s website.

Yes, it came nearly six days after the fact, as well as after business hours Thursday, but the link on social media allowed the public to vent directly at WDFW — and oh, how they continued to — for a state staffer or staffers to respond, and for key constituencies to see he was On The Job.

Indeed, among the people reacting as comments were posted to the thread was Brian Blake, chairman of the state House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, a key legislative panel for agency bills.

I’m not going to sit here behind this keyboard and pretend to be some sort of expert on hatchery operations, because I’m not, I don’t care how many years I’ve reported on WDFW, how many fishing trips I’ve taken, or how many times I’ve stopped by the facilities and ogled returnees and given silent best wishes to the wee ones on their upcoming journey.

But from what I gather the 5.7 million fall Chinook fry destined for release into the Deschutes River and Minter Creek and 500,000 White River springers had very little time to live once the power went off, the backup 350kVA diesel generator wouldn’t start and water quit flowing through their incubation trays, asphyxiating them.

A new report by KING 5’s Alison Morrow says that it’s now believed 10 percent of the fish actually survived because workers were able to get water flowing into a head trough with a gas-powered pump at the facility.

In a bad-news story, kudos to those responded as best they could and at least saved some kings.

An outside investigation will now try to determine the cause of why the generator failed, and with that tool, Susewind vowed “to take steps to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future.”

Sh*t is always going to happen, but that assurance along with the state legislature funding updates to aging hatchery infrastructure could go a good way to preventing repeats of these “devastating” and “horrible” losses.

I mentioned the rarity of Susewind’s bull-by-the-horns statement.

In my decade and a half or so of covering WDFW just one other set of special remarks from the director immediately sprang to mind, Phil Anderson’s in the wake of the death of Billy Frank Jr., his counterpart at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Anderson did make several others, I eventually realized after googling it to jar my memory (that Skagit elk hunt one, which had mixed results).

But in more recent years I don’t recall anything from Anderson’s successor (and Susewind’s predecessor), Jim Unsworth.

In fact the response to the Minter Creek situation feels like the polar opposite of the great Cowlitz summer steelhead smolt debacle that took months to uncover and ultimately put the man from Idaho on the legislative hot seat.

It’s also the second special statement Susewind, a Grays Harbor native, has made this month.

The other was a four-and-a-half-minute-long video in which he outlined his views on wolf management in Washington, and was posted to WDFW’s YouTube page.

I can appreciate that Susewind is not slowly backing into the shrubberies on two of the hottest hot-button issues in the state, salmon fisheries and wolves.

He can’t, of course, in trying to make WDFW more important to the residents of the state as a whole in furthering the future for critters and sporting and other recreation, not to mention getting lawmakers to sign off on the first fee increase since the other end of this decade and feeding the agency more from the General Fund.

It takes guts to stand up like that and be a target. But it’s also more than that.

“Our major priority is to be transparent with the public and legislature, and to make sure they know he’s paying attention,” WDFW spokesman Craig Bartlett said this morning.

Just as Susewind is paying attention, like other watchers of Washington’s fish and wildlife world, I am too and am eager to find out what happened at Minter that killed our Chinook and what will be done about it.

WDFW’s Susewind Issues Statement On ‘Painful Loss’ Of 6M Hatchery Chinook From Power Loss

THE FOLLOWING IS A SPECIAL W.D.F.W. STATEMENT FROM DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND

On Dec. 14, the state’s Minter Creek Hatchery lost power during a windstorm and the facility’s backup generator failed to start. As a result, roughly 6 million chinook died.

SALMON INCUBATION TRAYS AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY. (WDFW)

This is a painful loss for state and tribal fishers, for the communities that depend on fishing, and for southern resident orcas that feed on chinook.

We’re working with tribal co-managers and NOAA Fisheries to replace some of the salmon lost at Minter Creek with fish from other facilities and hope to announce more details on that soon.

Among the fish lost in the power failure were 500,000 spring chinook, which were part of an early effort at Minter Creek and other hatcheries to increase production of chinook to feed southern resident orcas. That loss is unfortunate.

I take this incident seriously. I have instructed staff to hire outside contractors to examine what went wrong with the backup generator and how our staff responded to the situation.

Based on those findings, we’re going to take steps to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future.

Anglers Unhappy With Another Salmon Hatchery Disaster

Washington salmon fishermen and others were furious to learn that as many as 6.2 million Chinook fry died last Friday when a state hatchery lost power during a windstorm and a backup generator failed to start up.

CHINOOK FRY. (C. ANDERSON, USFWS)

Wow. So stupid Doesn’t anyone test their generators?” posted guide Brian Oldfield in the comments below a link to our website and a WDFW news release that came out very late yesterday afternoon.

The words that are coming out of my mouth right now …,” fellow guide Mark Ervig posted.

There goes Area 13 again. Sounds like some hatchery management adjustments are in order. This is unacceptable, Director Susewind,” wrote Dave Wright.

