Tag Archives: NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

Commissioner ‘Not Very Happy’ To Be Left Out Of Loop As New Sound Chinook Plan Negotiated

This morning, more light was shed on the new proposed Puget Sound Chinook harvest comanagement plan, the result of confidential negotiations mediated by a federal judge but which left the vice chair of the Fish and Wildlife Commission “not very happy” about things.

The plan only came to light this Tuesday following months of talks behind closed doors between WDFW, tribal and Department of Justice officials following the disastrous 2016 North of Falcon and its delayed state fisheries.

WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION VICE CHAIRMAN LARRY CARPENTER TOLD WDFW DIRECTOR JIM UNSWORTH HE WAS NOT HAPPY TO HAVE BEEN LEFT OUT OF THE LOOP AS A PROPOSED 10-YEAR PUGET SOUND CHINOOK HARVEST MANAGEMENT PLAN WAS NEGOTIATED IN SECRET BY AGENCY, TRIBAL AND DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE OFFICIALS. (TVW)

And while meant to try and avoid that fiasco again, as well as conserve key stocks, that the negotiations were done without knowledge of the citizen panel that oversees policy for the state agency irked the recently reappointed Larry Carpenter.

“Director (Unsworth), the commission delegates authority to you on a variety of issues, and that’s an appropriate thing to do. I agree with it. But I don’t think that that eliminates your responsibility to have consultations with us on issues of importance,” the former Mount Vernon boat seller and member of the Southern Panel of the Pacific Salmon Commission said during a meeting of the commission in Olympia broadcast on TVW.

“And I certainly consider the Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan to be an issue of significant importance. It’s very critical, and not having discussions with the commission, I think, is an unacceptable practice.”

WDFW DIRECTOR JIM UNSWORTH BRIEFED THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION ON THE PROPOSED CHINOOK PLAN. (TVW)

Carpenter, who is the chair of the commission’s  fish committee and member of its executive committee, said that at a recent closed-door briefing just enough information about the ongoing mediation was given to he and fellow commissioners to “read between the lines about what was really happening.”

“We didn’t know,” he said.

Then the plan was posted online, and with its warnings of potentially reduced fishing for the basin’s premier salmon stock, anglers and tackle and boat makers immediately started fretting about the future of fishing and the industry.

“And we got stakeholders calling us and emailing us — angst,” Carpenter said. “I feel like we were really, really left out on a limb on this one. And I’m really not very happy about it.”

During public input afterwards, some of his concerns were echoed by Ron Garner, president of Puget Sound Anglers, among the state’s largest sporting organizations.

“The commission needs to be apprised of this as a major stakeholder,” Garner said.

RON GARNER, PRESIDENT OF PUGET SOUND ANGLERS, SPEAKS DURING PUBLIC COMMENT AT TODAY’S FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION MEETING. (TVW)

He also took issue with a major change from the previous management strategy for Puget Sound — lowering exploitation rates on Stillaguamish fall kings, which are caught in fisheries everywhere from Stanwood to Juneau.

The plan reduces that rate from 13 percent to 8 percent. While that lower figure is actually near the rate of recent years, it also drops down to as low as 4 percent for years of lower abundances.

Garner called that “very restrictive,” and while he said he understood the reason why, he disagreed that it would actually help out Stilly Chinook.

“Even if you shut down every fishery on the West Coast, the Stillaguamish River would not recover. It’s strictly a habitat-water issue,” he said.

“It has the possibility of closing down a lot of businesses, manufacturing businesses, loss of jobs, maybe in the tens of thousands, and the quality of life in Washington state,” Garner added before his three minutes of time to speak were up.

Using 2017 preseason fishery forecasts as an example, Mark Yuasa, the former Seattle Times fishing reporter and current Northwest Marine Trade Association staffer, reported that sport fishers would have lost out on 18,000 Chinook in mostly hatchery-targeted fisheries in North and Central Puget Sound this year, all to save nine wild Stillaguamish kings. Nine.

It is not immediately clear how it would affect tribal fisheries, but likely would impact open-water fishermen more so than terminal zone ones.