Will there be consequences for not being prepared? Nah. Just to the salmon,” posited Michael Rodriguez.

Seems these things happen quite often. I’d like to see a total number of lost fish such instances over the last five years for each West Coast state. I’d read that story,” added Chad Price.

OK,” posted longtime Washington hook-and-bullet-world observer Dave Workman. “The department has 24 hours to replace the fish. How’s that for a solution?”

REACTION TO NEWS THAT MILLIONS OF CHINOOK HAD BEEN LOST DUE TO A POWER OUTAGE AND GENERATOR FAILURE AT A WDFW HATCHERY WAS NEGATIVE.

WDFW is in fact searching for replacement salmon for those that were being reared at Minter Creek Hatchery, at the north end of Carr Inlet near Purdy, according to agency hatchery manager Eric Kinne.

“Right now we’re looking at other facilities, even tribal facilities, for excess capacity,” he said this afternoon.

Kinne says that come next May and June, some level of release will occur, possibly with Chinook from as far away as the state’s Samish Hatchery, where a million-plus extra eggs were collected this fall primarily to help feed southern resident killer whales.

That could help backfill the “dent” Deep South Sound might otherwise see during 2022’s, 2023’s and 2024’s fisheries, not to mention the availability of the salmon for orcas.

But in the meanwhile, Kinne wasn’t ducking questions about what he termed a “devastating loss” in Monday’s press release, the latest in a recent series of disasters and mishaps that have struck WDFW hatcheries, which provide most of the fuel for state salmon and steelhead fisheries.

“It’s tough to explain this one,” he acknowledges. “I understand it for sure. We’re not happy either.”

Kinne says he spent part of today writing up a contract for a “root cause analysis” to get to the bottom of the failure.

He says that the hatchery’s backup 350 kVA diesel generator is tested monthly and its last annual service was 10 months ago.

When Friday’s high winds cut the power to the facility around 5:30 last Friday evening, the generator should have automatically turned on, keeping cool water flowing into 900 trays with 6,800 tiny Chinook each.

But it didn’t.

SALMON INCUBATION TRAYS IN ONE OF EIGHT IDENTICAL ROOMS AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY WHERE CHINOOK, COHO AND CHUM EGGS HATCH. ADULT CHINOOK RETURN EARLIER IN THE YEAR AND THEIR EGGS HAD BECOME FRY, MAKING THEM MORE VULNERABLE TO A LOSS OF CIRCULATING WATER THAN THE EGGS OF LATER RETURNING COHO AND CHUMS. (WDFW)

A WDFW staffer is at Minter around the clock and so when the motor didn’t start, they began working on it as well as calling nearby workers back in for help.

Kinne, who lives an hour and a half away in Rochester and actually worked at the facility for several years two decades ago, received a call and made his way north through the storm to help deal with the situation.

“There were branches all over the roads,” he says.

While some worked on the generator, others checked rearing ponds, which are fed by gravity.

That’s not the case for the water pouring through the Chinook trays, however. Spawned in late August and September, the fish are now about an inch long and while they still have their egg sacs, they need running water to bring oxygen to their gills.

Crews attempted to use gas-powered pumps to get creek water into the building and the trays but were largely unsuccessful, though they had better luck with later-arriving salmon stocks.

“We saved all of the coho that were in incubators, the chums that were in the incubators,” Kinne says.

The eggs of both species can survive for several hours if the water is drained away but the eggs are still kept moist, he says.

“Some the coho were outside in the rearing ponds and were not affected,” he adds.

Crews were ultimately able to start the generator after nearly three hours — right before the local public utility district finally got the power back on.

Kinne says the outage occurred at the “most inopportune time” because it came with the “highest number” of young salmon in incubation.

The majority of trays that held the Chinook are being poured into a holding pond and the true magnitude of the loss will become clearer when any survivors reach the “swim up” stage between now and May and June, when they were otherwise scheduled for release.

Kinne said the 5.7 million falls believed lost represents the “majority” of production for release into the lower Deschutes River and from Minter Creek for sport fisheries.

When you include the half million White River spring kings fry that also died and were being reared for orcas, the 6.2 million lost Chinook is roughly 9 percent of WDFW’s overall statewide production, and certainly a higher percentage of Puget Sound’s.

It wasn’t immediately clear what sort of dollar loss it all represented.

“Not a lot spent to date because they were still in incubation,” Kinne says. “The majority of the cost comes for feeding and marking and tagging.”

The bigger loss could be down the road when the returning adults would have attracted angler effort.

Deep South Sound, or Marine Area 13 as it is also known, has become a good spot to target Chinook, especially in Budd Inlet’s Big and Little Fish Traps for Deschutes-bound kings.

Even as the cost of redundancy for backups to backup systems would be high considering the 80-odd hatcheries WDFW operates across the state, the predictable nature of fall, winter and early spring windstorms, and the increasing importance of salmon to fisheries and orcas makes testing generators at the facilities much more often a good idea.