Following the meeting, Perry Mancheca, who has been calling for more open meetings between state and tribal officials, asked fellow anglers to attend tomorrow’s commission meeting and pour on the pressure.

“It is now more important than ever that the we follow such a strong statement by our Commission with a loud and strong message from the stakeholders,” he said via a petition update on Change.org.

The job of informing the Fish and Wildlife Commission how the confidential negotiations came about fell to Assistant Attorney General Mike Grossman, who advises WDFW on legal matters.

Grossman explained that after 2016’s highly contentious North of Falcon wrapped up, the state received a request from the U.S. Department of Justice and tribal officials to “meet and confer,” which resulted in confidential discussions mediated by U.S. District Court for Western Washington Judge Marsha Pechman.

He said that the number one priority of those talks was an updated 10-year resource management plan for Puget Sound Chinook, and to get it in place by April or May 2019, it needed to be wrapped up by Nov. 30 for the National Marine Fisheries Service’s NEPA review, estimated to take about 17 months.

The previous 10-year plan expired in 2014 and the comanagers have been taking it year to year.

ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL MIKE GROSSMAN SPEAKS BEFORE THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (TVW)

Grossman said that the state “benefited from being able to converse with the tribes on a confidentiality basis.”

He acknowledged the “tension” that that created with state laws on openness, and indeed, news of the secret talks comes as sportsmen like Mancheca have been working for more than a year to open up the state-tribal North of Falcon negotiations, which otherwise aren’t public.

Grossman explained that without Endangered Species Act coverage through the Chinook plan, “we can’t fish,” meaning nontribal anglers, as the feds “don’t have the view” they’ll do an individual consultation for the state like they would the tribes.

“Really, this … comanagement plan or a unilateral plan, which would very problematic, are the only two vehicles. And we made a decision, after a lot of talk with you and with the agency to proceed based on a comanager plan,” he said.

He described it as an umbrella, underneath which the state and tribes could divvy up the harvestable catch, though work remains.

“But it is a crucial piece that I think does recalibrate and puts us in a much better position to negotiate North of Falcon not having to worry about whether or not we have ESA protection at the end of the day. The focus will then entirely be on, do we have fair and balanced fisheries between the various comanagers, knowing that collectively we have to live within these limits,” Grossman said.

More details on what the Chinook plan may mean for sport fisheries may be forthcoming at the commission’s January meeting.

Outside today’s meeting, a question was raised by Frank Urabeck, a member of the sportfishing community, about whether not having the commission approve the plan before it was sent to the feds might invalidate it, but Garner said that that had been looked at and WDFW can act and then inform members.

One final note on the commission and Chinook: During discussion about Puget Sound orcas, Director Unsworth said that WDFW is evaluating what can be done via their facilities.

“Hopefully we can do something to increase hatchery production that will be helpful for killer whales, as well as salmon in general and our recreational and commercial, tribal use of those fish,” he said.

More information could come out as Governor Inslee pushes out his supplemental budget proposals for the coming legislative session.

Editor’s note: This blog was updated at 8 a.m., December 11, 2017, to clarify Mark Yuasa was reporting estimated 2017 fishery impacts and the figures were not his own. Larry Carpenter’s commission committee assignments were also added.

NMFS Puts Joint WDFW-Tribal Green-Duwamish Hatchery Production Plan Out For Review

State and tribal fishery managers are proposing to increase hatchery salmon and steelhead production by 14 percent in the Green-Duwamish under a federal draft EIS now out for public comment.

The bump is related to three new programs that have a goal of eventually putting young Chinook, coho and winter steelhead above a dam in the headwaters of the King County river.

DUWAMISH RIVER HATCHERY COHO.

As it stands, the plan calls for raising as many as 5.1 million fall Chinook, 5 million chum, 3.41 million coho, 383,000 late-winter steelhead and 100,000 summer steelhead, up from a maximum of 12.44 million currently.

More than 1.5 million of those — 600,000 kings, 600,000 coho and 350,000 late-winter steelhead — would be reared for release as fry, subyearlings or yearlings above or below Howard Hanson by the Muckleshoot Tribe once a “Fish Restoration Facility” is completed below Tacoma Public Utilities’ structure at river mile 64, where downstream passage facilities don’t currently exist but are “tentatively scheduled” to begin construction on next year.

Outside of winter-runs, WDFW, Muckleshoot and other hatcheries on the system rear fish to fuel sport and tribal fisheries on Puget Sound, Elliott Bay and in the river.

Where at one time the Green was one of Puget Sound’s top streams for steelheading in December, January and February, these days managers are trying to conserve and recover the river’s low natural stocks.

The 10 hatchery programs covered by the plan “would be adaptively managed over time to incorporate best management practices as new information is available,” according to the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Duwamish-Green Hatcheries Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Other options call for a continuation of the status quo, which is to say without ESA coverage, and terminating or cutting production in half.

NMFS is taking comment through Dec. 20.

Nisqually Winter Chums Shouldn’t Be Listed, Feds Say

A proposal to list southern Puget Sound winter chum salmon under the Endangered Species Act has been turned down by federal fishery overseers.

The National Marine Fisheries Service said in a 90-day finding that a prodigious local petitioner’s effort “does not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating” that Nisqually River and Chambers Creek chums “are a ‘species’ eligible for listing under the ESA.”

THE BROTHERS HALL — DAVE AND JR — HOLD A NISQUALLY WINTER CHUM CAUGHT IN DECEMBER 2015. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

The proposal was brought forward by Sam Wright who’d claimed they’re the only two runs of winter chums anywhere in the world and that Chambers fish were diverging from Nisqually dogs.

But the feds say a genetic review found that the stocks “cluster closely with fall-run fish in Puget Sound and Hood Canal’ and that ‘there is no clear genetic evidence to support the idea that the winter-run chum salmon in Puget Sound are substantially reproductively isolated from other chum salmon populations in southern Puget Sound.'”

Anglers have kept as many as 1,300 Nisqually chums in recent years, according to state catch card data, and the run has provided for a tribal fishery too, but only one “complete” one in more than half a decade.

If there’s a bigger threat to chums, it might be predation by marine mammals.

A blog posted yesterday on the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s NW Treaty Tribes site said the Nisqually Tribe worries that up to a third of the run is being eaten by seals and sea lions before arriving on the gravel. They’re picking up pinniped poo to analyze how many salmon as well as steelhead are being consumed.

One interesting finding is that orcas may actually help reduce predation.

“We think the orcas either ate a lot of seals or chased them away and affected their behavior, resulting in more steelhead making it out to the ocean,” said the tribe’s David Troutt.

Sam Wright, a retired WDFW biologist, has previously successfully gotten NMFS to list three species of rockfish in Puget Sound, but couldn’t talk them into it for coho.

‘Unprecedented’ Pyrosome Explosion Off Northwest Coast; Not Seen Before 2014

THE FOLLOWING IS A NEWS STORY FROM THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE’S NORTHWEST FISHERIES SCIENCE CENTER

By Michael Milstein

Call it the invasion of the pyrosomes.

Researchers from NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center are collaborating with colleagues from Oregon State University and the University of Oregon to unravel the mystery of why the strange jelly-like organisms have exploded in number off the Northwest Coast in recent months.

PYROSOMES ARE “BASICALLY LIKE WADS OF GOO” THAT DON’T DO MUCH FOR THE FOOD CHAIN BUT EAT PLANKTON THAT OTHERWISE MIGHT HAVE FED ORGANISMS THAT YOUNG SALMON WOULD HAVE EATEN. (HILARIE SORENSEN/NOAA FISHERIES)

Generally found in more tropical waters around the globe, the tubular pyrosomes were rarely if ever seen off the Northwest until about two years ago. They have since multiplied and this spring appear to be everywhere off the Oregon Coast to the point they are clogging fishing gear by the thousands.

A five-minute midwater tow of a research net off the Columbia River in late May brought up approximately 60,000 pyrosomes. Scientists spent hours sorting through the massive catch to find the rare fish they were targeting.

A LONGTIME FEDERAL RESEARCHER BASED IN NEWPORT SAYS THAT HE’D NEVER SEEN PYROSOMES HERE BEFORE 2014. A NUMBER OF THEM COVER FISHING GEAR. (HILARIE SORENSEN/NOAA FISHERIES)

“We have a lot of questions and not many answers,” said Ric Brodeur of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center’s research station in Newport, Oregon. Brodeur has worked off the Oregon Coast since the 1980s and had never seen a pyrosome before 2014. “We’re trying to collect as much information as we can to try to understand what is happening, and why.”

Underwater video captured by the NOAA research ship Bell M. Shimada in May show legions of pyrosomes in extremely high densities from approximately 40 to 200 miles off of the Oregon Coast. They ranged in size from 4-6 cm (about an inch) to a whopping 78 centimeters, or more than two feet long. Researchers found larger and more abundant pyrosomes farther offshore.

PYROSOMES RANGE FROM A FEW INCHES TO MORE THAN 2 FEET LONG. (HILARIE SORENSEN/NOAA FISHERIES)

Pyrosomes are as mysterious as they are strange. Each pyrosome is made up of individual zooids – small, multicellular organisms – linked together in a tunic to form a tube-like colony that is closed on one end. They are filter feeders and use cilia to draw plankton into their mucous filter.

Some bony fish, dolphins and whales are known to eat pyrosomes, but scientists know little about their role in the offshore ecosystem or how they may affect the food web in areas where they are now appearing in such high densities.

“At first we didn’t know what to make of these odd creatures coming up in our nets but as we headed north and further off shore, we started to get more and more,” said Hilarie Sorensen, a University of Oregon graduate student who was aboard the Shimada on its May research trip off Oregon. “We began counting and measuring them to try to get a better understanding of their size and distribution related to the local environmental conditions.”

PYROSOMES DRIFT AT SEA. (HILARIE SORENSEN/NOAA FISHERIES)

Pyrosome numbers in the Northern California Current – which encompasses Northern California, Oregon and Washington – increased in 2015 and again in 2016. As far as scientists know, however, their abundance this year is unprecedented. Salmon and shrimp fisheries reported large catches of pyrosomes off Oregon early in the season and the odd organisms are turning up in large numbers as far north as Southeast Alaska.

The feeding behavior of pyrosomes, the environmental variables that may affect their numbers and their impacts on the food web are largely unknown. Researchers are interested in unraveling those mysteries by exploring pyrosome population dynamics and determining what could be driving such high abundances in the Northern California Current.

Feds, Tribe Prevail In Elwha Salmon, Steelhead Hatchery Appeal

Federal and tribal fishery overseers have prevailed in a court case involving Elwha River salmon and steelhead that allows for continued use of hatchery fish in the restoration of runs to the north Olympic Peninsula watershed.

After hearing arguments last month, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a lower court’s ruling that the National Marine Fisheries Service had done its homework when approving state and Lower Elwha Klallam production programs for after two dams were removed.

THE ELWHA RIVER ABOVE THE SITE OF THE DAMS. (OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK)

“The Ninth Circuit found our analysis was complete and that both NOAA and the (National) Park Service have thoroughly adequately assessed the impacts involved, from the dam removal process to the efforts to recover salmon and steelhead populations,” explained Michael Milstein, a spokesman  for NOAA’s Fisheries Service in Portland.

That analysis was the target of a long-running challenge in U.S. District Court for Western Washington by the Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee and Wild Salmon Rivers.

According to federal court documents, they had argued that NMFS’s approval of hatchery programs violated the National Environmental Policy and Endangered Species Acts, and that the tribe’s facility output represented a taking of ESA-listed fish.

But 9th Circuit Court Judges Susan P. Graber, Sandra S. Ikuta and Andrew D. Hurwitz largely agreed with U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle’s earlier ruling, and according to Milstein that “clears the way” for NMFS and its partners to focus on restoring the river, including with hatchery fish per a 2012 environmental assessment that found minimal risk and some benefits from them.

The Elwha restoration is a project on a huge scale, featuring the removal of Elwha Dam in 2012 and Glines Canyon Dam in 2014, freeing up dozens of miles of river and tributaries that flow from the heart of the Olympic Peninsula.

To that end, earlier this spring, WDFW, the National Park Service and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe extended a fishing moratorium on the Elwha through May 2019.

For its part, WDFW doesn’t appear interested in stocking steelhead into the river, as last summer it declared the Elwha a wild steelhead gene bank. The Wild Steelhead Coalition said that designation was the result of “decades of work,” but the tribe’s hatchery means the sanctuary “still does not exist.”

Puget Sound Canary Rockfish Delisted, With Help From Anglers

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

NOAA Fisheries last week removed Puget Sound canary rockfish from the federal list of threatened and endangered species after a recent collaborative study found those fish are not genetically distinct from other canary rockfish on the West Coast.

Although many state rockfish populations have declined in abundance, the agency determined that the canary rockfish population in Puget Sound and the inland waters of British Columbia does not qualify for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), because it is not “discrete from” the species as a whole.

A STUDY FOUND THAT CANARY ROCKFISH IN PUGET SOUND ARE PART OF THE SAME STOCK AS SWIMMING OFF THE OREGON COAST, WHERE AN ODFW DIVER FILMED THIS ONE. (ODFW)

“The recent genetic findings show that canary rockfish of the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin are actually part of the larger canary rockfish population along the Pacific Coast,” said Dan Tonnes of NOAA Fisheries. “Coastal canary rockfish were determined to be rebuilt under the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 2016.”

NOAA’s action does not affect state fishing restrictions on rockfish in Puget Sound, which prohibit anglers from targeting, possessing or retaining any rockfish species, because yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio remain listed under the ESA. State regulations also prohibit recreational fisheries from targeting rockfish in the Sound, and do not allow recreational bottom-fishing below 120 feet.

In 2010, NOAA listed canary rockfish, yelloweye rockfish, and bocaccio in the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin under the ESA as “distinct population segments,” presuming that they were genetically discrete from the rest of the species. Without species-specific genetic studies to draw on, this presumption was based on genetic variation among populations of other rockfish species.

To test that premise, the agency’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle launched a cooperative study in 2015 to gather and study samples from listed rockfish in the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin and from reference areas outside that area to better understand their genetic diversity. Canadian authorities also provided biological samples of rockfish from the inland waters of the Georgia Strait.

The study drew on the expertise of local fishing guides, along with members of the Puget Sound Anglers and Kitsap Pogie fishing clubs to catch enough canary and yelloweye rockfish to conduct the genetic analysis using small tissue samples taken from the fins of each fish.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), another partner in the study, compiled data on ESA-listed rockfish in the area from previous surveys and deployed a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) below the surface of the Sound to locate rockfish and guide test fishers to their location.

“By combining the at-sea experience of long-time bottomfish anglers with the scientific knowledge of the WDFW, we were successfully able to locate and sample hundreds of fish,” said Dayv Lowry, WDFW senior research scientist. “It was a perfect example of collaboration and cooperation in search of actionable knowledge for rockfish management.”

Rockfish caught for the study were handled carefully and released using a special descending device to avoid barotrauma, which is caused by the change in air pressure when a fish is brought from deep waters to the surface. Fish were also marked for identification with an external tag, and several of those fish were sighted by the WDFW during subsequent ROV surveys.

The analysis showed that Puget Sound canary rockfish are not genetically distinct from canary rockfish on the West Coast, but affirmed that yelloweye rockfish in those waters are genetically distinct from coastal populations, and will therefore remain listed under the ESA. Bocaccio will also remain listed, because too few of them were found during the study to conduct a thorough analysis or change their status.

Rockfish are long-lived fish that reproduce slowly and play an important role in the Puget Sound ecosystem. Research indicates that total abundance of rockfish in Puget Sound has dropped approximately 70 percent in the last 40 years.

NOAA Fisheries is developing a recovery plan for yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio that will serve as a roadmap for conservation and recovery of these species.